Monthly Archives: May 2011

Another story with a happy ending

Yesterday I heard from another former player who achieved some post-season honors. Her name is Lindsay Meverden, and she’s a sophomore at Lakes Community High School. She told me that she was named a North Suburban Conference all-conference honorable mention. Lindsay Meverden all conference certificate

What’s cool about this (to me) is she then asked me what that meant. So many players these days are focused on their personal accolades and achievements instead of team goals. It’s nice to see one who is simply playing her heart out for the love of the game.

There’s also another bit of inspiration here. At the beginning of the season Lindsay was pretty much a bench player — a backup catcher in her first year on varsity. She was struggling a bit at the plate too. But we got together and worked on getting her hitting back on track. I told her if she could hit that the coaches would find a place on the field for her.

Sure enough, she started hitting, and then she started playing more. She was eventually installed at first base, learned the position (she hadn’t played there since 10U ball) and now has received some post season honors.

Once again it points out that it doesn’t matter where you start the race, only where you finish it. Work hard, persevere and good things will happen.

Congratulations, Lindsay. You’ve earned it.

An exercise in communications

One of the challenges many teams face is getting players to communicate on the field. I saw it happen in a high school game yesterday. A throw came from right field to the second baseman, and she had no clue where to go with the ball. She turned toward third to make a throw, saw it wasn’t there, and then tried to throw to second from an off-balance position. Needless to say it didn’t work out too well, and a run scored and the runner on second advanced.

That’s not unusual. I’ve seen it happen on teams I’ve coached too. So today at practice we did a little experiment that I got from John Tschida at the University of St. Thomas. We sent the girls out into positions with one instruction: absolutely no talking. We then had a couple of coaches act as baserunner while I hit balls into the field.

The girls didn’t like it at all. It was very difficult to know where to make the play and there was a lot of confusion. After about 10 minutes we called them together and talked about it, then sent them back on the field while removing the “no talking” restriction.

It really made the point. We had a lot more talk — not all of it correct, but most of it — and they started making more plays successfully.

If a lack of communication is an issue you face, give this one a try. It probably won’t be a problem for long.

Congratulations to Stephanie Youngman, all conference

Got some more good news today. One of my former players, Stephanie Youngman, was named to the all conference team for her play at College of Lake County, our local junior college.

The cool thing about this is Steph is one of those players whose high school coach never seemed to think much of her. She was overlooked her first couple of years, then made varsity as a junior. But she always seemed to struggle to perform, and to get playing time. That lasted throughout her varsity career. In her final game as a senior, at Regionals, the coach suddenly decided to sit her out in favor of a freshman. Not exactly the time to be experimenting.

For us, Steph always played well. After starting slow her first couple of years she found her rhythm hitting, and ultimately became one of our leading hitters. She was also an excellent fielder, particularly in the outfield. She could play extra shallow to cut off the Texas Leaguers because she was so good at going back on a ball.

I share her story for two reasons. One, obviously, is that I am happy for her that she finally has received the recognition she so richly deserves. The other is an inspiration to other players. This is the time of year when many players seem to be feeling a lack of love from their high school coaches. (Their feelings about their travel coaches come later.)

So I want to show that no matter what, it’s only one person’s opinion. Keep playing and perhaps someday you too will be all conference in college.

Superstars v team players

We’ve all been on (or coached) teams that have had one or two players who were just flat-out better than everyone else. They were more athletic, better-skilled, more driven, more whatever than everyone.

It would seem like those teams would have a natural advantage over those that don’t have any superstars or standouts. They should be the X Factor that drives the team to success. Yet more often than not those teams never quite seem to reach their potential and everyone is left scratching their heads wondering why. Except, of course, the dad or mom of the superstar(s) who just figure the problem is that everyone else isn’t good enough to play with their daughter. 

Yet to really understand what causes it, think about competitive rowers. Let’s say you have eight people rowing in the boat, and one of them is clearly better than all the others. If they all row in synch, that star rower will provide an advantage to the team.

But what if he isn’t rowing in synch with the others, because he’s capable of maintaining a faster pace than they can and he wants to row to the best of his own abilities, with no concern for everyone else? At that point the superstar is working against the efforts of everyone else, and the boat will actually go slower as a result.

Now imagine two superstars in that boat. They’re both rowing together with each other, but against everyone else. The boat goes slower still.

In order to maximize a team’s performance, everyone has to be working together for a common goal. It doesn’t matter if you/your daughter is a better player than the others. The minute she starts to think so, and sets herself apart from the team or works against the team’s efforts, the team will never perform up to its capabilities.

The truth is a true superstar makes everyone around her better. If she isn’t doing that she’s not a superstar, just a skilled player. And part of making everyone around her better is picking up others when they’re down, offering encouragement and standing up for their teammates if anyone gets on them. At that point, the sky’s the limit for the team.

Last thing to keep in mind is Michael Jordan was in the NBA for several years before he won his first title. He was a standout player for sure, and everyone marvelled at how great he was. He was a difference-maker on the court. But he didn’t become a champion until he became a true part of a team, willing to give up the big shot to someone else in order to move the team’s goals forward. Today, he has six rings to prove the wisdom of that concept.

Face masks at the college level

Now that I have a more comprehensive sports package I have to admit I’ve been watching a lot more softball on TV. One thing I’ve noticed is the lack of face masks at the college level.

I’m surprised, really. Face masks have become very popular at the lower levels over the last few years. In fact, it’s more odd to see a player, especially a pitcher, without a face mask than with one these days. Even middle infielders and outfielders who probably don’t really need them are wearing them.

But in college, where the ball has the fastest exit speed and the players spend the most time in the weight room, you’re hard pressed to find a mask on the field. In fact, I can’t think of a single one.

Maybe this will be like the masks on batting helmets. A few years ago you never saw one. Now they’re more common.

Still, you have to wonder why you’re not seeing any. Is it that the culture is still too “macho” to allow it, i.e. peer pressure? Do the coaches discourage it?

The other thing I wonder is if when the current 12U and 14U players who have used masks their whole careers reach college, will they wear them, or will they stop?

What do you think? Why aren’t the current college players wearing them, and will the next generation do it?

First base a one-handed position

In the past I’ve written about catching as being a one-handed position. That idea also extends to playing first base.

The reason is the same. There’s a lot of reaching at first base. And it’s easier to reach farther when you’re only using one hand.

Sure, if the ball is coming right to your chest a two-handed catch is fine. But for nearly anything else — especially balls in the dirt — going with one hand makes far more sense. That’s the reason for the design of first basemans’ mitts. The ball is supposed to nestle itself in the pocket without the benefit of a second hand helping out.

If you’re a first baseman, or working with a first baseman, have her practice catching with one hand. And if you’re a coach of a team, for goodness’ sakes quit yelling at your first baseman to use two hands. She’ll snag a lot more balls with one, and you’ll win a lot more games.

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