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Selflessness

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I believe that selflessness is one of the most important characteristics for an athlete to posses when playing on a team. In order for the team to reach their full potential athlete’s need to be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to better the team. A true teammate mentality, asks what does the team need, before asking what do I need?

When I was an athlete, one of my favorite things about playing on a team, was the opportunity I had to help my teammates be successful.IMG_9849 I learned to push my skill level by keeping the mindset that the team’s success was more important than my own.
On defense, playing for teammates helped me to overcome my fears. Instead of worrying about how scary diving for a ball was, I was focused on getting the out my pitcher needed to end the inning. I knew that if I didn’t lay-out she was going to have to throw to another batter. The need to help my teammates over shadowed my fears.

As a coach, I’m noticing that this mindset is no longer the norm. I may have been simply oblivious to the selfish culture of sports as an athlete, but it seems to me the game has drastically changed. Athletes are so focused on capturing that collegiate scholarship that they’ve completely forgotten about the teammates around them. It’s me, me, me, or I, I, I. Rarely do we hear an athletes concern for “we”, “the team” or “us”. We constantly hear: “Why am I not starting at first base?” or “ I didn’t get enough fly balls at practice”. What’s even worse, is most of these complaints aren’t coming from the athlete’s themselves; they come from the parents. “My daughter only got to base run today at practice”. “My daughter sat out two games weekend.”

This culture of hyper-focusing on individual success is eroding a piece of the game I IMG_0064loved most. Creating that unique bond with your teammates is something I haven’t found in any other environment in my life. When you know that the people around you care just as much or more about your success then they do about theirs is an indescribable feeling. It’s why teams become families and create bonds that last a lifetime. With so much focus on individual success and college scholarships a lot of athletes are missing out on what it feels like to be a true teammate.

I believe that it’s imperative for coaches to create a team culture that is built around selflessness. Selflessness is the basis of teamwork. Teamwork is one of the biggest factors of success. Praise athlete’s when they display the trait of selflessness. Reward the ones who have mastered what it means to be a teammate. Create opportunities for your athlete’s to show how selfless they can be. Set team guidelines so your athletes know what you expect, and know what selflessness looks like on a team. Selflessness can teach athletes so much on and off the field. It can help them reach their true potential by learning to rely on their teammates and experience genuine teamwork.

Quote of the day:

“It’s not about what the team can do for you, it’s about what you can do for the team.”

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” 

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

Thrive on Effort

One of the things I love most about my job as an instructional aid in elementary schools is the chance I get to observe kids at play. kidsrunhallowenOne October morning during the kids morning recess I was helping supervise the kindergarteners. The kids were all wound up and decided they wanted to race each other. Running on the playground usually is forbidden, but one of the teachers decided it would be okay if she took them to the grass and facilitated a silly game of racing. About 30 kids lined up parallel with the teacher on a long, wide strip of grass. The guidelines of the race were to run all the way down to the edge of the grass and the blacktop and back. Aside from just racing, the kids had to imitate whatever festive Halloween character the teacher called out, like a ghost for instance. The teacher would yell out, “ready set ghost” and all the kids would take off howling “Boo” all the way to the end of the grass and back.

After a few rounds of being owls, bats, and monsters, I began to notice distinct motivation orientations emerging within the children. 7E4EFCC6-B1F1-F81A-57020201164D86B4Some kids started to only run halfway down the stretch of grass, turn around and come running back, beating 75% of their classmates. This is the perfect example of an ego-orientation; these kids were only concerned with winning. It didn’t matter if they had completed the race in full, all they wanted was to cross the finish line before their peers. These kids who only ran half way were motivated by social comparison; they possessed an ego-oriented goal motivation. The fun of racing came from beating other children. They didn’t care if they cheated or weren’t participating correctly. They simply defined success as crossing the finish line before other kids.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there were the task-oriented kids; no matter how slow they were, they would run all the way to edge of the grass every time and then turn around and come running back. The kids who ran to the end of the grass every time simply enjoyed the task of running and defined success as completing the task correctly. It never mattered what place they were in when they finished, as long as they ran the whole way and correctly acted out whatever character was instructed. These kids associate effort with success, they have a task-orientation.

With athletes, it is beneficial to reinforce a task-orientation. Athletes who equate success with effort are more willing to take on challenging tasks.images-66 They feel as if they have succeeded even if the outcome is unsuccessful, because they tried their best. They tend to focus on progress rather than outcome. Athletes who thrive on social comparison tend to only take on challenges where they feel they can win. Think about it, if winning is the goal, it doesn’t matter how you attain that goal. The “win at all costs” mentality makes cheating acceptable because the only goal they have is to win. Task-oriented athletes simply wish to complete the task at best of their abilities. They won’t cut corners to make it to the finish line, they simply do their best.

Talent isn’t an innate trait, it is something that is earned through hard work. In the end, developing athletes with a task-orientation will produce highly skilled players.

Quote of the day:

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” – Maya Angelou

Coach Sue Enquist

She is one of my favorites. She’s just so motivating!

If you ever have the chance to watch “Between the White Lines” , a UCLA Softball documentary, do it! It’s so insightful.

Hope you enjoyed this!

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.”

Enlighten Your Athletes With “Why”

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When I first entered the coaching world six years back, I was welcomed with a rude awakening. I was struggling to answer my athletes questions pertaining to why we did things the way we did. For instance, “Why do we go head first into second base on a steal with no runners on, opposed to going in feet first?”. After playing softball at an elite level since the age of 8, it was a shock, and honestly a little disheartening to realize I didn’t know the answer.

Throughout my youth career as a softball player I was lucky enough to always play for coaches who had an immense knowledge base of the game. I was coached at the elite level, with the correct techniques, and strategies, from the get go. I had coaches who knew to call pitches off the plate on a batter with two strikes. I had coaches who knew to push batters back in the box when we were trying to stealimages-47 second. I had coaches who knew to have their player tag-up at second on fly ball to right field.They always knew the correct pitches to call, defensive positioning to set up, and offensive strategies to employ. I was extremely fortunate to develop my skills under coaches who truly knew the game. I was an athlete who learned how to execute with precision.

Being taught correctly from the very beginning allowed the skills and strategies of the game to become ingrained in me, like they were second nature. I never had to conciously think about what was going on around me; my skills and play executions were more like reactions. Unfortunately, this caused me to miss out on a crucial skill, reading the game in front of me. I developed my talent under coaches who were so knowledgeable, that I didn’t get to learn the cognitive side of the game. My coaches were always calling the plays, and giving direction, so I missed the vital skill of reading the game and making decisions on my own.

Coaching has taught me to take my reactions and turn them into words. It has taught me to analyze my ingrained skills and convert them into a tangible lesson for my athletes. The biggest challenge for me has been coaching first base; I know to run when the catcher images-50bobbles a ball, but saying “run” and physically taking off, are two completely different things. It took me a while to hone in on the skill of delivering oral directions on the bases. It was no easy feat, and six years later I’m still learning, analyzing, and converting, but I’m making progress, and that’s what counts!

Coaches, give your athletes the chance to develop the cognitive aspect of this game. It is critical to include the “why” when teaching skills, and developing game strategies. Explain to athletes that pushing batters back in the box makes the throw to second base longer for the catcher. Explain that the throw from right field to third is longer than any other position on the field, which is why we tag up at second base on a fly ball hit to right field. These may seem like minute points to those who have been around the game for some time. However, these little bits of images-48information can make all the difference to your athletes. It can aid in that “click” that we all strive to witness as coaches.Give them the opportunity to employ and execute game situations on their own. Allow them to coach their own teams at practice so they can recognize when it’s smart to bunt, steal, and execute hit and runs. Let the catchers begin to call pitches, let the pitchers begin to call pitches. Remember that trial and error is a fantastic tool to utilize when developing the cognitive aspect of the game. Explaining the mental side of the game, and then allowing them to practice on their own will greatly impact your players ability, and will develop them into well rounded athletes.

Quote of the day:

“Coach is just another word for teacher.”

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