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Petaluma Embraces a Miracle League

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Fives years ago I had the opportunity to be a fan at the best baseball game I’ve ever seen. I was living in San Jose and working as an instructional aid to a 3rd grade boy who had the diagnosis of  Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He played for the Challenger Baseball League which supported athletes who were differently abled. The experience of simply watching radiated happiness through my soul. Here is the article I wrote following the game:

An Unforgettable Atmosphere  May 10, 2014 

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. (Original article: An Unforgettable Atmosphere)

I am so proud to say that my hometown of Petaluma finally has its very own Miracle League; a baseball league where differently abled athletes are embraced and celebrated. For the past two weekends I have found myself re-living that inexplicable happiness that I first felt in San Jose watching the Challenger League. My heart is beyond full that I have the opportunity to volunteer with such an incredible program right in my own backyard. I urge you to get involved so you can witness the magic for yourself. Thank you to all who have made the miracle league possible; it is the greatest reminder of what youth sport should be all about.

Check out all they have to offer! North Bay Miracle League

“Everyone deserves to experience joy and community through baseball.” – Miracle League Vision.

Shout out to the Volunteer Parent-Coaches!

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It’s that time of the year! In my opinion, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, sorry Christmas! Recreation baseball and softball leagues are swinging into gear all over the place! Kids are trying out their new gear, ready to swing for the fences! … and parents are praying that someone else is going to volunteer to coach the team! Ha! This post is a shout out to you parents who stepped up and volunteered to coach the team.img_7376-2 This post is for all those parent-coaches who aren’t sure where to start and may be wondering what in the world they got themselves into. Let me start by saying, we appreciate you stepping up and “taking one for the team” so all of our kiddos have a place to play and fall in love with the game!  I know how hard the position of coach can be, especially if you have little to no experience with the game.

A family friend of ours is in your shoes. He stepped up to coach his sons baseball team this season and baseball isn’t his number one sport; he’s more of a football guy. He asked me for help with practice plans and basic mechanics. I wrote out a few practice plans for him and I thought some of you could benefit from them as well! They tend to just throw you guys into the fire without any guidance and I’m not down with that! Here’s a few practice plans to help you get your season started! (They are written for kids around 8 years old with little to no baseball/softball experience)

Stay tuned… there’s more to come!

Practice 1: Setting the Tone

Practice 2: Intro to Hitting

Practice 3: Infield/Outfield

Practice 4: Eye on the ball

Practice 5: Intro to Game Situations

 

 

Catastrophic Failure

Failure is taboo in our culture. We hide from it. We brush it under the rug. We are taught that accepting it is weakness. We are urged to get back up, dust ourselves off, and try again.

I’m curious, is that always the best? Just dust yourself off and keep going? Does the rate at which we get back up and try again matter? Does it have to be immediate? I believe, sometimes, it’s best for your heart, your soul, and your growth, to pause. To pause and let the failure sink in. Reflect on it. Truly feel it throughout your whole being. Analyze it and determine its worth and meaning in your life. IMG_4489.jpeg

Over the past year I’ve experienced some BIG failures. We are talking category 5 storm type failures. Let me tell you; they knocked me down and they obliterated my heart. They were excruciating to swallow. They were hard to understand. The embarrassment was smothering. It felt impossible to accept that they happened. I couldn’t fathom dusting myself off and going back for more. Fails at this aptitude make your body cringe and skin crawl.

I truly don’t think it was best for me to quickly dust myself off and get back in the game. I needed to take a long hard look at why I failed and what I wanted my successes to look like going forward. Sometimes failures are so catastrophic they make you question who you are. I needed to understand what part of that failure was mine to own, and which parts I could release to others. Was their more to my self worth? Could I find passions in other realms to fill my self image? Was I enough? In the midst of the storm I needed to decide who I was despite the failures.

With time, perspective sets in. You get to see the reality without the emotion. It’s no less devastating, but your heart comes back to fight for you and it allows you to put the failure in its place. It allows you to see if for what it really was. It allows you to take the lessons learned and simply leave everything else.

Failure can be devastating but it isn’t everything. We all fail. Everyone fails. It’s not as taboo as our culture makes it. Without failure there would be less understanding, less learning, and less perspective taking. Failure is imperative in any journey. You need it.

For catastrophic failures, let them sink in. Don’t get whirled into the belief that you’re weak if  you take a moment to breathe. Allow yourself the time needed to check in with your soul; decide what the failure(s) means to you. File them where they fit. Grow from the lessons. Tip toe back out there when your heart is ready and merge into your lane with a new outlook. Find those who are there rooting for you, and embrace them every step of the way. Or don’t. Maybe your reflections will lead you to a completely different path entirely. Either way, it’s okay.

When faced with a catastrophic failure that shakes your whole being, take care of you. Listen to your heart and make the decisions you need to feel like you again. Don’t be pressured by the labels of society. You are not weak. You are not a failure. You are you and that’s something worth taking care of.

I chose to play anyway

As adults we have the ability to see the big picture. We know that our decisions, actions, and behaviors will play a role in our future lives. We may not know the size of the role, or the type of role, but we are able to foresee the possibility of an impact. We’ve earned that perspective.

As an adult myself I am often surprised by the reality of that impact once the future arrives in my present. Especially for those past decisions that have made a significant impact on my current present. Even with a decent amount of life experience under my belt it’s hard to understand how my future self will cope. It’s hard to empathize with the struggles that haven’t happened yet; it’s hard to feel the pride in the victories that are yet to come. When the future arrives in my present the reality feels more overwhelming than I originally imagined. Time and time again I am surprised that decisions and circumstances that felt so small can seep so deeply into so many different facets of my life.

As hard as it can be for adults to take into consideration how our present selves can impact our future selves, for children, it’s even harder. They haven’t had enough time to understand the big picture. They are still trying to figure out how to function as a human. The present is overwhelming enough as it is; they don’t have the resources to consider the future.

When I was a freshman in high school I had earned a spot on the varsity softball team.  I had hopes of playing in college and this was an exciting stepping stone to one day meet that goal. Towards the end of my sophomore season I started to feel a pain in my throwing shoulder. It progressively got worse as the season went on, and by the time tournament ball was well under way I knew something was wrong. My heart was dedicated to my teammates and my eyes were fixated on my dreams of playing in college. Through the lens of my young perspective admitting I was hurt would only disappoint my coach and crush my collegiate dreams. I kept playing without complaint until midway through my Junior season of high school ball. The pain was constant and I had lost significant strength. Being a pitcher, the change in my performance was obvious. I finally had to admit what I had been dealing with. It turns out I had frayed the labrum in my shoulder and I would need surgery to rivet it back onto the bone. Due to the timing of the surgery and the length of the recovery process I lost out on my biggest recruiting season. I was angry, broken hearted, and defeated. These emotions served as my motivation to make it back on the mound for my senior high school season. I raced through the recovery process, fought through the pain, and started my senior season alongside my teammates. The next year I ended up playing for the local Junior College team. My dedication to the sport and my teammates continued; I allowed my coach to over use me on the mound even though I knew it wasn’t best for my shoulder. It didn’t matter to me. My teammates and our performance mattered to me. I would have done anything to contribute to our success, even if it meant sacrificing my health. Finally, in my junior year, I made it to the big leagues; I finished my collegiate career playing for a Division II state school.

I may have achieved my goal of playing collegiate softball but my shoulder was never the same. To this day I deal with ache’s, pains, losses in strength and mobility.  There are activities and experiences I avoid because I know it will cause pain to my shoulder. Simple things like shopping – moving hanging clothes across a rod, holding my cell phone up to my ear to have a phone conversation, or cradling a baby all irritate my shoulder.

Dedicated athletes, especially young dedicated athletes, are near sighted. Their whole word is in the present. It’s hard for them to fathom their life after sports. In their eyes that life doesn’t matter unless they perform right now. Is that dedication to the sport, their teammates, and their dreams beautiful? Absolutely, without question. Is it also concerning? I think so. Especially when you take into consideration injuries that affect the brain, like concussions. I feel lucky that my injury was simply to my arm, and not something as sacred as my brain.

The culture of competitive sports often puts the success of the team before the health of the athlete, or even the coach. Those who miss practices or competitions to heal their bodies are often portrayed as weak or less dedicated. It’s almost as if sport forces us to ask our bodies for forgiveness rather than permission. We take less preventative measures because we don’t want to miss out on the present. This culture of pushing our bodies to the limit is so deeply rooted in our hearts as athletes. If you play through the pain you are elite, you are dedicated, you are tough. You are tough. This seems to be the ultimate compliment an athlete can receive.

I still struggle to listen to my body when it comes to competitive situations. I still push myself farther than I should. It’s easier for me to see the big picture for others. I can help my athletes make healthy decisions; I can help my friends make healthy decisions. For myself, however, it’s a different story. I am still influenced by the athlete mentality; I still am deeply committed to prove my worth. To prove my dedication, my abilities, my toughness.

Was it all worth it? That’s a question I still can’t answer. As most athletes say; I wouldn’t change my decision, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. It’s baffling isn’t it? Even in hindsight, knowing the consequences, we still choose our sports career over everything. It is an extremely influential culture.

When I began to write this I wasn’t sure where I was I going to end up. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be an answer or a final message. I guess it brought me to awareness.  Everything starts with awareness. As coaches, parents of athletes, and athletic directors we need to be aware of how influential the culture of sport is in our athletes lives. How influential we are in our athletes lives. Athletes themselves need to recognize how influential sport is in their lives. How much it’s socialized into them. Sport makes a life long impact. The lessons athletes absorb and the things they learn to value are deeply rooted in the soul of who they become. We need to always be aware of their future selves. We need to be aware of the imprints we are leaving on their hearts and in their paths.

3 Steps Back, 4 Steps Forward

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I’ve noticed a common thread among the athletes I’ve had the pleasure to coach over the past year. Most of them have this fear, or inability to slow a skill down and adjust in the midst of their mechanics. For instance, the other night I had my team running agility patterns on ladders. Some of the footwork patterns are a little tricky; a few of my girls were having a hard time finding the rhythm. Over and over, myself and assistant coach advised them to slow down, learn the pattern, don’t worry about your speed, we are looking for quality, not quantity.  Even with that instruction, all my girls sped through the ladder, missing sections, and tangling the ladder around their feet. They are so focused on the outcome, and the pace of their teammates around them. They won’t take the time to adjust and learn the skill correctly, they strive merely to “keep up” with everyone else. It wasn’t until I physically stood beside them and wouldn’t let them go any faster than I did that they were willing to slow down and talk themselves through the pattern.

This same pattern presents itself when I’m giving pitching lessons. My pitchers are more concerned with throwing strikes then properly executing the mechanics. When we are working on making adjustments, their focus is on the speed and accuracy of the pitch. They don’t allow themselves to be vulnerable and change their movements which may in turn, for the moment, negatively impact their performance. I’ve spoken to all of my athletes about this, and I haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of what causes it, but I have a few theories which I believe all converge to create this insecurity of not being good enough.

Social Media: Social media has played a huge role in how our athlete’s view themselves. Their self confidence is built around how many likes their pictures receive or how many followers they have. They live, eat, sleep, and breathe this superficial culture everyday; it is constantly reinforcing this idea that they are in competition with everyone around them all the time. They must look “good” or “pretty” in order to be accepted socially by their peers. I believe this attitude has carried over to the ball field. I asked my pitcher the other night why she was unwilling to make an adjustment and possibly let the ball go sailing over the catchers head. Her response; “There’s a lot of people watching me and I don’t want them to think that I’m not good”.

Lack of trust in the process: I believe that sometimes athletes struggle to change their swing, or mechanics, because they simply don’t believe that it will make them better in the long run. Yes, your performance may suffer for a couple pitches, or a couple days, or even a week, but if they make the adjustment it WILL make them better in the long run. The athletes I’m working with don’t seem to understand this process, they view failure as a negative all the time, even if it’s improving their mechanical game. I think it also comes down to trusting your coaches. Trusting that even if your performance suffers momentarily, your coaches adjustments will improve your performance over time.

Insecurity:  Vulnerability is something that isn’t embraced in our society. In fact, it’s shamed most of the time. It makes sense that our athletes aren’t willing to be vulnerable during practice. They aren’t willing to drop their guard and try something that may make them look “silly” or different. They want to be “on” all the time.

It’s imperative for our athletes to be comfortable trying new things. They need to trust the process of taking 3 steps back if it means they get to leap 4 steps forward.

 

 

 

Love The Game

Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to write these days. I’m currently back in school full time to get my teaching credential in Special Education. I am also teaching full time as as a Special Education Specialist in my first year of teaching. In between work and school I find time to do what I love and coach my girls.

I don’t have time write a full blown blog today, however I wanted to leave this tidbit of information here because I think it’s imperative for coaches to remember. 25089_1278222429565_5434882_n

As stated by Lubbers (1998) “At the cornerstone of tennis development lies a common thread, which perhaps stands out as the most important ingredient to success.  This is the development and maintenance of a love and joy for the game (Bloom,1985 and Saviano, 2001).  Research shows that athletes who develop a deep love for a sport and are not pushed into serious and heavy competitive environments too early have the proper basis to excel later in their careers (Gibbons, 1998).”

It’s crucial to allow athletes to fall in love with the game. It’s the foundation needed to stay committed to excelling in their sport throughout their career. Without a love for the game, it’s unfair to ask athletes to dedicate the obscene amount of hours it takes to reach the elite level.

This should be our ultimate goal as coaches, especially at the younger levels; to foster our athletes love of the game.

“The game of basketball has been everything to me. My place of refuge, place I’ve always gone where I needed comfort and peace. It’s been the site of intense pain and the most intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. It’s a relationship that has evolved over time, given me the greatest respect and love for the game.”-  Michael Jordan

References: 

Bloom, B. S., Developing Talent in Young People, Balantine Books, NY, 1985.

Gibbons, T., “The Development of Excellence.  A Common Pathway to the Top in Music, Art, Academics and Sport,” Olympic Coach, 198, Vol. 8, No. 3.

Lubbers, P., A Contrast of Planning Skills Between Expert and Novice College Tennis Coaches, doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 1998.

Why Sport Psychology

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I frequently get asked why I chose to pursue sport psychology as a major and as a career. The easy answer was and still is, “It makes me a better coach”. My original reasoning for getting my masters degree in sport psychology was because it would make me eligible to coach at the collegiate level. Now, it’s morphed into so much more than that. I no longer strive to coach at the collegiate level, nor do you need a masters degree to coach at the collegiate level anymore.IMG_9395

Sports have never been about the wins for me, even as an athlete, I’ve always appreciated the value in the experience despite the outcome. As a coach I’m no different; I don’t strive to be the best coach in terms of a winning record or how many athletes receive D1 scholarships. I strive to be the coach that made the biggest impact, the coach that made them love the game, the coach that my athletes will call five years down the road just to check in with. The coach my athletes will call if they ever get into a tough situation or experience a huge success in life. The coach they will look back on and say because of her I am successful.

Sport Psychology is the perfect platform for that. It allows me to seamlessly bridge the gap between sport and life skills. I get to influence my athletes in a way that will benefit them in sports, and in life. It’s a platform that allows me to talk to them about real topics: their fears, goals, motivators, communication styles and mindsets. Sport psychology gives me the opportunity to hear experiences that have impacted their lives and sports careers. Essentially, I get to find what makes them tick, why they are who they are, and how we can grow even further together. That, to me, is the most enjoyable role I could possibly get to play as a coach, and that is why I chose Sport Psychology.

Baring it all

My world from my perspective.

One Game, One Love.

Coaching perspectives and life lessons of a Sports Psychology M.A.

Live Love Sport

Improving your mental game

Secret Life of a Startup

Some things you can't complain about at work

M I Initiatives

Belief in Human Potential

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