Monthly Archives: August 2013

What’s up with trophies these days?

Ok, I know size isn’t everything, but it sure seems like there has been a major shift in trophies these days. Back in the day even minor tournaments handed out large, gaudy monstrosities that you had to lay down on their sides to transport home. These days not so much.

I noticed this again yesterday when I was watching the PGF 16U championship on TV. I knew one of the girls playing for the Beverly Bandits (although I fully admit I had nothing to do with the way she plays or what she has accomplished – she just lives in my town), so I decided to give it a look.

As you no doubt know, the Bandits won the tournament. After a brief on-field celebration they received their trophy, the representation of everything they’d worked for all season long.

I was expecting something about three feet tall with lots of bling on it. Instead, they held up a small piece of Lucite that looked like it could have been awarded for the Tire Salesman of the Year.

It’s no big deal to me since I’m in no danger of ever winning that tournament. Or even attending it most likely. Still, it was a surprise.

I guess it makes sense, though. Those big hunks of plastic and fake wood look great at the field, but they’re kind of a pain to store. My wife recently asked if she could toss out some of my old trophies from coaching, and I couldn’t bear to part with them. But it was tough to find a place to store or display them too. (Not that there are that many, but we have a lot of stuff in our house.)

I do have to admit I like the plaques better than the trophies. Not so much on the day of the game, but afterwards they’re much easier to display. Hang them up on the wall and they’re out of the way.

So what have you found? Are they still handing out big trophies where you are? Or has everyone downsized? And do you think it’a a practical matter, or are the tournament directors just being cheap?

Why cheerleaders make great softball players

It’s a pretty common practice in every sport for the athletes to make fun of cheerleaders – even if they’re teammates – and fastpitch softball is no exception. Players will do little singsongy imitations, or mimic the movements, while everyone else laughs and throws out little barbs.

The implication, of course, is that cheerleading isn’t really a sport, and that those who participate in it are prissy girls more concerned with their hair and makeup than being true athletes.

Well, I’ve coached a few softball players who happen to also be cheerleaders, and I can tell you from first-hand experience they are usually the epitome of the type of player you want on a softball team. In fact, they have a number of desirable attributes, including:

  • Great core strength. We always talk about the need for players to develop core strength. Cheerleaders walk in the door with it. All the tumbling/holding people up/throwing people around forces them to develop great cores. Don’t believe me? Have your team do a plank and see who folds last.

  • Great balance and flexibility. They work on those attributes all the time. In fact, everything cheerleaders do (short of sitting on a homecoming float) requires them to have balance and flexibility that’s far above the average person.

  • Physical toughness. Cheerleaders are much like gymnasts in their ability to ignore pain. Those who have done it can probably speak to it better than I can, but from what I’ve seen cheerleaders always have a sprained or bruised something. But they’ve learned how to ignore it, especially when it occurs in mid-performance. Maybe they’re always afraid of being replaced, but you’ll rarely hear a cheerleader ask to come out of a game because of an injury.

  • Intense focus. Cheerleading routines tend to be fairly intricate and dangerous, which means you either learn to focus fast or someone gets hurt. Cheerleaders seem to know how to be in the moment when they’re playing. They also understand how to focus at practice or lessons, which makes them much more productive.

  • A sense of team. While it’s true that athletics tend to be a social activity for nearly all females, there is an additional sense of team that cheerleaders develop. Maybe it’s the nature of what they do, crossing the line between athlete and performer. Maybe it’s because everyone else simultaneously despises and envies them so they have to stick together. Whatever it is, in my experience that sense of team carries over to their other activities, making them great teammates. Even when they are the butt of the joke.

The one downside these days is that like every other sport or activity, cheerleading does demand a lot of the participant’s time. Which means they may not make every practice the team has – especially if the cheerleading coach has a “miss one and you’re done” rule. You have to decide if the positives outweigh the negatives.

So yeah, make fun of them if you feel you must. But if you have the opportunity to put one on your team, grab it! You won’t be sorry.

What other attributes have you found cheerleaders possess? Are there other sports/activities that lend themselves to making great softball players?

Results of the IOMT Castaways experiment

Back in March I wrote about a different team concept I was doing this summer. In case you don’t feel like following the link, it was called the IOMT Castaways – IOMT standing for Island of Misfit Toys. The team was put together by invitation, and was made up of girls I’d eitherIOMT Castaways coached before on a team or who were pitching or hitting students of mine. (Some were both, too.)

The primary credential to be on the team (which led to the name) was having been underrated or under-appreciated on another team. Perhaps it was a school team where they were overlooked for varsity, or not given a chance to compete for their primary position. Perhaps it was a travel team that passed on them, or one that took them and then didn’t play them or constantly criticized them.

Whatever it was, these were essentially players that other coaches didn’t think much of but that I thought could play ball. We also looked hard at the kind of people they were. We wanted not just quality ballplayers but good teammates with good parents. We also made it clear that the goal of this team wasn’t college exposure. It was to give girls who just love playing softball an opportunity to play purely for the love of the game. )Truth is there were a couple of girls I knew who had all those other qualities but were still interested in pursuing college scholarships, so I suggested they play on a team that had that goal.)

In any case, we just finished up the season last Sunday. So how did the experiment go? Were we able to take these “castaways” from other teams and train them up to be competitive, or was it a nice idea that fell apart in the execution?

I’m glad to say it was actually a very successful season. We played a mix of sanctioned tournaments (A, B and open), and finished with a record of 21-14 across seven weekends. In our tournaments we earned one second place finish, two thirds and a consolation championship. Considering I would’ve been happy with any one of those results, to have achieved so much in a single year was outstanding.

Perhaps my favorite story came from one of our players, who knows some of the families in the host organization for one of the tournaments we played in. It was a USSSA A tournament where we took third, and came within a run of going to the championship game. Apparently we were quite the talk of the tournament. Everyone was asking “Who the (heck) are the Castaways, and where did they come from?” Of course, our Florida-like uniforms certainly helped keep the mystery alive.

More importantly, and I think anyone who has ever coached girls can appreciate this, we had no drama. None. There were no hurt feelings, no cliques, no catty remarks behind people’s backs. Our Castaways genuinely liked each, and embraced their differences and the quirks of their teammates. It was one of the happiest teams I’ve ever been around – at least until our last game was over, at which point there were many tears shed for the end of their careers, and the end of all of our time together.

The only regret our whole coaching staff had was that we started it at 18U instead of 14U. We couldn’t help but wonder what we might’ve been able to accomplish with them with a couple more years together. Often your better teams are those with at least a core of players who have been together for a while. Almost everyone on our team knew someone from having played with them before, but it was hardly a familiar group to start. To see them bond they way they did, and most likely make friends for life, was an amazing thing.

So there you have it. Proof that with the right group of players, the Castaways concept works. There are no plans for an IOMT Castaways in 2014. But I’m keeping the organization alive. It’s sort of like the Three Amigos. Whenever another group of players need a positive, supportive atmosphere where they can get an opportunity to show what they can really do, the Castaways will be there for them. And hey, who knows? Maybe a couple of the original Castaways will come back and coach.

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