Monthly Archives: May 2019
Came across a version of the headline of this post yesterday in another context this week and thought “How appropriate for fastpitch softball!”
Of course, it immediately brought to mind an image of a lush, beautiful landscape with flowers, and trees, and butterflies, and cute little animals romping around freely under a nearly cloudless sky on a warm day with a cool breeze. Surrounded on all sides by a desolate landscape.
We all love our comfort zones. By definition we’re comfortable there. Life is easy, there’s no stress, we can just go along our merry way without a worry in the world.
As nice as that sounds, however, the problem with the comfort zone is it’s locked in time and place. Sure it seems nice, and we believe nothing bad will happen there. But nothing great or new will happen there either.
And that’s the problem. As a player, or as a coach, you’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward. Because it’s not just about you – it’s about you relative to everyone else.
If you stay in your comfort zone while others are struggling to get better, those others will eventually pass you by. Think of a log stuck in a river.
The log stays where it is while the water goes rushing by. It’s not that the log went backward; it’s still exactly where it was. But the water kept moving, and now it’s further downstream than it was.
So it is with your softball skills/knowledge and ability to play/coach. You won’t grow as a player or a coach if you just decide to stay in your comfort zone. You’ll be stuck in time while everyone else moves ahead.
Think of the hitter who dominates when she is younger because she is bigger, or stronger, or better-coordinated than the other girls. She judges her ability based on outcomes, and since her outcomes are better than the others she doesn’t bother to work on getting better. She’s comfortable doing what she’s doing.
In the meantime, other players who may not have been as blessed with natural abilities take lessons, or study what great players do on their own, and start working to make the most of the abilities they have. They learn quality mechanics and how to apply them, and suddenly as the pitching gets better they’re hitting better than the “natural” who stayed in comfort zone.
They grew, and the “natural” didn’t. Suddenly the “natural” doesn’t have as much of an advantage anymore. Eventually the river of players passes her by and she’s left to wonder, “what happened?”
This is also true of coaches. There are so many coaches out there who view the fact they played baseball or softball in high school or college X years ago as giving them all the knowledge they need to coach today’s players.
They stay with what they did (or what they think they did, which isn’t always the same) and what worked for them rather than looking into whether there might be a better way. As a result, they put their players at a disadvantage versus those who are being coached by coaches who are willing to get out of their comfort zones and learn new things.
Great coaches, whether they played at a high level or not, are always looking for every advantage and piece of knowledge they can bring to their players. They’re not afraid to say, “I know I used to teach X, but I’m not teaching that anymore. Let’s do Y, because I believe it’s a better way to go.”
No less than former UCLA head coach and NFCA Hall of Famer Sue Enquist is one of those coaches. I heard a story a few years ago that she was making a presentation at a coach’s clinic about hitting when a member of the audience raised his hand and said that he had one of her hitting instruction videos and what she was saying completely contradicted what she said in the video.
Without blinking an eye she owned it and said, “Well, I know a lot more now than I did then.”
If someone at that level, with all her accomplishments and championships wasn’t afraid to get out of her comfort zone so she could grow, the rest of us shouldn’t be either.
Yes, the living is easy in the comfort zone. But that’s the problem. There’s no growth there – everything just stays as-is.
Steel is forged in fire. Diamonds are created under tremendous pressure.
If you want to grow as a player or coach, make the leap. Get out of your comfort zone and become the player or coach you were meant to be.
One of my favorite things to do is to go out and catch a game where one (or more) of my students is playing. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at times – especially if a pitching student is facing a hitting student since by default one of them is about to fail – but overall I find it highly valuable.
One of the best parts, of course, is seeing how they perform in context. It’s one thing for hitters to be banging balls all over the batting cage, or pitchers to be racking up the Ks in bullpen sessions. It’s another to see what they do in an actual game situation. It’s like Han Solo says:
About a week ago I had one of those rare opportunities. I didn’t have lessons until later, and high school softball starts pretty early (usually 4:30 during the weekdays) so I ran out to a local school to watch a hitting student named Ella play at least part of a game.
She came to bat twice against what I would characterize as a pretty good pitcher, and she struck out both times. As I watched her struggle I switched from “just here to enjoy a game” mode to “coach/analyst” mode.
I noticed something in her swing. Much as I would have liked to have run down to the dugout and told her about it I would never actually do such a thing. So I did the next best thing. I texted her mom, who was out of town, and asked her to share the information with Ella when the game was over.
Ella’s mom responded that she would, but then I had to leave in the middle of the game to go teach some lessons.
Later I got another text from Ella’s mom. Apparently after I left Ella hit a home run and a double. So she ended up 2-4 that day accumulating 6 total bases. Her mom did say she would pass my message along anyway.
But it figures. I don’t know if this happens to others, but I feel like it always happens to me. I go out to watch a student play and she seems to have a rough time. But I’ll hear before I got there she did awesome, or after I left she got it together and played like a champion.
It wasn’t just Ella either. A couple of days later I watched a 12U pitcher named Sammie for a bit in her first outdoor game of the season. It wasn’t pretty. In the first inning she pitched, which I was there to see, she gave up something like 6 walks, which is uncharacteristic for her and a total surprise after the great off-season she had. She also had 2 Ks, but it wasn’t exactly an offset.
Then I left for lessons, but continued to follow along on GameChanger. Of course, once I was gone she proceeded to strike out the side in the next inning, only giving up one meaningless walk.
It’s enough to make you wonder, “Is it me?” Now, I have heard from parents before that their daughters admit to being nervous when they see me at a game. They want to perform well when I come out to see them, and sometimes it makes them uptight.
Which I find strange since who is going to be a bigger fan and cheerleader for them than me? No reason to be nervous, go have fun. But just in case, I’ve started trying to find places to hide so they don’t know I’m there.
I do know I’m not alone in this. I remember the mom of another hitting student named Emma telling me she never got to see her daughter hit a home run. That was quite an accomplishment because her senior season in high school she hit 15 of them. But when mom was there nothing. She eventually did see one, but it was notable for being the exception.
Now, sometimes I go out to watch a game because I know a student is struggling. I consider that a fact-finding mission so we can get her back on track as quickly as possible, so I don’t even count those games in this post.
The ones I’m talking about is where I see or hear the player is doing well, and I go out with the intention of enjoying the show only to see her under-perform. Luckily no one has flat-out asked me not to come to a game yet, but frankly I sometimes wonder why.
The good news for my students is my lesson schedule (not to mention my wife) keeps me busy so I don’t have a lot of time to get out to games. But if you are one of my students and I do show up, please do me a favor. Relax, have a good time, and just play the way you play when I’m not there. We’ll all be happier for that.
So how about you? Ever have that experience when your student/daughter/whoever plays well EXCEPT when you’re there? Share your stories in the comments below!