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.
When you sit on the outside of the fence watching them play, have you ever wondered what goes through players heads? I do. All the time. I wonder if they really love the game. Is their mom/dad forcing them to play. Are they just playing to be with their friends. Is it simply something to keep them busy. A way to earn a letter to add to a jacket. I work with so many amazing young players that some certainly could fall into any of those categories. But I’m also blessed to work with many young women who truly are as passionate about this sport as I am. I’ve even met some that love it even more than myself. More often than not I have to guess what they are thinking though. Every now and then, like recently, a young woman is actually able to vocalize her thoughts. The following essay was written by a young woman named Taylor Wynn, and I was so moved by it I asked her for permission to share it. I’ve never used my blog to share something from someone else, but in this case I think Taylor so nailed the very essence of the game that I didn’t have a choice.
Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend by Taylor Wynn
It is the middle of the fifth inning; the score is tied at five. The sky is beginning to turn black with a trifling rain starting to fall. The crowd is silent, trying to take in every play. The game is in the hands of one girl, the pitcher, a sophomore, a freshman to the team; me. The catcher calls a screwball, painting the inside corner; a strike to end the inning. We have hit the time limit so all that is left to do is score to end the game. We are in the middle of batting when the bottom drops out and the sky begins to roar. The game ends in a tie, but the final score is irrelevant. I walked off the field knowing that my team, my coaches and my parents were proud of me. Softball is more than just a sport, more than just a bat and a ball; it is my life.
Softball is a very physical. It requires a significant amount of strain on the body. It is running and conditioning. Teams often play up to five games in one day. Pitchers are frequently needed to pitch in several of those games. This not only takes a physical toll on players, but an emotional one as well. Players have to possess a massive amount of endurance. To play softball and be good at it, you have to have passion for the sport. Without passion, there is no commitment. Without commitment and passion, there is no effort. And without effort, it is a waste of time.
Softball is often compared to baseball. Although very similar, the two sports have many differences. Softball is played on a much smaller field than baseball, which is sometimes mistaken for being easier. It is the complete opposite. While it may be easier as far as running the bases go, the players in the field have to have a much faster reaction time to get the runner out. Pitchers throw the ball underhanded rather than over-handed. That makes a big difference with movement of the ball; letting it go up as well as down, left and right. Pitches are thrown from forty-three feet rather than sixty feet. Depending on the speed of the pitch, batters need faster bat speed. A one hundred mile per hour fastball in baseball is equivalent to a sixty mile per hour fastball in softball. That is major league speed.
Softball is emotion. We all know that girls are slightly more emotional than boys. Getting drama-filled girls to work together is a task in its own right, but in the end it teaches us all teamwork. All softball players know that when it comes time to step onto the field everything gets put to the side. Drama, family problems, relationships, school, none of it matters once you step onto the dirt. It is all about doing everything you possibly can and working as one unit to come out on top.
Not only does softball keep you in shape and give you physical fulfillment, but it teaches its players numerous other things as well. It teaches teamwork. A team must work together to be victorious. It teaches participants how to set goals. If goals are never set, then they can never be achieved. It has the power to teach players sportsmanship and how to encourage others to achieve their goals. A team cannot be successful if they do not work together to reach their goals. Softball teaches responsibility. Not only are players responsible for all of their equipment being present when needed, they are responsible for the way they act on and off of the field. On the field, players must show responsibility for the way they play throughout the game. A player cannot make an error then turn around and blame it on someone else. Off of the field, players, especially in uniform, must carry themselves in a respectful manner. I played softball all throughout high school. Come game day, we wore our uniforms to school. That day, we had to be the most well behaved students in the school. Not only were we representing ourselves, but we were representing our coaches and our school as well.
After that game, even though we did not come out with a win, I walked off of the field with my head held high. I knew that I had just proven myself. They knew I could do it now. I had the respect of my coaches and teammates. I was on top of the world.
Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
That means that you were crafted by God. Many times the circumstances we find ourselves in, or the people we are surrounded by make us feel like junk. But that’s not true, God doesn’t make any junk. You are one of His masterpieces.
Sometimes we ourselves feel like junk, even though we know we have been created by God. You may feel like you have let God down, but the good news is that’s impossible. You were never holding God up.
Go show the world the amazing masterpiece that is you.
Players who slap from the left side of the box are cute. May even be nice kids. But I wouldn’t trust them if I were you. Why? Because if racing with them isn’t tough enough already, they get a lead. Seriously! It’s just not fair. Check out a current post I made for Fastpitch.TV at http://fastpitch.tv/slapper-save-10-by-dalton-ruer/
As it’s very name suggests Thanksgiving is always a time for giving thanks. As I sit alone at my keyboard with the sun rising in Georgia I count it a blessing that I’ve been able to spend the entire week giving thanks.
Saturday – I was fortunate enough to have the entire day to watch a bunch of girls that I love participate in a showcase tournament that started with a very unique format. In the first two games of the day eams exchanged half of their players with each other. While most of the parents were less than thrilled it brought an untold joy to my heart. I began Cross Training as a ministry to reach players and their families through long term relationships. The first team that I coached had many amazing young ladies on it who’m I blessed to still have contact with. Two such young ladies were Sydney O’Neill and Savannah Mills. During my team’s games I met a coach from another local park Curtis Walker. I enjoyed playing his team because he was committed to the same principles of teaching and making it about the girls that I was, and because his daughter Sarah Walker was such a talented and fiery player. Curtis also coached a travel team that Sydney would go on to play with in the next season so it was great to have that continued relationship with both families. Savannah’s family went to a local church with another super family the Burnette’s. John Burnette (who eventually officiated the weddings of both of my daughters) coached a team in Buford (who Sydney hit her first homerun off of) that I began working with. Among many of the phenomenal players on that team were two bubbly young ladies named Lanae Hodnett (3 time State Champion) and Lanier Paul (4 time State Champion) During that spring season I really enjoyed watching those two teams do battle repeatedly because I got to watch players on both sides that I was working with. Last Saturday morning my heart was filled with thanks as I got to watch the Duluth Lynx take the field. A team comprised of many fine young ladies and anchored by Sydney O’Neill, Sarah Walker, Lanae Hodnett and Lanier Paul now all playing together. If I wasn’t afraid of having you tune out on me I would trace the relationships that have resulted in the past 6 years from those people to the fine young ladies on the teams that those Lynx were opposing that day. For others it was a crazy, mixed up format. For me seeing players from the beginning of my ministry play against and with players that I’ve begun working with more recently was drawn up in heaven.
Sunday I began the day with a phenomenal service at my church. The worship was great. The message was great. Fellowship was great. The rest of the day continued in the same tone as I get to spend the entire day tinkering with a new computer and learning things that I’ve wanted to know how to do for years.
Monday I got to start working with a fantastic player for the first time (Lane Simmons). A young lady whom I’ve admired for her competitive spirit, the gifts she has on the field and the sincere desire she has to never stop learning. A yound lady I had already written a post about. As if not enough, immediately after working with her I got to work with one of my favorite players in the world (Meghan Rud), a young lady that I can trace through those first relationships, and encourage her to pick up the phone and make her first telephone calls to prospective coaches. Which she did successfully on Tuesday.
Tuesday I got to start working with two more players for the first time. One of whom is another young lady who’s roots I can trace to those first relationships (Mary Johnson). Another is a colleague at works daughter (Gabi Lopez). A man I barely knew but who asked me about a bright yellow name tag lanyard I had received the day before, which just happened to read “I Love Softball” over and over and over. Yeah that’s how I roll at work. Dress pants, dress shirt and bright yellow lanyards that say “I Love Softball.” During my first lesson I always have the players write down their dreams. When I read that Mary’s dream was to play at Auburn, a school who introduced the term Wintality to me that I love, and Gabi’s was to play for the National Team of Puerto Rico I knew it was going to be a great night. I “LOVE” working with players that are trying to pursue their dreams throgh softball.
While it would seem boring to some, on Wednesday I was blessed with the opportunity finally to just do some simple yardwork. I love the environment that God has placed me and my wife in and love taking care of that beauty. So while it was cold and windy, I just relished that time. Followed up that brisk work outdoors with some simple time sharing the kitchen with my wife as I mixed up the batter for the homemade pumpkin pies (me and my daughter’s favorite) and preparing our 21 pound bird for the 13 hours it was about to spend in the smoker shortly.
Thursday was a family day, like it is for most. A day spent with our daughters, their husbands and our 3 grand children. After all of the food. The laughing. The food. The talking. And some food. Just before being packed up for the trip home our youngest grand daughter Ella decided to take her first steps walking on her own. I ended the day falling asleep on the couch watching a television show called Tanked. Yet another reality show, but this was one about a funny family that builds some of the most amazing aquariums in the world. As a person who has a 120 gallon custom tank just sitting around because I have no time for taking care of it anymore, it was awesome to end my day just reliving the good old days and seeing the amazing things that are possible with some of God’s most beautifully designed and colored pieces of art.
Just the simple fact that I am at the keyboard this Black Friday morning instead of standing in line with a million of my closest friends is in itself a blessing. As my wife and I read the flyers yesterday it became obvious that we already have not only what we need, but most of what we want as well. Our plans for the day … spending time together. No softball lessons. No family. Just time alone together enjoying the simple fact that after 27 1/2 years of marriage we still love being together.
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.
If it were a movie the sun would be rising over a dew covered luscious field of green grass. One by one the camera would move from face to face. As it panned out you would begin getting the bigger picture, the picture of a ball team. Soon you would begin realizing that they were one of many, warming up for the battles that would unfold before you on the big screen. Soon the heart touching orchestra music would fade and the camera would begin meandering through it all as you heard the faint voices of the coaches and the players. It would finally rest on our heroine as you started hearing the music she was listening to. As she completed her mental preparations for the day, she’d remove the ear buds and put them away along with her iPod, pump her fist and storm out of the dugout with the loud noise that only cleats on concrete can make.
But this is my post, not a movie and as I approached the cloud covered, frost bitten fields yesterday in Duluth, GA and could see my breath the picture was quite different from a movie I can assure you. In the movies the weather is always perfect, and you know who the heroine will be. In real life the weather is often brutal, and at 8:00 AM you have no idea how the games will unfold. But you see that’s entirely the beauty of it. The fact that the players have to compete against each other under such diverse conditions, and accept and play through whatever situations come there way, and at the end of the day when the sun has set, and the briskness of the autumn air has set back in, the ones that rose above it all, the ones that understand it is a team of heroines and not just one are the ones standing tall. The ones that you just jump out of your seat, with your cold knees, and your stiff back and you throw your glove covered hands around. They are the ones with the tears of joy welling up in their eyes because they are going to bed forever changed by what they did on that day. That single cold, fall day when they were the David facing their Goliath, and they delivered the fatal blow.
The fatal blow in this case being a 7 run, late, inning marked by lots of singles, bunts moving runners and of course the gratuitous fist pumping Grand Slam just for the folks in Hollywood. What I love about this game, and the amazing players I have the privilege of knowing and working with is that those kind of innings never happen at 8:00 AM, they are always at the end of the day. Because comebacks like I witnessed are never marked by a single player, it has to be a team effort. To the 18U Gold Duluth Wildcats I say:
Thank you for the opportunity to watch a team of girls who despise losing fight until the end, never having given up.
Thank you for the opportunity to watch a team of girls who never turned down the throttle on their intensity just because it was cold and late.
Thank you for the opportunity to watch a team of girls who always lifted up and never doubted each other.
Thank you for …. THE PERFECT DAY.