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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.”

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

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

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!

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 

Create a Mental Checklist to Improve Concentration

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It seems to me that coaches tend to write off youth athletes who lack the discipline to focus through practice or games. CoachesUnknown123 seem to think that concentration is an innate skill and can’t be improved or changed. As a kid I remember hearing that the human brain could only focus for five seconds at a time, this immediately became my internal excuse for not paying attention in class. So I’m guilty of dismissing the possibility of improvement as well.

I’ve learned of Neuroplasticity: “The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.” This means that concentration can be enhanced due to our brains ability to undergo neuroplasticity.

images-62 Like I’ve said before, most coaches simply tell players to concentrate without teaching them how to do so. I’ve reworked my coaching language in an tempt to avoid doing this. I try to keep the words “concentrate” and “focus” out of my coaching vocabulary as much as possible. Easier said than done. I’ve begun to utilize a strategy I picked up in graduate school. I consciously create a concentration checklist for my athletes when I feel they are losing focus, or concentrating on the wrong aspects.

So what is a concentration checklist you ask? It consists of 3-4 physical or mental components needed to complete a skill. They are simple, short tasks which are easy to remember and repeat. A skill we are all familiar with is making a right turn while driving. A concentration checklist for this would look something like this:

1. Signal blinker

2. check traffic to left and right

3. accelerate and turn the wheel to the right side.

When teaching athletes how to throw a change up, I usually give them this checklist. hqdefault

1. Lock wrist to the sky

2. Keep Elbow at your side

3. Think over the bucket in the hole

This checklist helps to keep athletes thoughts on the right path. I’m implying the need for them to focus more adequately, and showing them how to do it, rather than simply telling them they need to.

Consolidate the task at hand into three simple steps. It’s something simple that athletes can repeat to themselves to keep their mind and body on the right track.

Quote of the day:

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

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

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