If a picture is worth a thousand words then a gorgeous photo of a ball field being kissed by the sky is certainly worthy of several posts. Fastpitch.TV was generous enough to allow me to do a series of blog posts about different aspects of this photo. The story unfolds best if you read the posts in order.
What is the difference between a good team, a great team and a championship team?
Great question, but rather than write it all out for you I’ve created a video for this particular post
One of the interesting things that makes us human is our ability to quickly categorize people we don’t know. We lump them into convenient categories that we’ve formed based on our past relationships. “She is a hitter.” “She plays SS.” “She is to serious.” “She is to silly.” “She doesn’t practice hard.” “That coach is strict.” We feel good about ourselves the faster we “size up” new people. Gives us a sense of accomplishment. Forget about these new people for a minute and think about yourself though. Are you really that simple a human being? Could anyone really identify all that makes you you within 15 seconds? Could they capture who you are with 1 phrase? Could they even capture all that makes you a unique person on this earth if they watched you for 1, 2, 5 or 10 practices and games?
I doubt it. We know that we are unique. That we ourselves are more complicated than others give us credit for, yet we still try and judge the “new people” that come into our lives based on very little input. If the new girls has a few bad plays “shes not very focused.” No questions asked if she had lost a loved one earlier in the week. If you make a few bad plays and hear any laughter “they are mean.” No questions asked if the existing team was really laughing because a coach had tripped over something on a different area of the field.
We celebrate New Years because they offer a new begginning. A chance to correct the mistakes of the past year. A chance to challenge ourselves to do better the coming year. Take advantage of the opportunity that 2013 is about to present to you. Commit that 2013 is going to be the year that you quit jumping to conclusions about new people that come into your lives, and onto your teams. Commit that at least where you have control you are going to do everything you can to become a true teammate. Not someone who knows how to pass an egg the right way, or pass oranges under your chin correctly but someone who truly works to build a cohesive unit.
The following is a list of questions from Doc RobynOdegaard’s book “Stop the Drama! The Ultimate Guid to Female Teams.” Print the list out and take some time during your team practices and get togethers this coming season to go through them together. Let everyone see who you really are, and give them a chance to show you who they really are.
If you really want to get to know others ask this one:
One final thought as you prepare for this coming season … “a car’s windshield is much larger than its rearview mirror.” While it is good for us to reflect on where we have been, we shouldn’t dwell on the past. Yet more often than not I hear players referring to what things used to be like on their old team. How their old teammates acted. How their old coaches conducted practice. How players acted in the dugout. Bringing that kind of baggage to your new team isn’t helpful. Focus on what is ahead of all of you. Where all of you are heading together as a team. 2013 is coming quickly. Whether it is a Happy New Year or not depends on what you make of it.
No? Well do you at least have any purple spots? Seems rather silly, but the fact is that the world needs more purple cows. But we are programmed from a young age to just fit in. To be a “normal” cow. To not allow others to see our purple spots.
3 of my 4 grand children are now at the age that they are starting to play with blocks. Each of the 3 has a completely different idea of what they are supposed to do with them. One likes to just set them up beside each other. One likes to stack them. And you can probably guess what my grandson likes to do … you guessed it he loves to knock them down. 3 very precious children, 3 very unique personalities. But that doesn’t “fit” into what society wants so when they are in first grade they will begin to be graded on whether their towers look like what the teacher expects of them. They will be told that when they are given a piece of paper instead of drawing the scenery that is missing from the paper they are supposed to color inside the lines. They will be told that skin is supposed to be colored with the tan color, not the violet color.
Basically they will be “indoctrinated” into what they are supposed to do, supposed to think and supposed to feel in order to be “normal.” Don’t get me wrong I don’t want my grandson walking around class in 12′th grade knocking down the towers that others have constructred. But I sure don’t want my grand daughter believing that houses have to be built up in the air and that she can’t build hers sideways if she chooses. But
Seth Godin’s book The Purple Cow wasn’t written for them, their “Pops” will do his best to be sure that they become the individuals that God intended them to be. His book was written for people just like you. To challenge you to show the world your purple spots instead of blending in and hiding what makes you different than others. To challenge you to be remarkable instead of ordinary.
What is that you are hiding from others? When did you stop being the you that’s in your head and start worrying about blending in?
What do you uniquely bring to the team that others can’t?
Are you encouraging others to show their uniqueness or are you more comfortable in a herd of black/white cows?
Whether you are a coach, a parent or a player I encourage you to take some time and think about what a team full of purple cows might look like. Go out there and quit blending in, show the world your unique “AWESOMENESS.”
If you are anything like me you hate making mistakes. Only thing I hate worse is immediately reading something new that would have helped me avoid the mistake. I’m going to share my most recent mistake … which involves running my mouth when I should have just been silent.
Last Friday evening I was hosting my 7th annual Christmas Batting Extravaganza. 4 straight hours of batting and competition at a local batting cage. Shannon Murray one of my former students and assistant coaches, is now a senior in college and came by to visit, hit and speak about her experience in the recruiting process and her experiences as a collegiate player. She did a fantastic job. After she completed I asked the 20 players that were if they had any questions for Shannon while they had this opportunity. Then I made a huge mistake.
I paused for an entire 1 and 1/2 seconds and when nobody shot their hands into the air I said “Wow, you have such a great chance right now and none of you want to take advantage of it.” Paused for another 1 1/2 seconds and proceeded to say “Ok lets get back into the cages since there are no questions.” Two huge mistakes on my part in less than 5 seconds.
The first mistake was that I answered the question “Why didn’t they ask questions?” in my head with a variety of negative assumptions:
Fortunately I recognized right away that was the wrong thing to do. These were great young ladies, most of which I personally selected to have as students. So I followed the advice I had just read earlier in the week and asked one of my students instead of trying to fill in the “why” for her. Her responses was something like “I thought of a question, but then I forgot it. Then I thought of it again, but then I forgot it again.” Very honest answer. Not learning from the prior mistake I followed up with another negative response to the next “why” in my head with “blonde moment.”
I returned home. Excited that the event had gone so well except for “in my head” the fact that the girls were to “intellectually lazy to even ask questions about what could be the most important pending decision of their softball lives.” I slept restlessly and awoke about 3 hours later. Decided I might as well read some more of the book that I’d been having troubles sitting down. Fortunately for me the author reached off the 2nd page I read and smacked me in the face with the answer I needed.
“Now if I have to think about what I want to say while someone else is talking, who is listening. Ahhh now there’s the problem: no one is listening because when one person is talking everone else is thinking about what they want to say. No wonder we can’t communicate.”
The problem wasn’t a blonde moment. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t care about their futures. Shannon had done such a great job communicating that she actually held the attention of 20 teenage ball players late at night. They were so focused on her and actually listened that they didn’t have time to formulate a question. The problem wasn’t them at all, it was that I could hardly take a breathe before I had to move on and fill the void of … silence.
Whether you are a coach, a parent or a player I highly recommend picking up a copy of “Stop the Drama: The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams” by Doc Robyn Odegaard. It is filled with practical explanations that will help you, like me, understand the silly things that we do that lead to drama. Things like filling in the “whys” in our own heads with negative responses instead of asking why. Things like the fact that if you want good questions, good responses you have to take the time and allow people to think. Even though the silence can be deafening while they are.
For many of the softball players I work with, and likely many around the country and the world this fall marks a serious time of transition. They started the year on teams that they had been on for a year or more and now find themselves on new team. Their former teams were marked with tremendous friendships and they knew exactly where they stood with the coaching staff. This weekend I watched many of these new teams finish the final games of this fall season, and frankly it hurt to watch many of them struggle.
If I could speak to those teams, I would say to them that just like an airport, teams are a “zero sum game.” You can’t see the romantic homecomings at the terminal gates, without also realizing that just beyond that couple there is a heartbreaking scene going as a family is separated. Planes cannot land, if they don’t first take off from somewhere else.
For those of you on new teams my advice is simple, remember the good times you shared but let go of the grip those old teammates have on your heart. Don’t spend your time comparing the players/coaches/parents of the new team to those people. Accept the fact that they are different. Embrace those differences. Look at each one of these teammates and realize that they are now in your life for a purpose and figure that out. Find what it is that you can learn from each of them.
For those of you who have lost great friends and have new teammates now on board. Try to imagine how they must feel, and how heart broken they must be for they are the ones who had to board the plan and depart from another town, another city, another team and they now find themselves smack dab in the middle of your team. Don’t wait for them to make the first move, and don’t just try and meet them half way, be the initiator. The one who opens your heart, is willing to accept the situation and reach out to them first, and reach out often.
Our former friends/teammates will always have a dear place in our heart, nothing can change that. But our new teammates can as well if we just let them. But teams can’t function effectively if players are still playing in their hearts with teammates that are miles away. There is sadness in leaving, but their can be happiness in new beginnings if you allow it.
The more I hear the word “fair” used in conjunction with the word “not” on a softball field, the more I’m beginning to see it as a 4 letter word. One that should be avoided at all costs, and stricken from one’s vocabulary.
The world is full of situations that aren’t fair and we all recognize that, yet somehow we allow players to get by with the notion that everything in the softball world should be fair. The truth is that situations are neither fair nor unfair, they simply are. Any time spent analyzing the fairness of the situation is time lost that could better be spent adjusting to and dealing with the situation.
You are the best hitter in the world, and yet the coach is “unfair” and bats you dead last. Did you ever stop to think that by batting dead last you get the least respect from the opposing team’s pitchers so you likely get better pitches to hit? Do you really want the fairness of having to handle the exact same pitching focus that is afforded to the #4 hitter on the team, and the expectations of everyone on the team that you will produce big hits every single at bat?
You hit a solid line drive that travels 175 feet on a rope, a rope that ends in the glove of the center fielder. While the player on the opposing team closes her eyes, and dips under the pitch badly. Her ball travels 78 and a 1/2 feet as a popup, one that drops 1/2 foot beyond the arms of your diving second basemen in right field. Is that fair that you killed the ball but didn’t get a hit, while they had a blooper and did get a hit? Or is it simply a matter of odds that as you spray your line drives around sooner or later one will be straight at a player, and the odds that the other player’s consistent bloopers will sooner or later happen to drop right outside the reach of your fielder?
Another player is seemingly gets “special” treatment from their parents, while you seem to be challenged every single time your father looks in your direction. Is that un-fair to you? Or is it really un-fair to the other player who’s parents have given up trying to help them grow and develop because it takes to much work.
One of your friends is on a great team. One where they have several awesome players, and they win every game. The players all get along and bake cookies for each other every weekend. While you are on a team that is struggling to ever win, and players yell at each other on and off the field. Is that really fair to your friend that she takes a back seat while the other players carry the team and lead it to greatness? How is that preparing her for the real world, where she will be on her own, while you get the honor of stepping up and becoming a leader due to necessity, and while you don’t win all of your games you are becoming prepared to win the game of life.
My advice is to stop using the word “fair” in any context other than fair/foul in regards to softball. Adjust to whatever situations you are faced with as they come at you, in a way that best prepares you for the future and allows you to build the kind of character and reputation that you would like to be known for. In other words “deal with it and move on.”
If you’ve read any of my former posts you probably realize by now that my writing is meant to encourage athletes, coaches and parents alike. I try to string together words that perhaps you have read before, in a way that makes them sound fresh. Recently one of my batting students made me realize how cliché some of our sayings can be at times and yet how critically vital they are to continue to repeat.
One of the things as a coach and an instructor that I realized a long time ago is that anyone can look good when everything is going there way. But how you react when you are in the batter’s box and the umpire made that strike call even though the ball bounced is what really separates the average players from the great players. What I’ve found is that average players allow the “happenings” around them to determine their “happiness.” While the players with the ability to win long term, and throughout life, are able to maintain control of the 6” between their ears despite the circumstances around them going against them.
That’s so profound right. Just follow that advice and all the weeds in your life will turn to roses. Well on paper everything sounds profound, but when you are a 14 year old girl like my student Jessie how does that work when you are in a big tournament and the coach benches you 2 games in a row for no fault of your own, 2 tournaments in a row. How do you control that 6” between your ears then? That’s kind of where the “rubber hits the road” as they say.
Back to what I was writing … Average players tend to react to negative situations in a way that disables them from contributing in a positive way for the team, and often carry those situations with them for several innings if not all the way home with them and sometimes throughout their entire life. While players that control the 6” between their ears by realizing that the umpire, the coach, their parents, their teammates, other coaches, other players all have one thing in a common; They are human. Humans make mistakes. Humans let you down. Humans tell you one thing, but do another. If you accept in your mind that others will make mistakes, just like yourself, then when they do it isn’t quite so hard to accept/handle.
Back to Jessie … final game to get into the championship and she finds herself on the bench. End of the game, 2 players on base and the coach calls her in to pinch hit. She could pout right? “Sit me on the bench and now you want me to hit, well I don’t care if YOU lose the game or now this will teach you.” She could have done that. But what she did was wait for her pitch, no I’m not going to tell you what her pitch is because you might play her at ASA Nationals, and drives the snot out of it and helps her team win the game. Surely now she’s earned her way into the lineup for the championship game. But No! Championship game starts against one of her best friends and she finds herself on the bench again. After the coach had previously apologized for having done that in the past and said he would do a better job of remembering who sat which games.
Back to what I was writing … Average players bring their baggage from the past onto the field with them. The players that want to be their best, the players that want to win are able to leave that baggage at home because they realize they can’t play with all of it draped on their back.
Winners are separated from others …
Not by the score
Not by the amount of RBI’s they generate
Not by the number of strike outs they ring up
Not by who wins the biggest trophy
Winners are separated from others by the way they control their effort and their attitude.
Whether you are a parent, a coach or a player there are a million things that you have absolutely no control over no matter how much you try. Close your eyes for a few minutes and think through several recent really bad situations. How did you react? Did you let the umpire, your parents, your coach, your teammates, the other team, your boss, your colleages control the 6” between your ears or were you able to control of your effort and your attitude despite everything going against you.
Back to Jessie … Championship game. Late innings. Score 0 to 0. Coach once again calls upon her in a crucial situation and asks her to bunt. Ouch! How’s that going to work? She’s got to be furious. She’s got to want to kill the ball and prove something to her coach and her best friend. Yeah NO! That’s not how Jessie rolls. She lays down a perfect bunt and not only moves the runners into scoring position, she gets on herself. Next girl delivers the game winning hit and she is now a champion. Or was she already a champion for controlling the only 2 things which she could control; Her Effort and Her Attitude?
This is the time of the year when many people feel the need to write down their “New Year’s Resolutions.” This tradition of becoming introspective and looking forward to a “better life” dates all the way back to 153 BC when the mythical king of early Rome, Janus, was placed at the head of the calendar. Janus had two faces and could look back on past events, while also looking forward to the future. Webster’s defines the word resolution as “a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent.” Which sounds really good, but let me share why I don’t think that will really work.
Many people would like to have a million dollars in the bank and the reality is that nearly every American could accomplish that quite easily. All they would have to do is live like many other cultures in the world, as large extended families all in the same residence. The reason we don’t is that we are much more committed to making our own rules, being independent, and not having to deal with other peoples issues than we are to having a million dollars in the bank. So while our “intent” on January 1 is to save more, we aren’t willing to actually take the actions necessary to do it for more than 2-3 days, because those actions conflict with the “dreams” that we have of “doing what we want.”
A common definition of insanity is continuing to do the same things, but expecting different results. Which is exactly why I think the idea that you will change your life by writing New Year’s resolutions down on a piece of paper is as mythical as the Roman King Janus for whom the tradition started with. My firm belief is that the only way you will actually make any lasting changes is to spend the time necessary to actually identify and write down what your dreams are. Find those visions that you think about in the back of your mind constantly, that you would do anything to achieve.
Do you want to be a collegiate All American? Do you want to be the starting pitcher for your high school? Do you want to be known as the best coach in softball history? The parent that your teenagers love talking to? Identifying these dreams is the first step, but also the hardest. Many are afraid to admit things like those for fear that they will fail. For fear that they will be laughed at. For fear that they aren’t good enough to achieve them. So instead of admitting that they have a dream, their fear keeps them in the same cycle of coming up with “resolutions” on January 1 and then falling right back into “settling” by February 1.
So quite settling, admit your dreams, and then go out and pursue them with a passion this year instead of just making a wish list.
One of the hardest things in this game is knowing as a coach where the line is between a player being hurt and a player being injured. The longer I’m around this game, and the more amazing young ladies I watch the harder it is for me to know the difference between her needing to come out of the game, and her being able to push forward. Just when I think I know the level to which they can ignore the pain, another player comes along and demonstrates to me that I still underestimate the ability for heart to go further in overcoming the pain that I had previously seen. This past weekend I watched one of the players that I work with frequently do something that raised my expectations of just how tough a player can really be even further.
Before I share the specifics about her let me share that I already had high expectations. At a recent National Professional Fastpitch event I had Caitlin Lowe sign a poster I had made for one of my top slappers. When I gave my player the poster she said “Coach you have no idea how much I love Caitlin Lowe. As a young girl I watched her run into a fence and break her nose. I want to be like her.” At which point I interrupted her and asked “you want to break your nose running into a fence?” She said “Of course not. She came back the next day and played ball. I want the chance in my career to show the world how tough I can really be, just like her.” Of course I knew what Caitlin Lowe had done. I had also watched this player gut out a 102 fever one time and the flu another time to play exceptional ball. So I had no idea that what I had witnessed from her didn’t even scratch the surface of what she was really willing to go through if need be in order to show the world how much love she really has for the game.
So back to the story … this young lady dove for a ball in the first game of her tournament. The timing was off just a bit and she broke both knuckles on the index finger of her throwing hand as she tried to cover up the ball. The odd shape of her finger, the purplish color of it and the fact that it was about double the size in seconds was the first clue that it was definitely broken. Her coach and the umpires both wanted to do the humane thing and take her out of the game. Fighting through the tears and the pain she refused to leave. You would have to know her to understand that that battles wasn’t one that her coach or the umpire were going to win so they allowed her to remain in the game. Big deal, seen that lots of times, that just the background for what I really wanted to share. By morning her finger was swollen worse and it was obvious that she couldn’t throw. But she insisted on hitting, and in practice demonstrated that she could still hit despite being down 1 critical finger. She destroyed the ball all day long. I was there to watch her the first game on Sunday and honestly looking at her finger almost made me sick. But she was determined to continue hitting. Not only did she hit, she ended up in a situation that I’m not sure I’ll ever forget. At my clinics I teach/encourage very aggressive base running. Well here she was on base after crushing the ball, and just when I thought she’d done all she could to impress me she took a huge lead and begged the catcher to snap back to first base and then proceeded to do a perfect dive back into first. Broken finger and all.
Macy showed me this weekend that her heart was in fact much bigger than I had previously given her credit for. I’d love to hear from others who’ve seen girls with amazing hearts that shine through the pain and the tears. Those that have demonstrated for you that the line between being hurt and being injured is sometimes really hard to find.