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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.”

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

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

A Perspective on Playing Rough

As a coach, if you resort to rough play, what does it say to your opponent, and what does it say to your players?

Through out my experience as an athlete, I don’t remember having an opinion or perspective on rough play. I do, however, remember a specific incident when one of my teammates made a rough move on our opponent. The only thing my coach told her was, “If you’re going to dish it, be prepared to take it.” I immediately adopted this response as my philosophy in regard to rough play. I would never encourage it, but if it were to happen, my players better be prepared to deal with the consequences gracefully.images-41Now that I’m a little wiser and a little older, I wouldn’t tolerate rough play from my athletes. I want my team to be respected not only for their talent but how they present themselves. I want my athletes to achieve success in the fairest play possible, without any sort of rough or negative behaviors. Playing rough, reminds me of the saying, “If you ain’t cheating you ain’t trying”. If a team resorts to playing rough, it puts off the vibe that they are incapable of defeating their opponent fair in square. They need an extra edge to defeat the opposing team. If I’m the opponent, I take this as a compliment. My team is so good, our competitors are worried about beating us, so they are resorting to other means. As for my own team, I want them to believe that being a winner means putting in your best effort, not cheating and merely attaining a higher score to be named the winner. It’s all in how you define success, I don’t agree with winning at all costs, I believe in winning means putting forth your best effort. Respecting the game, the opponent, your teammates, coaches, and officials.

Playing rough teaches players to get rough when the tough gets going, and not only on the sports field, but it also teaches them that getting rough is the answer in life. As coaches we can instill the opposite trait in our players by teaching them to react with good sportsmanship when this situation presents itself. This will carry on with them through life, and help them to always treat people with kindness no matter how rude or rough they are. As an adult, networking is the key to success, especially in the workforce; learning to never burn bridges is a great lesson to instill early on.

Quote of the Day:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are; your reputation is merely what others think of you”- John Wooden. 

Sports Psychology Skeptics

Have you ever been talking to someone and you start to get the feeling they are just humoring you? Listening and agreeing with you to merely be polite, rather than actually buying into what you’re saying? Well, I get this all the time when it comes to Sports Psychology. I constantly receive that polite smile and nod we’ve all been taught since we were children.

In a country where our media is continuously glorifying old school coaches who yell, scream and punish their players to victory; a lot of people find the field of Sport Psychology a waste. Even the entire field of psychology tends to get a bad rep.  You can really get a sense of MV5BMTczNTA2MDc0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMTg4MDY2._V1_SY317_CR1,0,214,317_this negative perspective when talking about psychological disorders, like depression. The general consensus of American society is that people need to just pick themselves up and get over it. They don’t see these disorders as real illnesses, like the flu or cancer. But they are! The mind and body are completely intertwined; the way you physically feel affects the way you think, and the way you think affects the way you physically feel. For instance, have you ever had a bad dream and woke up sweating with a racing heart? Your physical body was simply lying there sleeping, however your mind encountered something so real in its subconscious it caused your body to have a physical reaction. Stomach Ulcers. A physical ailment created by an overly stressed and worried mind. In our society today we are battling an obesity epidemic. Why? Everyone knows that eating nutritiously and exercising are the keys to a healthy weight, so why do we have such a problem with obesity? It’s the mental part of it, the motivation, and the self-control we struggle with.

This is the epitome of sports psychology. Enabling your mind and body to work together to be the best possible version of yourself you can be. Sports psychology teaches your mind to work for you, not against you. It’s easy, while exercising, for you to think I’m tired, I’ve done enough, lets’ quit for the day. Sports psychology trains your mind to push your body to the next level; it trains it to say, just a little bit farther, you got this.

Most people assume Sports psychology is an asset that athletes can only use when they are in a slump or a rut. However, it’s something sport_psychologyathletes can use all the time. In a competitive league where all the athletes have elite skills, the one thing you can have over your opponent is a mental edge. Athletes can have a great game one-day, and a terrible game the next. Why? It’s not their physical skills that drastically decreased in 24 hours, it’s their mental approach that changed!

The best of the best use sports psychology to harness their greatness, maybe it’s just the edge you need to step up your game. Train your mind to work for you!

Quote of the day: 

“What’s above the shoulders is more important than what’s below” Ty Cobb

How far is too far?

How far are you willing to go to be the best? What will you sacrifice to get ahead of the competition? Is there a limit to how much an athlete should endure to achieve success?

In my classes we’ve been looking at exercise disorders, addiction, and depression. It’s scientifically proven that exercise can resolve, and improve the effects of depression. Health professionals are starting to prescribe daily physical activity to patients who are suffering from depression. Having said that, they’ve also seen these same patients become addicted to exercise. How do we know where to draw the line of how much is too much? If you hear a marathon runner say they ran 15 miles over the weekend, most of us wouldn’t think twice about what we’ve heard. But, what if an everyday person said they ran 15 miles over the weekend? Researchers are starting to discover that exercise addiction is common within athletes, however, their addiction simply looks like training, not an unhealthy disorder. They are able to hide out in the sports world, and mask their addiction.In the arena of wrestling, dance, and gymnastics, it’s common for athletes to endure eating disorders in order to meet the requirements of competition. We’ve also seen countless professional athletes abuse steroids to be the best.

I was watching ESPN the other night, and it was highlighting stories of college athletes who had overcome incredible hardships in their journey to the top of the athletic pyramid. One of the stories focused on an extremely talented UCLA football player. This boy walked through high school at the top of his game, and was going to UCLA on an athletic scholarship. Throughout his career he had suffered many concussions. In the second year of his career at UCLA , he suffered yet again, another concussion. However; this time, the injury started to affect his every day life. He was experiencing extreme sensitivity to light, and sound, horrible headaches, and dizzy spells. Although he was an NFL hopeful, he decided to walk away from his dream, and quit playing football. He was quoted saying, “I love football and it was my only dream to be an NFL football player, but football wasn’t helping me, it was hindering my ability to live my life. It came to a point where football was hurting me, not enhancing my life.”

I can’t even imagine  how much strength it took that player to walk away from a sports dream that was clearly attainable. Our society puts so much emphasis on winning, it must have been so hard to look the other way, and put his health first. This young man is a great example to all athletes out there. There is a point where enough is enough.

What we do as athletes shouldn’t endanger our health. Make sure, as a coach, what you’re preaching to your athletes benefits the players athletic ability and overall health. As a player, make sure you aren’t sacrificing you’re health to excel in sports. It’s a fine line we walk as competitive athletes, keep your perspective straight, this is the only body we get.

Quote of the day:

“What’s above the shoulders is more important than whats below” – Ty Cobb 

Read the full story of UCLA’s linebacker here:

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/larimore-368473-camp-ucla.html

Team Bonding; an aspect commonly overlooked by coaches

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It’s amazing to me how many coaches overlook the importance of team bonding. Im not necessarily talking about team sleepovers, or team dinners. I mean coach facilitated team bonding. Activities and discussions to unite players on a deeper level than a common interest in a certain sport. On both of my collegiate teams, I was merely thrown into the mix of players and left to fend for myself in getting to know my teammates. Yet, in my collegiate classes there was always a teacher facilitated “get to know each other” activity done in the first week of school. This perplexed me. In the classroom I rarely rely on my fellow classmates to assist me in receiving a good grade. However, on the softball field, achieving success without relying on my teammates is impossible. So why were my teachers putting more emphasis on cohesion than my coaches were?

In my undergraduate studies, most of my teachers possessed a doctorate that fell into the field of kinesiology. Since my teachers were highly trained in the kinesiology field, they knew that cohesion within a group breeds success for the group. They knew that if we were comfortable with our classmates we would be more likely to speak up in class, ask for help, collaborate, and discuss, which in turn benefits the learning process by getting us involved. If team bonding activities were so beneficial in improving communication in the classroom, think of how successful it could make a sports team.

Which lead me to my future philosophy as  coach. I will always start off a season with team bonding activities. Not only will I begin the season with team bonding activities, but I will implement them through out the year as well. No one knows better than a former athlete that team dynamics ebb and flow throughout the season. Situations happen, teammates get in fights, suzy steals sallys boyfriend and so on. So extending team bonding activities throughout the season is a very important aspect to me.

I’ve actually found and witnessed a few programs that start their seasons this way. (Sierra City College) In fact, when I coached for Santa Rosa Junior college in their 2012 season, we started our spring season this way. We took our girls up to Tahoe for a retreat. On the retreat we played games, and facilitated discussions so our players could truly get to know each other, we as coaches could get to know them, and they us. I’ve never been so moved. I went from barely knowing my players to really understanding who they were as players and where they come from. Their personalities and behaviors were finally linked to reason, rather than mere physical observations. One of the more popular activities we did, was a scavenger hunt. When I was a freshman at SRJC in 2008 our coaches put together a scavenger hunt for us as an end of the year “party”. We were sent out in groups of 3-4 all over Santa Rosa with a list of tasks to complete and a video camera. We had two hours to record as many tasks as we could. At the end of two hours we reconvened at our coaches house and viewed all the tapes to determine a winner. The footage was priceless. We were all hysterically laughing at eachothers’ success and failures. Some of the tasks included: leap frogging across a cross walk, belly flopping into a pool, eating an entire lemon, rubbing a bald persons head, eating a raw egg and so on. Inspired by my freshman experience I recreated it for my players. Again it was a complete success, they loved it, and really got to know each other as they worked through the tasks.

It is so important for players to connect with one another. It facilitates communication and trust on the field and off. Not only is it beneficial, it’s fun! Can’t wait to implement my own team bonding plan someday!

Quote of the day:

“The main ingredient to a players stardom is the rest of the team” – John Wooden 

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