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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” 

Where is Your Confidence Coming From?

As an athlete a great idea to ponder is; where does confidence come from? What is confidence generated by? How is my confidence level? How do I improve it or keep it consistent?

Through out my studies and experiences I have learned that confidence is something that comes from a person’s perspective.  6a00d83451d48a69e200e54f2cb01f8833-800wiIt’s about the way you see yourself and the way you view the situation. It comes from the way you interpret the events in your life. One way to change your level of self-confidence is to change the way you view the situation or yourself. This may not always be an easy task, but it can be done!

The other day I was giving a pitching lesson and the mom was frustrated because her daughter wasn’t getting to pitch much. When she did get time on the mound it was always against the toughest teams, so her daughter wasn’t getting very many W’s. The mom was expressing to me that she wanted her daughter to get the chance to rack up some W’s in hopes to build her confidence on the mound.

So now let me ask you, are you in control of if you win a game or not? Sure you play a part. Just like the pitcher, the catcher, the outfield, the #2 batter, and the bench players play a part. But are YOU in control of winning the game? No. Not only is it impossible to win a team sport competition by yourself, but you also can’t control the other factors that affect the outcome of the game. For instance, you can’t control the umpires and what calls they make. You can’t control the talent of the opposing team, or how many errors they have.

If you rely on winning to build your self-confidence you are putting your confidence in the hands of something that is out of your control. You may get some confidence or you may not, you are relying on chance. You are relying on a dozen tiny things to line up in the exact right way in order to boost your confidence.images (1) Those odds don’t sound very good to me. It sounds like the slot machines in the casino; throwing money in and relying on pure chance for a reward. Wouldn’t you rather throw your money into something with a guaranteed reward? On the softball field you are putting all this effort into delivering your best performance, however if you focus on winning, you are relying on chance to get the reward of confidence from the effort you are putting in.

So how do you reap the rewards every time you step onto the field? By focusing on the things YOU CAN control. Like? Did I keep my head down on the ground ball that got hit to me? Did I swing at the best pitches in my at bat. As a pitcher was I hitting my spots? As a batter was I courageous?- Was I scared to go up to the plate in a crucial situation but I stood in the box and gave it my best attempt anyway? Was my first step back on every fly ball? Did I pick up every sign my coach delivered to me? Did I cheer for my teammates and stay positive throughout the game?

These are the things that should fill your emotional tank. These are the things that should boost your confidence. These are things that no one can take away from you. These are things that aren’t reliant on chance, you can reap the benefits from these things every game, and every practice. Let these things build your confidence.

Our best power pose from the Performance Psychology Conference weekend in San Diego

Our best power pose from the Performance Psychology Conference weekend in San Diego

Here is a great activity athletes can do to become aware of which things they can and cannot control.  They will also realize that trying to control the uncontrollable leads to increased stress and frustration, as well as decreased levels of performance.

Draw or layout two large  circles on the floor, one slightly over lapping the other. Ropes, tape, extension cords, or a simple line drawn in the dirt with your finger can be used to make the circles.  A coach will then read out factors that come into play during athletic competitions. The players have 5 seconds to choose and stand in one of the circles.  If they think the factor could be in both circles, they can stand in the area where the circles overlap.  After final positions are locked in place, a player from each circle should be asked to justify their choice.  This often generates discussion among the players. You can make this activity a fun competition by giving athletes points for giving the most persuasive explanation for their choice of circle.

Possible factors to use:  Intensity during practice, parent’s actions, umpires strike zone, weather, broken equipment, game line up, errors during a game, attitude, or score of the game.

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Quote of the day:

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable” – John Wooden 

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

The Moral Dilemma of Sport

Morality in sport has been a hot topic of discussion in my classes lately. It’s something that draws me in full heartedly. The consensus is, that our sports culture is currently developing characters, instead of developing character within our athletes. We are consumed with a sport culture that is obsessed with winning, implying that winning at all costs is desirable. This can even mean injuring another player, or cheating when striving to be the best. In fact, those who have been socialized through competitive sport don’t even analyze most negative sport behaviors as moral dilemmas. hockeyfightFor instance, most would say that inflicting pain on another human being is morally wrong, however, within a sport contest, hitting an opponent with a “wild” pitch is seen as part of the game. We, as athletes, don’t always register these scenarios as moral decisions, and this is because of how we have been socialized in the sports culture. Researchers call it “game reasoning”, a bracketed reality that elicits different moral reasoning. (Shields & Bredemeir)

My question is: is this “game reasoning” mentality acceptable? When you see the abundance of research done on aggression, and realize that it a learned behavior that is influenced by social factors, you start to wonder if it should be tolerated. As humans, we develop characteristics by emulating those around us. We also conform to the norms of our environments, which are heavy influences on the way we choose to behave. (Bandura) As children we see our favorite star athlete picking a fight on the field and we suddenly see this behavior as acceptable, and desirable. Especially because it is condoned by the media, being replayed hundreds of times. In society we conform to what is “normal”, so in different situations we follow the majority of the group. If everyone in basketball fouls at the end of a tight game to get possession of the ball, you will most likely conform to that way of doing things also. hitbypitch

Realizing that this behavior is socialized, where do we draw the line? Studies have shown that this “game reasoning” isn’t such a bracketed reality. The lines are becoming blurred and those behaviors seen as acceptable in sport are now carrying over into real life situations. This is concerning, especially if we consider the world of youth sport. How are we influencing our youth as moral beings? Are the sport programs we employ socializing them to be dishonest, lying, cheating individuals because winning is of the upmost importance?

In some scenarios, yes, sport is creating characters rather than developing character. However, it has also been proven that because these characteristics are socialized, we can socialize our youth into highly moral people. We can create team climates that focus on effort, teamwork, encouragement, and fair play. We can define success as trying one’s best, rather than defeating an opponent. We can employ coaches who model desirable behaviors for our youth to emulate.goodpractice

I would consider myself a pretty moral person, however I’ll admit, those lines get blurry when right vs. wrong is put into a sport context. It’s hard to draw that line of how far is too far within game reasoning. Some sport rules and cultures make it feel like it’s okay to injure another person. Is cross-checking an opponent in hockey morally wrong, or just part of the game? Should we draw the line at physically taking out the opposing teams best player to gain an advantage? These questions are easy to answer for those who haven’t been socialized in sport, any kind of aggression that inflicts pain is wrong. For those of us who have been socialized through sport, where is the line drawn?

I just found this video of a softball pitcher intentionally hitting the umpire in the face with a “wild” pitch. It looks as if the coach calls a team huddle and plans this brutal retaliation against a bad call. The catcher bails out as soon as the pitch is delivered and leaves the umpire wide open. Click here to check it out: What are your thoughts?

Quote of the day:

 “The only disability is a bad attitude.”

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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