22
Nov

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.

Category : Coaching | Mental advice | Blog
20
Nov

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.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog
27
Sep

An exciting element of being me and helping girls learn how to raise the bar on what they expect of themselves, seeing them set really high goals, and then watching them hit those goals. In regards to this, I have to say that this week was on of the most exciting times for “being me” that I can recall. You see I work with a player that is at a level of competitiveness, that what she wants to achieve and what she is willing to do to achieve it that is just way out there.

One of the things that I frequently talk about with my players is when you are done, what will your legacy be. Will your name be in the college program for just the 4 years you are there, or will you be in the back of the book for others to use as a target? If you know me, then you know that I get all keyed up attacking the bases. So when this player set a goal to beat the NCAA Division I single season stolen base record I was stoked. Not normal Dalton stoked. I mean like way out there stoked.

When you set a long term goal like that you don’t just wake up one morning accomplishing it. You have to set a roadmap, I call them GPS Based Goals if you have ever been to one of my clinics. You have to define the points along the journey that allow you to measure whether you are heading in the right direction or not. So the first destination on the course, was breaking her high schools stolen base record. Rather than just breaking the school’s single season record, she went ahead and shattered the schools career stolen base record. In just this season. What another had accomplished in 4 years, she broke just this year. And they haven’t even started their playoffs yet where she’ll surely get more.

We celebrated for a few minutes. Ok maybe more than a few minutes, and maybe I did get her a card to tell her how proud I was. But then we moved right on to “Now how do we go about breaking the entire State of Georgia’s single season stolen base record next year.” The first thought of course is “Can you get on base more often so that you have more chances to steal?” While we always strive for perfection the fact is her batting average is almost .500 and her on base pct is almost .600. So while there is room to improve, the odds that she doubles her production next year just by getting on base a few more times is pretty slim. So we had to analyze each time she was on base, and figure out why she didn’t get more this year. The problem was that there were girls in front of her that were in her way. She could ask them to just make outs, but then it would be hard to lead the team in RBI’s. Part of setting goals has to be an acknowledgment that whatever obstacles are in the way, will still be there unless you figure out a way to get around them. Basically we both feel like the strongest possible way to accomplish her individual goal, is to become a leader and somehow help those players become more aggressive as well. If they steal 3′rd, she can steal 2′nd. Or they attack 3′rd when she hits instead of stopping at 2′nd, then she can steal 2′nd. In other words, instead of just focusing on the same skills we have been for the past 3 years: timing, speed, sliding, diving and consistently getting on base she has to become more of a leader and motivator to get these girls on board with helping her achieve her goal. She has to help them “want” to GET DIRTY.

Meghan is determined that the single season stolen base record for the State of GA will be hers and she needs them to move forward, so that she can move forward.  So the exciting thing is that while they don’t know it yet, but by this time next year they will also have broken the schools “former” record.

Yes I’m throwing som props out to Meghan Rud for what she puts into this game, and for the fact that she sees now what she’ll do in 6 years and is willing to work hard to get there every single day of her life. But hopefully as you’ve read this you yourself are realizing that whatever your personal goals may be. The odds are strong that for them to be “record breaking” you will benefit the team by accomplishing them, and you will also need the team to help you accomplish them. But that sounds to cliche I know so I won’t write that.

Category : Baserunning | Blog
26
Sep

There is an interesting phenomenon in life, that perhaps I’m the only person who has ever noticed it. It seems to me that when people practice something, they get better at it, and they start making it look easy and attractive to others. I know that may seem absurd, but that is the pattern I’ve noticed.

For instance I see young pitchers start practicing and the first couple of practices are hard. They get blisters on their finger tips. They get winded really easily from having to drive off the mound so much. But as they practice more and more eventually the become pitchers. Not kidding, it seems that it really works.

Same goes for hitters that I work with. At first they hurt my ears by hitting my batting tee over and over. They start complaining about blisters on their hands. But after weeks of hard work they start actually making the swing look easy. Eventually others besides their parents actually call them hitters.

Sometimes those pitchers/hitters do so well as a result of their practicing that they make it look like something that others want to try. Am I crazy or have you noticed that too? Not that you can really answer me, well you could reply or comment but nobody every does for these blogs. It’s not like it’s Facebook or something.

The problem I’ve seen a lot lately, is that all too often players, parents and coaches are practicing the wrong thing. It all starts innocently enough with some excuses that seem legitimate at the time. After that is practiced, then it becomes more of a group event. After it has been rehearsed enough people get really brave and start actually broadcasting it. Loudly.

Are you still with me. I’m talking about quitting. Surely you’ve seen that to. You know where the player/parent doesn’t like having to sit the bench for 5 minutes of a game so they decide that they won’t come back to that league/team/coach, but they feel guilty so they just slip away quietly at the end of the season. But now that they’ve practiced the next time quitting is a little bit easier. This time when the coach doesn’t give her exactly 52.5 innings of pitching time like they promised they would months ago, they justify quitting during the season by saying “we pay to much money for her not to pitch” or “we paid to much money on her new bat and lessons for her to bat 8′th instead of 5′th.” Pretty soon those people don’t just leave at the end of the season, or even leave by just telling off the coach, pretty soon their guilt about quitting is gone completely and they are bold enough to start recruiting others to quit with them. “Aren’t you unhappy too? If you leave with me then we’ll really make a point.” I even heard of a family that comitted to a team, and then literally quit after the very first practice.

For everyone reading this I assure you that you will become really good at whatever it is you are practicing. If you are practicing pitching you will become known as a pitcher. If you are practicing hitting you will become known as a hitter. If you are practicing quitting, then you will become known as a quitter. It gets easier. It’s just how life works.

My best advice to you is to instead practice not quitting. Honoring your comittment. Sticking to your word. You know all of those things that you admire seeing in others, but are afraid to try yourself because it’s hard. Yes it’s hard to honor your comittment when the team is falling apart, but the more you practice it, the better you get at it. Pretty soon you are known as the person that never gives up. You know the one that everyone else admires. The choice is yours, you will eventually be, whatever you are currently practicing to become.

Category : Mental advice | Training | Blog
8
May

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?

Category : Coaching | Mental advice | Blog
17
Nov

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.

Category : Coaching | Mental advice | Training | Blog