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Keep a Sport-Life Balance

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The statistics pertaining to youth sport participation are disheartening; 70% of children who are participating in youth sport will drop out by the age of 13.

My question is why didn’t I? Why did I play through college, coach through grad school, and am now pursuing a career that is centered in sport?

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NCS Champs 2007

I specialized in one sport at a very young age; I played competitively almost from the get go, and even specialized in a single position by the time I was 17. I had all the warning signs of being an athlete who would burnout before reaching my full potential. So what kept me in the game?

I had a sport-life balance. Although I spent the majority of my time on the softball field, the people in my life helped to keep sports in perspective. Sports were a piece of my life, not my whole life. There were other more important things and values; my worth as a person didn’t solely reside on my performance as an athlete.

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Opening night of Boulevard Cinemas

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Working on the homecoming float my senior year of high school

The most obvious example of the sport-life balanced I achieved as a young athlete was in the diversity of my social circles, and the events that filled my monthly calendar. I grew up on a court where three other girls around my age lived. None of them were involved in sports like I was so our friendship was well rounded; we grew up running around our neighborhood experiencing and focusing on other things besides sport. I was also heavily involved in girl scouts, the six other girls in my troop made up some of my closest friends throughout high school. At the age of 15 we opened a theater in our hometown, an accomplishment that bolstered my confidence and added to my worth as a person off the softball field. (Read more about the teens who opened a theater in 2005 HERE.) The friends that I hung around with at school weren’t  involved in sports either, so again I had opportunities to develop other parts of myself; opportunities to be proud of things that had nothing to do with softball. I also had a long term boyfriend throughout high school that attended a school 20 minutes south of me, so I became very close to his friends and family which again added diversity to the people who were important to me. These people who made up my social life all valued me for more than my softball abilities. Some had never even seen me play, so my performance as an athlete was irrelevant to our friendship. It caused me to grow up in an atmosphere that catered to all of me, and helped to give myself worth in all areas of my personality, not just the piece of me that excelled on the playing field.

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Team trip to Disneyland

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White water rafting with the team in Park City, Utah

I was also privileged enough to grow up in a family that was able to take vacations outside of softball tournaments. As I got older my softball team flew all over the U.S. to compete at the highest level. However, my family was fortunate enough to be able to take an additional family vacation each summer. It kept it in perspective that sports were important, but family time was highly valued as well. Not only did I get to experience genuine family vacations, but I had a coaches who understood that for some families, our tournaments were their family vacations. As a team we made every out of state trip a fun family experience as well as a serious competitive outing. Our coach allowed the team moms to plan water rafting trips, team dinners, horseback riding excursions, and once in Park City, Utah we even went on a team hot air balloon ride! My coaches knew the value of having a sport life balance and let us genuinely enjoy our tournament trips. Some of my most favorite memories are from these tournaments and everything we did made me fall even more in love with the sport. Doing other activities while traveling also allowed my teammates to get to know me as a person, not just an athlete. You learn to appreciate your teammates for more than just their athletic performance; you also learn to value the other pieces of yourself.

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Playing powder puff football my senior year

My parents were the most prominent influence of keeping my life balanced between sport and other experiences. The house I grew up in bordered a regional park. On my court lived three other girls that were around my age. Also on the court were kids who were a few years older, and others who were a few years younger. At any given time there were anywhere from 1-13 kids to play with, and a plethora of open space to do so in. My home life away from the softball field consisted mostly of free play with my neighboring peers. Some of which my parents probably weren’t too thrilled about; like tying a rope to a bike seat and holding on for dear life while being pulled on rollerblades. I was lucky enough to have parents who let me be involved in “risky” activities (like the one mentioned above) without reprimanding me to stay un-injured so I could compete. This example may seem subtle, but little things like this that were noticeable on a day-to-day basis were the most influential in keeping sports in perspective. It was a constant reminder that there was more to life, and myself, than sport.

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Posing with our high school rival team

Athletes who have a diversity of experiences and people in their lives learn to value all dimensions of their personality and abilities. This quality helps athletes who encounter chronic slumps, difficult teammates, and unfavorable coaching stay in the game. They can stick with the sport they love through the pitfalls and hardships because they have developed as a whole person and see the value in other experiences; Keep kids in sport by fostering their development as a whole child, not just an athlete!

 Quote of the day:

“A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.” – Mary Lou Retton

An Unforgettable Atmosphere

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Cambrian Little League Park

Today I got the opportunity to watch the most enjoyable baseball game I’ve ever witnessed.The atmosphere was one that is unmatched by any other sporting event. Words can’t begin to do justice in capturing the charismatic energy felt in the park. It was an overwhelming encouraging happiness that festered throughout the crowd, into the dugout, and onto the field with the athletes. Just sitting in the stands made me bubble up with a tickling happiness that brimmed my eyes with joyful tears. It was the epitome of what youth sport should be all about.

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Alejandro

The athletes were ecstatic at the chance to play baseball. Contagious smiles were permanently plastered across their faces. Cheers and squeals could be heard at every crack of the bat; kids laughed and some even bowed as they reached first base. Every single athlete put forth their very best effort in every situation; they remained undeterred with a cheerful disposition even when the outcomes were unsuccessful. These kids displayed immense amounts of teamwork; they lent a helping hand at every opportunity. They understood that it was imperative to work together in order to experience success. They cheered and supported every athlete, even those who were playing for the opposing team. The display of sportsmanship was impeccable. This was their game, and they knew it.

The fans were every bit as enthusiastic as the athletes were. Pom-poms and team apparel flooded the crowded stands. At times, some of the kids would come to the fence to greet their fans. They would remove their caps with a swing of their hand and simultaneously take a bow. The crowd erupted with cheers every time, going crazy over the chance to see a player within hands reach. A handful of kids were so passionate about the game that they would slide or dive into every base. Every time, without fail, the fans went wild, yelling, “He’s safe, he’s safe!” Every effort, whether the outcome was successful or not, was recognized and appreciated by the enthusiastic fans.

The coaches were encouraging at every turn. Their sole goal was to have each athlete experience success. With a little patience, and a lot of enthusiasm they ensured that each kid felt like an MVP.  The coaches empowered the athletes by urging them to use the tools they needed to succeed, whether it be a whiffle ball instead of a hardball or a ball set on a tee rather than pitched by a coach. Their focus wasn’t on the “right” way to do things; they emphasized individuality and creativity in the kid’s pursuit of success.

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Alejandro and his buddies George and Diego

It was rewarding to the say the least. This was a Challenger league game. The little boy I work with, Alejandro, has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and this league caters to athletes who are differently abled. At every game his team is paired with a Cambrian Little League team and they work together to ensure that all kinds of kids get the chance to experience the magic of baseball. Every Challenger athlete has a partner from a Cambrian team who helps them execute any skills they may have difficulty with. The kids on both sides are learning so much more than the game of baseball; their involvement in these leagues is shaping their perspective on the world and those who inhabit it with them. They are learning skills and gaining knowledge that will drive them in successful directions throughout life. These kids are walking away with the essential life lessons that youth sport should instill in all of its participants. Well done San Jose, well done.

Quote of the Day: 

“T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More” 

From a Dream to Reality: EDIFY

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My business partner, Keri, and I

I’ve finally focused all my experience, education, and passion into one place. I have created a Sport Psychology Consulting company with a classmate of mine. We’ve created a unique approach that goes beyond the common intervention method of coaches and sport psychology consultants. Our company, EDIFY, encompasses and challenges all the skills I have attained as a student-athlete, coach, and teacher. I am so excited to finally be getting out there and doing what I love!! Check out our site! EDIFY – Empowering athletes for life through sport.

Keri, my business partner, has also started her own blog here on wordpress.com. Her passion in life is running, as she ran cross-country in college and continues to run competitively today. Her blog focuses on the mental and physiological aspects of running. Her blog is inspirational, motivational, and very educational. She really knows her stuff! Check it out! Run Smart, Have Fun.

Writing for Youth1.com!

healthfitnessI am very excited to announce that I am now a contributor to Youth1.com! I am writing weekly sport psychology articles for their new Health & Fitness section.  Youth1.com is an awesome website that is solely focused on youth athletics. They refer to themselves as the ESPN for youth sport!

Click here to check out my first article!

Thank you so much for all of your support! 

Autonomy Breeds Pride

It’s early. The morning dew is still beaded up upon each blade of grass that covers the outfield. If you look off into the distance, you can see the fog still hovering low over the surrounding fields.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA A familiar buzz catches your attention and shifts your gaze to the right field line of the field directly in front of you. It’s the low chatter of a well oiled team preparing for their upcoming competition. They are like a machine, rotating in and out of drills in perfect synchronization. You can almost see the aura of energy radiating around them.

This is one of my favorite scenes from the travel ball world; seeing a team that takes pride in themselves and is anxious to take the field. A team that doesn’t need a coach to get them started in the morning. A team that is accountable and takes responsibility for the necessary actions needed to prepare for competition.

How do you get your team to create that desired morning buzz? Here’s my best suggestion; let them develop their own warm-up routine and pre-game cheer. If you let them be a part of the creative process, they will feel a sense of ownership towards their pre-competition routine. It won’t be something they were merely ordered to do. It will be something they created. Their own masterpiece. Letting athletes make their own decisions gives them the opportunity to be proud of the things they’ve chosen.

Giving them the reins on creating their warm-up will also allow a few other things to emerge. This is a great opportunity to observe who steps up as a leader. softball-warm-upIt’s hard to get 11-20 people to agree on one thing, this will show you which person is comfortable taking charge and facilitating the compromises that will need to occur. It will also allow you to see unique skills your athletes possess; who’s creative, who’s a good listener, who thinks outside the box, who communicates well, who follows, and who’s organized.

Another thing to keep in mind; their warm-up doesn’t have to be uber serious the whole time. When I was playing collegiate ball, Sonoma State University used to begin their warm-ups with a silly human obstacle course relay race. I remember how loud they would get as soon as warm-ups started. We were on the opposite sideline running through our mundane dynamic stretches and they were cheering eachother on, laughing, smiling, and really getting pumped, yet staying loose for game time. I was always secretly jealous that my team didn’t take part in anything like that.

Let your athletes take charge, of course with knowing that you get the final approval on any routine that is developed. Give them a sense of pride and ownership by increasing their autonomy. You never know, they might come up with something that surprises you!

Quote of the day:

“The difference between a good athlete and a top athlete is the top athlete will do the mundane things when nobody’s looking.” – Susan True

A Beautiful Escape

It came to me while I was watching an episode of Greys’ Anatomy. On the episode of Greys, a girl witnessed her grandmother, mom, and father die on her 18th birthday. She then had to take responsibility for her two younger siblings. On this same day, one of the doctors had to operate on an anonymous patient. The surgery isn’t successful, and the doctor loses the patient. Turns out, this patient was her co-workers husband, and she would have to break the news to her. sky dugout

As I was bawling my eyes out watching this episode unfold, I realized something. There are so many terrible, heart-wrenching tragedies that occur in this world on a daily basis, but sports aren’t one of them. What a great carefree way to escape the hardships of our society. We get to go out on the field and hit, pitch, throw, catch, and dive, and the worst thing that could happen to us, is we lose a game. (Except maybe Injury, but in general) That’s it. We just lose, but we get to live and get to play another day.

We all tend to get caught up in the statistics of what team we need to beat, and how many errors the top players make… But if you take a step back and look at the big picture you realize, it’s just a game.prom catcher If you start to look at where softball falls within the demands and events that life can bring, it’s an escape. We get to escape all the stresses, tragedies, and frustrations of the world and just play.

As a coach, I want to harness that. I want to create an atmosphere where players can achieve pure happiness and unchained success. Give them a place to learn and succeed; a place where they can escape the stresses of life and experience success. I want to enhance their abilities and give them a role. I want to give them a chance to feel like they are apart of something, a needed piece of the puzzle. I want to give those kids who may have it rough at home, a place to feel truly important, successful, and accepted. cloudsI strive to teach them life lessons through the game of softball. I want to create a setting where I can give them the tools to face the real world, and a place to escape from it; all at the same time.

So coaches when you’re out on the field, and the going gets tough, take a second to breathe. Remember, you are contributing to their lives. Don’t forget that you have the power to give them an outlet for success. You could be the difference in their future.

Quote of the day:

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” – Maya Angelou 

Wise Words in The Circle

I’ve been a pitcher since I was eight years old; I played through high school at the varsity level, through travel ball all the way to the 18U Gold level, and four years in college. Needless to say, I’ve struggled on the mound more than a few times. I’ve been approached by coaches in all different manners in an attempt to get me back “in the zone”. Looking back, I have a personal opinion as to what worked for me. However, now I am graduate student of Sport Psychology have a few other perspectives to add to my repertoire.

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I think that humor can work, especially in younger athletes. It allows them to breathe for a second without even realizing they are allowing their bodies to relax. With that said, I think you have to know your athletes first. For me, it definitely worked on occasion, but humor was also a prominent part of my disposition. Some players take this game so seriously that humor can come off as an insult. Instead of allowing them to take a load off, you can make them even more tense and anxiety ridden.

I was lucky enough to have the same travel coach for ten years of my playing experience. He knew me well as an athlete, and as a person. When I began to struggle on the mound his words from the dugout were always encouraging. JosephThis is the first piece of the puzzle that helped me “keep it together” when the wheels started to fall off. It helped to calm my thoughts of, “is he going to pull me?”.  If things didn’t improve from there he would come out to the mound. When he arrived he would simplify the situation for me. He wouldn’t mention the runners on base, or the two bombs I had just given up, or the tight score. He would tighten my focus into the things I could control like; trust your mechanics, keep the ball off the plate with two strikes, and keep your change up low in the zone. He would sometimes go the supportive route as well, saying things like, “I put you out here for a reason, and I’m leaving you in for a reason. I believe that you can handle this team and walk away successful. This is your battle and I’m going to let you fight it. Show me what you got.” Depending on the situation humor was used also, which worked at the right time and the right place.

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As a sport psychology student I look at my experiences as a pitcher through a new lens. I realized that the biggest reason I began to struggle was focus, self-confidence, and anxiety. Quality thoughts lead to quality actions; my thoughts weren’t always directed where they should have been. Tense muscles perform differently than loose muscles; when athletes experience anxiety, the physiology of their muscles change. They no longer perform the way they were trained under relaxed conditions. A sudden lack in self-confidence can be a producer of anxiety. With this knowledge, I know that there are three things a coach should do when approaching the mound. Coach the pitcher to relax, use deep breathing techniques. It is physiologically impossible for a body to effectively deep breathe and panic at the same time. Deep breathing will help to combat the effects of anxiety. To handle focus, give your pitcher cues to think about that she is in control of, like her mechanics. She can’t control weather the umpire calls a ball a strike or not, she can’t control whether the batter swings or not, and she can’t control the performance of her teammates when a ball is put into play. What she can control is the thoughts in her mind, and the actions of her body. Give her a few things to think about to keep her mind concentrated on the correct area. Self-Confidence is a larger issue than any coach can fully combat with a single trip to the mound. However, knowing that your pitcher has your support is immensely helpful.

Quote of the day:

“Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.”- Robert Frost 

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