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Category Archives: My Experiences

Only Teach What You Trust

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image-1I remember going to softball camps as a kid. Every camp had new techniques and new ways of doing things. Most camps forced their way into your skills and changed how you did things. Countless times I entered a camp with one bunting technique and left at the end of the week with another. Now that I’m a pitching coach, and have been randomly coaching at different practices with multiple kids, I’ve been looking back on my experiences at these camps.

Walking into a practice where you aren’t the head coach, or even associated with the team; you begin to wonder where your boundaries lie. You know you’re there for a reason, and the coaching staff has asked you to help out because they admire your abilities. But, how much should you impose on their players? I found myself wondering; should I just fix the basics? Should I just teach them how to focus on the mound, and go over mental cues? Am I allowed to completely change their motion when they indeed have a pitching coach they’ve been working with?

images-55Here’s the conclusion I came to. My success in softball came form sticking to one coach, and one philosophy my entire career. I was lucky enough to have the same pitching coach from the age of 10 until I ended my career at 22. I did go to camps, and they did temporarily change my mechanics, but as soon I as I went back to a team practice, my coaches put me straight back to our way of doing things. However, with that said, I can only teach what I know and believe in.

Today I gave a pitching lesson to two young pitchers who were having trouble mastering the change-up. I was asked to help them because the change-up was one of my best pitches. The way I see it is; I won’t fix something that isn’t broken.  If they throw their curveball well, even if it’s not the way I would teach it, I’ll leave it alone. If they are struggling with different pitches, I’ll change them to the way I was taught. After all thats why I’m here.

My impromptu lessons tend to look like this. I have the pitcher go through all her pitches so I can see how she throws. I then begin to work on the pitch I was asked to help her with, or we work on the pitch I think needs the most attention. I have her throw it her way multiple times.images-56 I then do something unique. I ask the pitcher to teach me how they throw the pitch. They become the coach for a minute and show me the motion, snap, grip, and release of their pitch. After talking through the physical cues, most pitchers begin to throw more effectively. (Ahh secret sport psychology at its finest.) I then go over mental cues for them to recite before executing a pitch. If these two tactics and minor tweaks don’t improve their pitch, I break them down completely and teach them my mechanics.

I empathize with players who are constantly changing their mechanics due to working with multiple coaches; it can become very frustrating. However, as a coach, it’s my duty to teach athletes the methods I truly believe in.  Even if it may frustrate and confuse them for a moment. I have to hope that my mechanics will assist them in experiencing a break through. I now understand why my skills were analyzed and changed throughout my softball camp experiences. As coaches we need to cater to individuals players, as every athlete has different strengths, but we must enforce the methods that we know; and believe in the most.

Quote: 

“You haven’t taught until they have learned.” -John Wooden

Your Thoughts Are Your Destiny

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Thought stopping is a common technique used in sport psychology to help athletes refocus by eliminating negative thoughts, but have you ever considered using this method throughout your everyday life? I hadn’t. It wasn’t until about three years after I initially learned about this technique that I realized it could help me in other situations, like my social, romantic, and educational aspects of life. It all clicked during a lecture on Cognitive Behavior Therapy in my Psychology of Counseling Class this last spring.

In Cognitive Behavior therapy they break down a persons reactions into a thought process following an activating event. It looks something like this.

cognitive

First a person must encounter an event to activate a response, hence the term “activating event”. Let’s say for example, you are walking through a school or work common area and a friend passes you without acknowledging you. This is the activating event. Most viciouscirclecbtpeoples’s immediate belief, or thought process, would be; “They must not like me, or they are avoiding me.” Then we react due to our belief and we suffer the consequence  of a change in mood or even a physical behavior in some situations.

In order to change the consequence outcome we must stop the original belief thought process and replace it with a new one. This is the disputing intervention. Let’s go through the scenario again using a disputing intervention. This time we pass our friend in the hallway, and again they don’t acknowledge us. First, notice your instinctual thought. (They must not like me, or they are avoiding me.) This is where the thought stopping technique comes in handy. Acknowledge the thought, and then think of a trigger word or action to cease the thoughts. Simply saying “stop” out loud can work, or try swiping your foot acrossimages-52 the ground as if you are brushing away the negative thoughts.

Now start to develop an effective philosophy. Think logically of other reasons that could have caused your friend to pass by without greeting you. Maybe they are distraught over a situation that happened earlier in the day… Maybe they are extremely busy and while running through their “To-Do List” for the day they didn’t even notice you had passed…Maybe they just simply didn’t realize it was you.

Now take these new thoughts and intertwine them into your perception of yourself, relating it not only to the initial situation but your whole persona. In this situation I would think, “I am a good friend. I am caring, loyal, and go out of my way to do things for others.” Now I can let go of the negative belief and dismiss the incident as a misunderstanding and allow myself to relish in my new positive feeling. Worthy of friendship.

images-54As human beings we take in so many incidences and allow them to serve as evidence for reasons why we should diminish our self-worth. We play them over and over in our heads and damage the image we have of ourselves. These thoughts we recite as we re-play the negative evidence become our beliefs.The more we say something to ourselves the more we believe it. Think of all the things in a day that you employ as evidence to your negative thoughts. We ingrain them into our values as we recite them over and over again. Our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our habits, our habits become our character, and our character becomes our destiny.  But thats the beauty in it, we can control our thoughts, and in turn decide our destiny.

Quote of the Day:

396294_313426528697317_186309574742347_939836_170420469_nWatch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. – Frank Outlaw.

Providing Productive Consequences

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Over the weekend I found myself at a 12U traveling softball team practice. I had offered to help coach throughout the season every once in a while, and this particular Sunday I was called upon.  Practice began as the girls went through their warm up routine. A little images-51laughter here, a few giggles there, and suddenly balls were being missed left and right. No one could make a proper throw and the drills were quickly becoming unproductive. The head coach had finally had enough, and instructed the girls to jog a lap around the perimeter of the field because they needed to refocus.

This method of refocusing is common, and I can’t claim that I haven’t used it myself. I’ve seen countless coaches use it in hopes their athletes will come back with a better mindset. My question is, what part of jogging a lap teaches the players to refocus their mind? I can agree that it gives them a physical break from the prior drill, and maybe gives them a moment to take their mind off the skill, but how does this method 420110405140055001_t607transfer over to a game situation? During games athletes can’t call timeout and jog a lap around the field in order to regain focus.

My point is, as coaches, we need to teach our athletes how to refocus. Instead of sending them on a jog when the wheels start to fall off at practice. Why not gather them together and take a few cleansing breathes. Then discuss the physical and mental cues that are needed to perform the drill correctly. This teaches your athletes the actual steps they need to take in order to regain focus. It is also a method they can take into a game situation. They can take a breathe between pitches and think about what they need to do in order to be successful on the next pitch.softball-focus

It’s natural in our society to give or receive a consequence when an undesired outcome is reached. However, as coaches, we need to look at ourselves as teachers. Most consequences don’t teach athletes how to avoid similar situations in the future. When things start to go awry, pinpoint what is causing it. Then take the time to teach your athletes how they can counter that cause. Alter your perspective and strive to teach your players solutions rather then resorting to handing out a simple punishment.

 

Quotes:

“Practice puts brains in your muscles.”

A Well Deserved Thank You

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John,
It has been over six years since I’ve stepped on the field in a Haze jersey with you as my head coach. I can still remember exactly what it 229001_1041540272659_4243_nfelt like to have a coach who fully believed in me. I wanted to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for making me not only the player I am today, but the person I am today. Every day I find myself relying on something you instilled in me. You taught me to love this game at the age of eight, and continued to fuel my fire until you created a forever burning lpassion in me, which I am now turning into my career. The tough love you showered me with, at times being my biggest fan and at others my toughest critic, is the perfect essence of a true coach. You have not only taught me how to play, react, fail, and succeed in the game of softball, but in the game of life itself. I only aspire to do for my players what you have done for me. Thank you for the passion, the skills, the talent, the attitude, the character, and the love. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you.

Thank you, so much.
Sarah

Quote of the day:

“Thank you for believing in my yesterdays, todays, and mostly my tomorrows”

What Percentage of Sports is Mental?

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What percentage of sports is mental and what percent is physical; a question that has been plaguing the sports world for decades. First, I think the answer heavily relies on what level of athletics we are analyzing. As players grow as athletes, I believe the game becomes more mental than physical. For young players who are just learning the basic skills, playing a sport is dependent on their physical ability.  If we confine the parameters to only encompass players at the elite level, and to analyze athletes only during game day performances, I believe that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical. images-45

Let’s start with the basics. Sports are physical competitions that demand physical and mental exertion in order to defeat an opponent. Athletes must be able to physically execute skills like throwing a baseball, sprinting to the end zone, and shooting a free-throw. On the other hand, they also need to employ mental strategies like knowing which pitch to throw on an 0-2 count, executing different defensive plays, and having the ability to detect and exploit your opponents weaknesses during a match. At the elite level most athletes acquire an edge over their opponent by utilizing the right strategies at the right time, like a squeeze bunt, or a Hail Mary.

There’s also the aspect of fluctuating performances to evaluate when analyzing the mental component of sport. I’ve played softball at the elite Division II collegiate level, and I know that everyday out on the field is significantly different than the last. Even the differences in performance between games can be monumental, but why? How is it possible for a pitcher to have full control of her pitches one game, and completely lose it the next? Forget games, this can even happen between innings. Without injury, it is impossible for a pitcher, or any athlete, to drastically decrease in athletic skill from one game to the next. The only component that has the ability to fluctuate so radically in a short amount of time is a mindset. Their mental approach to the game is what causes fluctuation in performances.images-46

Athletes who compete at the elite level posses skills that are autonomic, performed without thought. These skills can be compared to a reaction; their bodies respond to a stimulus without consulting the brain first, they are programed to simply react. If the skills used to compete at the elite level are ingrained into the muscles, why do we see athletes “choke” on routine plays? This phenomenon is usually caused by pressure in intense situations which produces anxiety within an athlete. The anxiety the mind experiences creates a physical change in how the athlete moves, their muscles become tense and hinders them from performing eccentric contractions appropriately.  This physical change is created by a mindset.

Sports Psychologist Dr. Doug Gardner sums it up perfectly, “Our thoughts influence our actions and our actions influence our thoughts… each physical movement has a mental component.” Our physical movements all start with a mental process, and produce a cognitive reaction.  Due to my experiences and attained knowledge within my field, I believe that sports are far more mental than physical. In fact, I think they are almost completely mental, which leads me to my concluding answer to the proposed question; sports are 90% mental and 10% physical.

Quote of the day:

“I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability, it was my mental ability.”- Bruce Jenner 

Re-discover The Game You Love

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In one of my classes last week, I got the opportunity to hear Coach Fogel, the Chico State Womens Head Basketball Coach, speak about his experiences within sport. He got to discussing youth sport and how ridiculously competitive it has become over the years. Kids used to just go outside and play pick up games with their friends. Now youngsters are competing for spots and driving two hours to merely get 480177_10151827872848508_988127512_nthe chance to play in a few games. Wouldn’t kids be better off getting 500 repetitions in their front yard with their friends? Youth sport has become obsessed with getting kids to the next level with the sole goal of eventually showing them off to college recruiters. Where did just playing for fun go?

Pursuing softball as a collegiate career caused me to take the game seriously at a young age. I have been playing highly competitive ball on multiple teams since elementary school. Although I began playing the sport because it was fun, I continued to play because I enjoyed the competitive aspect. I found pleasure in mastering the skills of the sport and demonstrating competency through competition. Practicing, or “playing”, became a habit. It was just something you did. You suited up, worked your hardest, and fine tuned your talent. To an elite athlete, that’s fun. Over time your mindset gets confined into thinking that playing softball always has to be productive. I had lost the sense that this is a game, something kids do for fun just like four-square or dodge-ball. For me, softball had been taken out of that category. It was a sport, and it needed to always be taken seriously.

Just recently, a friend of mine put softball back into perspective. He had challenged me to a dual; I was to pitch, and he was to attempt to hit off me. Challenge accepted. We went down to the local high school with my dad and went head to head. Wow, pitching was no longer effortless like it used to be. But regardless, I was still triumphant for the most part, and best of all; we all had a blast. It was fun to 189082_1883561375478_3289214_njust get outside, move, and throw a ball around. We just enjoyed the natural rhythm of the game on a beautiful spring day. This experience completely revived my love for the game of softball. A physical activity I can engage in with friends to pass the time. In fact, the very next weekend I drove up to Folsum to visit an old teammate and we spent most of the day on Saturday playing softball. It was silly and carefree, and brought back all those feelings that made me stick with the sport in the first place.

What have you been missing out on? Get out and go play!

Quote of day:

“Life is more fun when you play games”-Roald Dahl

Sports Psychology in the Classroom

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I am currently working as an aid in a special education elementary school classroom. The children I work with are between 8-12 years old and have behavioral issues or learning difficulties. Today I was working one on one with a little boy who really struggles with math.Math-problems-dyscalculia He gets frantic and starts to guess at the numbers, function signs, and eventually answers. Numbers just come chaotically flying out of his mouth with no real reasoning behind them. For example, when asked what 6 minus 5 equals, his first instinct is to shout out “7”, then “2”. And so on.  Everything he does is a guess. He never takes a moment to allow his brain to process the numbers and give a well thought out answer. I quickly noticed this, and my sports psychology training instantly kicked in.

I took a moment, told him to take a deep breath and really look at the numbers we were dealing with. After a few deep breathes, he blurted out, “I can’t.” “I don’t know.” I then made him practice some positive self-talk. Out loud I had him say, “I can do this.” “I know my numbers.” After repeating these mantras a few times, and deeply breathing, he began to read the problem images-42out loud correctly. He slowly read the numbers and grabbed his counting chart. He correctly identified the numbers in the problem, and which way to move on his chart for subtraction.  He looked up after he counted, and said, “1?”. I then said, “Do you think you did the problem correctly?”. He said, “yes”. I said, “So tell me confidently you know the answer is 1.” He then proudly said, “1!”.

We then went on to do 15 minutes of solid relaxed math and he began to learn rather than guess. It’s a moment that will forever resonate with me, and further my belief in the power of Sports Psychology.

Quote of the day:

“Just Breathe”

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