Category Archives: General Thoughts
One of the best things about coaching fastpitch softball, at least in my mind, is the opportunity to get to know so many great girls and their families. Still, these relationships tend to be fleeting, so it’s always cool to see what’s happened to a former player or student once you’re not sharing the same field.
Today I have the privilege of telling the story of a remarkable young women named Christina Smok. I only had the opportunity to coach her for a year, in her first year of
playing 14U travel ball, but it was a great year. I’ve included a nice action shot from that year here on the right.
Christina played catcher and third base, and did a great job at both. She worked hard, played hard, and always brought a great attitude. She continued to play through high school, but like many decided that college softball wasn’t for her.
That didn’t mean she gave up the game, however. Instead, unlike so many, she moved into coaching with the program she was a part of in the last few years of her career. She actually coached with her dad Pete, and her mom was always there to watch the team’s games as well. It was a real family affair. I believe she did this every summer while she was in college.
(Incidentally, I know all of this because in one of those “small world” happenings one of my current students, Allison Musgrove, was on her team. That was coincidence because I hadn’t started working with Allison yet when she joined that team, and Allison came to me through a different channel. It was just a common bond we discovered later.)
As great as all of that is, however, it’s not the reason I decided to tell this story. The real impetus was something non-softball I saw about her on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.
While most of us are in our homes getting ready for Thanksgiving, Christina is currently
in Tanzania. She has been studying to become a physical therapist (here’s a photo of her from her “white coat” ceremony), and as part of that education she is spending the next few weeks providing care to residents of this underserved* East African nation.
I mean, how cool is that? To go halfway around the world to help people who really need it? It’s not something everyone would do, but it doesn’t surprise me a bit. She had a can-do attitude when I coached her, and obviously she still has it now.
Anyway, I just thought I’d share. In the heat of the moment on the field, or even as the now 12-month season drags on, it’s easy to over-blow the importance of the softball component of your life. But that’s just one piece of a larger puzzle.
I’m sure Christina’s softball experiences throughout her career helped bring her to this point, along with the love and support of her family. But it’s not an end in and of itself.
Whether you go 4 for 4 or 0 for 4 at the plate, make a spectacular diving catch or boot a routine ground ball, strike out 12 or get knocked out in the first inning, etc. isn’t all that critical in the big scheme of things. What’s more important is how you use those experiences to shape your life.
Christina sets a great example for today’s players. Live your best life.
And if you like stories like this about former players giving back, keep an eye on this space. I’ll have another in a few weeks.
*How poor is Tanzania? It ranks 159 out of 187 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index, and its Global Hunger Index rating was the second-worst of all East African Community countries. So this isn’t exactly an easy jaunt.
The summer is a distant memory. Especially for those of us who got snow on Halloween! Can you believe that? Sticking-to-the-ground-over-your-ankles snow on Halloween.
Fall ball is either behind us already as well, or there is one more weekend to go. Then there’s a lull before it all starts again.
It’s definitely a great time of the softball year to take some time off. Rest and recovery is a good thing, and now that we have joined the indoor sports in playing practically year-round it’s tough to find a few weeks you can string together to let your body (and mind) heal from the grind.
For some, however, this might be a great time for something else – i.e., hitting the reset button and either correcting major flaws or making major upgrades in mechanics and approach.
There is never a bad time to work on improving yourself and your game. But making major changes carries some risks when you’re also expected to play at your most effective level during the week or on the weekend.
Let’s take pitchers for example. To achieve all she’s capable of, a pitcher may need to work on her posture, or her leg drive, or her ability to whip the ball through the release zone. But it can be difficult to work on those things if doing so causes her to be wilder than when she sticks with her old habits.
Most coaches would rather have their pitcher bend forward and throw consistent strikes than work on staying upright and throwing too high, or too low, or too wide. Especially if that pitcher is their #1. That’s just the nature of things, and it’s very understandable.
Still, every pitch the pitcher throws bent forward so she can throw a strike is another step in the wrong long-term direction. And it will take her that much longer to get to where she needs to be to reach her potential.
It’s the same for hitters. Working on developing a better swing that will make a hitter more effective at higher levels doesn’t always yield great results at first. Anything that’s different is uncomfortable at first, and hitting is so dependent on quick reactions that walking the line between the old and new swings may throw the hitter off entirely.
Again, most coaches will take a good hit with an ugly swing over strikeout or weak ground ball or pop-up with a good swing. They’re not interested in how many home runs that hitter will hit in two years with her new and improved swing. They’re focused on getting her on base, or scoring that runner on third, now. Can’t say I blame them. I would be too.
Once upon a time there were three distinct parts to the season. There was the off-season, which lasted a few months, then the pre-season for a month or two, then the actual season.
That’s not the case anymore. Fall ball has gone from being a time of once-a-week practices and a game here or there to almost the equivalent of the summer season. Some of the tournaments in the fall are arguably more important than many in the summer for those who play in college, because college coaches are in attendance in droves. You don’t want to look bad in front of a gaggle of college coaches.
So right now, from the beginning of November to the end of December, is about the only time for players to make major changes in a safe environment. Pitchers can work on improving their drive mechanics, or their posture, or other core fundamentals without having to worry about the results of the pitch.
They can throw the ball all over the place for now, as long as they do it with the correct mechanics. It’s a form of failing up. Not to be confused with the version where someone sucks without trying to get better but gets rewarded anyway. As they replace old habits with new ones the control will come back – and be better than ever.
Hitters can work on developing their swings without having to worry about the consequences. As they move from conscious competence (having to think about how to move correctly) to unconscious competence (not thinking about what they’re doing but doing it right anyway) they can shift 100% of their focus to seeing the ball and hitting it hard. Suddenly all those cage pop-ups and ground balls start turning into rising line drives that smack off the back of the cage – and rebound back at the hitter if there is a solid wall behind the far end.
Everyone can work on their throwing mechanics – still one of the most under-taught parts of the game. Instead of measuring success by “the ball got to where they were throwing” fielders can develop mechanics that will help them throw harder and faster while protecting their arms and shoulders from injuries.
Most times of the year the pressure to perform in games out-ranks the desire to make improvements. Not right now.
For those who know they need to make major changes, this is the ideal time. Get to work, either on your own or with a qualified instructor, so by the time you start up again you’re ready to play (and show) better than ever.
And if you’re not in need of major rework, enjoy your time off. You’ve earned it.
There is a joke I heard a long time ago that pretty much sums up the softball player recruitment and retention process. It goes like this:
This guy dies and meets St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. He’s excited about making it to Heaven, but St. Peter informs him that he is required to give the guy a choice about where he wants to spend eternity – Heaven or Hell. The guy is surprised, but figures rules are rules and goes along with it. St. Peter tells him he will get to check out each, then must make his decision.
He starts with a tour of Heaven. It’s everything he’d heard – angels sitting on clouds playing harps, everything white, everything calm and peaceful. It all seems pleasant enough and the guy is pretty sure what his decision will be.
Then he’s sent to Hell for a tour there. The Devil meets him at the Gate and welcomes him in warmly. As they walk inside the guy sees a huge party going on with plenty of alcohol, loud music and beautiful people dancing, singing and having the time of their lives.
“I’m shocked,” the guy says. “This isn’t what I pictured at all. I was expecting fire, brimstone and torture.”
“Fake news,” the Devil responds. “That’s just Heaven’s propaganda to try to keep humans from having a good time while they’re on Earth. It’s like this all the time.”
The guy joins in the party while he’s there, but pretty soon his time is up and he must go back to Heaven and give St. Peter his decision. “What do you think?” St. Peter asks him.
“Well, no one is more surprised than me but I am going to choose Hell,” the man says.
“Really?” St. Peter asks incredulously. “You realize this is for all eternity and there’s no going back?”
“Yes,” the man replies. “I appreciate all you’ve done but I’ve made my decision and that’s where I want to go.”
“Ok,” St. Peter tells him. “It’s your decision.” So St. Peter proceeds to do all the paperwork and send the guy off to his final destination. Once he walks inside, however, the man is shocked. All he can see in every direction is his worst nightmares – fire, brimstone, people being whipped and tortured in all sorts of horrible and creative ways.
“What is this?!” the guy screams. “Yesterday it was all parties and good times, and now it’s just horror after horror.”
At which point the Devil eyes him slyly and says, “Well, yesterday you were a prospect.”
The reason I recounted that joke is more and more I am hearing stories about players being promised the world by coaches during the tryout and/or recruiting process. But once they get there it’s a completely different stories.
Players are told they will pitch, but they never get time in the circle because they “don’t measure up” to the pitchers who were already there. They’re promised they will get plenty of time at an infield position, or catcher, or wherever but when game time comes – not just bracket play but even pool play or round robin friendlies – that playing time in that position never materializes. They’re told they don’t measure up to the girls in those positions (often coach’s kids, no surprise there) even though those girls are booting balls like they think they’re playing soccer, not fastpitch softball.
Hitters with high batting averages and OPS are being pushed down the lineup or sat on the bench entirely because they “aren’t used to seeing the level of competition” – even though they’ve already proven they can handle that level.
What becomes clear is that some coaches, hopefully a very small minority, are telling players and their families anything they want to hear in the courtship phase so they can round out their teams. They have no actual intention of providing those players with the opportunities they seek. They just want them there in case they need body to fill in should one of the “starters” get sick or go down with an injury.
Of course, they don’t want a weak link, so they want to get the best backups they can find. But they’re talking to those backups like they have a legitimate chance of taking over a starting position when that is never, ever going to happen – either because the coach doesn’t think the new player is as good as the current ones, or he/she is looking at his/her own kids through rose-colored parent glasses, or wants to be “loyal” to the current players, or has some other agenda.
It’s ok to view some players as starters and others as backups. It happens all the time at all levels. All I’m saying is then be honest with the player and her parents about the role she will play on the team.
Don’t tell her she will get pitching time when you have no intention of putting her in the circle. And don’t use one bad outing the first time out as an excuse to never pitch her again. She was probably nervous, having joined a new team and all and wanting badly to prove herself. That goes double if the team is a step or two up from her last team.
Instead, give her a few opportunities and then make your judgment. Anyone who works with analytics will tell you that you need a sufficient amount of data to spot a trend. One game, or a couple of innings, isn’t a sufficient amount of data.
The same goes with positions on the field. Don’t tell a player she will get an opportunity in the infield if you feel your infield is set and you don’t want to change it. Let her know where her opportunities are so she can make an informed decision about whether this is the team for her.
The same goes for getting on the field at all. If you see her as a backup or role player, be up-front about it. For example, if you want a speedy player to primarily be a courtesy or pinch runner, tell her that rather than saying she’ll get an opportunity at second base when you know that’s not true.
If you are honest about a player’s opportunities or role, the player and her parents will have no real cause to complain when what you said she would do is what she ends up doing. It’s only when coaches say anything so they can fill up their rosters that the trouble begins.
And it will begin. Because what you’ll likely find is that players who are promised a world of opportunities but instead get nothing of the kind will leave as soon as they figured out they’ve been had.
That, of course, is also the difference between the joke above and the reality of softball. In the joke, the decision of where to go was forever. In our sport, if your coach doesn’t want to play someone there’s always someone else who could use her particular set of skills.
So tough as it can be, coaches, be honest. In the long run it’s better for everyone. Including your own team. Because as big as the sport may seem, fastpitch softball is also a small, tight-knit community, especially at the local level, and people talk.
You build a reputation as someone who makes promises with no intention of delivering on them and it won’t be long before people are avoiding your team/program like the plague.
Yes, it can be tough to have those conversations, and there is a risk of pushing players away you might like to have. But it will save you a whole lot of drama and upheaval. And that alone may be worth it.
I once worked with a woman, an older lady we’ll call Katherine, who was hired to be a sort of all-around office assistant. The idea was if you needed a package FedExed, or some repetitive data entered into a spreadsheet, or other time-consuming but not exactly brain-taxing help, you could hand it off to her and she would take care of it.
The problem was Katherine was so timid and afraid of making a mistake, she would ask whoever gave her the assignment to sit with her while she did it to make sure she did it correctly. While you can appreciate her desire to get it right, you can probably also see the flaw in this approach.
If not, it’s this: the whole purpose of her job was for Katherine to take the burden of tedious work off of me and others so we could move on to other, more higher-value assignments. If we were going to sit there while she did it then there was no point in giving it to her because, quite frankly, we could do it better and faster than she could. It’s just not what the company wanted us spending our time on.
So what does all this have to do with fastpitch softball? A lot of times players are like Katherine. They become so reliant on coaches telling them what to do that they quit thinking and learning.
In other words, rather than becoming independent and intelligent, they become more like robots, dutifully doing whatever they’re told to do in practice without understanding the reasoning or strategy behind it. This goes double, by the way, if they have a coach who is constantly in their faces screaming any time they make a mistake, but it’s not exclusive to that scenario.
Then when game time comes and they need to make a quick decision (which is pretty much any time the ball is in play) or correct a problem in their mechanics they’re unprepared to do so. Instead, they get more of the deer in headlights look.
Remember the old computer axiom garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). If you program players like robots they will respond like robots.
Which means they will continue to do the same thing over and over, whether it works or not, because that’s what they’ve been told to do. Anyone who has a watched a Roomba frantically moving back and forth for 10 minutes when it gets stuck under a chair or in a corner knows what I’m talking about.
It isn’t enough to tell players what to do. You also need to give them some context and reasoning behind why they’re doing it so if what they’re doing isn’t working they can think their way out of the situation.
This can be as simple as asking questions. For example, when I’m in a pitching lesson and a pitcher throws three fastballs in the dirt in the right-handed batter’s box, unless she’s new I often won’t tell her how to fix it. Instead I will ask, “What usually causes your pitch to go low and in the dirt?” and she will answer “I’m releasing behind my hip.”
I will then suggest she try fixing that. She does, and she’s back to throwing strikes. Miracle of miracles!
Or one of my favorite questions to ask players who are struggling mechanically, especially the older ones I’ve worked with for a while, is “What would I tell you if I were here right now?” They stop and think, give me an answer (almost always the correct one) and I say ok, try that.
When it works I point out that she didn’t need me to fix the problem. She did all of that on her own – I didn’t give her a single clue. All I did was ask her to tap into the knowledge she already had – in other words, think! – instead of mindlessly going through the motions.
(As a side note, I had a high school-age pitcher this week tell me that “What would Coach Ken tell me if he was here?” is exactly what she thinks about when her mechanics break down. How cool is that?)
This is relatively easy to do for mechanical issues, especially for pitchers and hitters. They have some time to reflect and make corrections, and they know they’re going to have to throw another pitch or swing the bat again.
It’s a little tougher for defensive players and base runners because their skills are largely reactive. If they make a physical or mental mistake that may be the only play like that they have all game. Or even all week or all tournament.
In this case, what’s important is that they learn to think and understand so they don’t continue making the same mistake every time the situation arises, such as a runner on third who continually stands 10 feet off the base on a fly ball to medium left with less than two outs instead of tagging up automatically. Or a fielder who doesn’t set her feet before she throws and sails the ball into the parking lot.
The player who learns to think will understand she did something wrong and make a mental note to avoid having it happen again. The player who always waits for a coach to tell her what she did wrong will likely never really internalize the information – which means there’s a high probability she’s going to do it again.
Don’t just tell your players what to do. Instead, insist they learn what to do and why. Help them gain a better understanding of their skills, and the game, and both you and they will be far more successful.
On the TV show “Hot in Cleveland,” the basic premise is that three women from LA are on a flight to Paris when their plane gets stranded in Cleveland. After being approached by several men, they suddenly realize that while they may just considered be average-looking among the many beautiful people in the City of Angels, here in Cleveland they are considered hot, and they decide to stay there instead.
(Full disclosure: I have never actually watched the show, or even a part of it. But the premise works for this blog post so there you go. Oh, and apologies to readers in Cleveland. I didn’t pick the show’s title.)
Fastpitch softball players (along with their coaches and parents) are very susceptible to what I call the “Hot in Cleveland Syndrome.” Because they are successful in the small pond they play in, and maybe even the best player in the area, they can get an oversized view of exactly how good they are.
This is one of the reasons it’s important, if you are serious about playing and especially about playing in college, to venture out past the comfort of your local area and match up your skills against higher-level teams. You can either find out that A) yes, you’re every bit as good as you thought you were or B) while you may be a 10 locally you are maybe only a 6 in the bigger scheme. Either way, that’s important information to have.
Here’s an example. You’re a strong pitcher who accumulates 10+ strikeouts consistently in a seven-inning game. You mostly do it by throwing fastballs, because most of the hitters can’t catch up to your speed. Why bother developing other pitches when you’re already dominating?
Because once you stand in against better hitters who are used to seeing speed and can hit it consistently, your strikeouts per game will probably go way down and the number of hits against you will grow. If you don’t have something else to throw at those hitters you’re in for a rough time. But you won’t know it until you face hitters of that quality.
Or take a catcher who can gun down every girl in the league or conference when she tries to steal second. Is it because she is so awesome, or because the base runners are average instead of speedy?
You put some rabbits on those bases – girls who can get from first to second in 2.8 or 2.9 seconds at the younger levels, or a team with a view players with legit 2.6 speed at the older levels – and suddenly the game turns into a track meet.
The reverse is also true, of course. Is a bigtime base stealer really that good, or are the catchers she’s facing just that weak?
Then there’s the big hitter with the loopy swing who is crushing the ball against the competition she normally sees. Put her up against a pitcher bringing the heat and she may find she’s striking out all day – and looking bad while doing it.
Now, if you have no aspirations beyond the level you’re currently playing at, being Hot in Cleveland is fine. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with playing at a lower/easy level if softball is something you do solely as a recreational activity with a hint of competition versus playing at a highly competitive level.
But if you’re looking to play in college, be named all-state in high school, win a travel ball national championship or have some other lofty ambition, you need to get a true measure of how your skills compare to all those with whom you’ll be competing for those spots. The sooner the better.
Break away from the Hot in Cleveland Syndrome and test your skills against the best players you can find. It will give you a truer picture of where you really stand.
Fall ball is beginning to ramp up, at least in my area. A couple of teams I know played last week, and a whole bunch more are scheduled to play tournaments and/or round robins this weekend.
(That’s fascinating to an old coach like me, by the way, since for most of my coaching career fall ball meant playing a friendly or two on a couple of Sunday afternoons. Now it’s a regular part of the overall softball season.)
For players who stayed with the team they were on in the previous season it’s probably no big deal. They know the coaches and (most of) their teammates, and the coaches and teammates know them. It’s a pretty comfortable situation.
For those who are on new teams, however, it’s an incredible opportunity. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, players on new teams can create a whole new impression of who they are and what they can do. That new impression will be how the new team sees them.
Take a hitter who had a rough summer. She struck out a lot, and when she did hit it was mostly popups and weak ground balls.
Then toward the middle of the season she took some hitting lessons and started driving the ball. Unfortunately, her coaches already had a picture of her as a hitter in their minds, and didn’t trust that what she was showing was what she had become. So she stayed at the bottom of the batting order.
With the new team, however, all bets are off. They liked something about her at tryouts, which presumably is why they took her. Those are their only preconceived notions about who she is as a player.
All she has to do is what she was doing at the end of the last season – hitting consistently, with plenty of extra base hits – and she’ll be at the top of the batting order on her new team. Because these coaches’ impressions of who she is will be based on today forward instead of her far less productive past.
The same is true for every position. If she was a pitchers who struggled with control early on but got it together later, the starting point today is a pitcher with control. Error-prone fielder? Not anymore.
The only ones on this team who know she struggled in the past are the player and her parents. And hopefully they’re not saying anything!
It isn’t often in life that you get a real, live do-over. But this is one of those situations.
If you’re starting up with a new team, leave the past in the past. Forget about any struggles you may have had before, and play the way you’re capable of playing today.
Now go be awesome!
Achieving efficiency in athletic movements is one of the most important principles in maximizing performance. Yet it’s also a concept that’s difficult to grasp, especially for younger players.
The drive to efficiency isn’t “fun.” It’s actually a lot of work, and usually starts with a lot more failure than success.
It also often requires breaking down a skill and working on a particular element until you get it right. Only when you can do it well is it inserted back into the overall skill.
Take pitching, for example. A pitcher may be over to throw the ball over the plate with decent speed, getting hitters out and winning MVP awards. A physically stronger pitcher may even be able to bring impressive speed naturally.
But until that pitcher develops a more efficient approach to how she throws the ball she will never find where her ceiling is.
While parents or coaches may understand that, players may not. Efficiency is kind of an abstract concept for them, especially these days when everyone is more focused on outcomes (Did we win? Did I perform well?) than development.
So, here’s a way of explaining explaining efficiency in terms they can understand.
Tell them to think about an LED light versus a traditional incandescent light bulb. (Depending on age, by the way, players may not know what “incandescent” means so you may need to reference an actual bulb at your home or somewhere else. Remember, they’re growing up in a world of compact florescents and LEDs.)
Let’s assume both lights are throwing out an equal amount of light into the room. Ask them what would it feel like if they walk up and touch the LED light. The correct answer, of course, is nothing. It’s like touching a table.
But what happens if they try to touch an old-fashioned light bulb? They’re going to get burned.
Then ask them if they know why one is hot and the other is not. It’s because 90% of the energy being consumed by the LED is being converted into light, while 10% is being lost as heat; the incandescent bulb is the opposite – 10% light, with 90% lost to heat.
In other words, the LED is very efficient because almost all of its power is being used for the purpose intended, while the traditional light bulb is very inefficient since most of its power is being wasted on something that is non-productive.
It’s the same with athletic skills. The more extraneous movements an athlete has, or the more things she does that get in the way of efficient movement, the less powerful she is. Even if she is trying as hard as she can.
But if she works on becoming efficient in the way she transfers the energy she has developed into the skill she is performing, she will maximize her power and effectiveness.
If you’re challenged with explaining the need to be efficient, give this analogy a try. Hopefully it turns into a light bulb moment for your player.
As someone who has been around fastpitch softball at the travel level for more than 20 years, I can’t help but shake my head at how early tryouts are these days.
It’s hard to believe today but back when I first became involved, as the parent of a player in her first year of travel ball, travel ball tryouts were in the spring. You would play out the summer, the last regular tournament would be at the end of July, then the various “nationals” would happen the first 10 days or so of August (depending on how the calendar laid out).
I remember, because that first year we had to leave for a family vacation on Saturday after playing Friday. (My daughter and I wanted to stay through the end of the tournament but my wife put a big “no” on that idea.)
As time went on and I became a coach, tryouts kept moving up earlier. First we held them at the beginning of December. Then in September. And finally, the organization I was with started doing tryouts the week after nationals finished. We had to, because everyone else was doing them then and if we didn’t all our players would’ve been settled in somewhere else.
Still, I was shocked in mid-July as various students and their parents told me they were going to tryouts the following week. Many nationals hadn’t even occurred yet, but here they were already trying out for next year.
It’s gotten to be like a reality TV show – “Tryout Wars.” Every program is trying to get a leg up on the others in its area, and so schedules its tryouts a week earlier than everyone else to try to secure the best players before others can get to them.
Of course, if they want you they expect a decision (and a check) on the spot. That way you’re less likely to go somewhere else.
It just seems like madness to me. Pretty soon, you won’t be trying out for the coming year in August. The timeline will have pushed back so far that you’ll be trying out for two years from now.
The people that get hurt the most by all this are the families. They can’t fully enjoy the end of their season, and the nationals experience, because they’re too busy planning for (or worrying about) the next season. Instead, they hear the music of The Clash in their heads:
What’s the answer? I don’t have one. Even if all the national sanctioning bodies got together and declared “no tryouts allowed until September 1” I doubt anything would change. There’s no way to enforce it.
So instead, when teams should be focused on making a run for whatever year-end title they’re going for, or families would like to take a break from the hectic schedule of the summer, they instead find themselves thinking mostly about next year.
Oh, and there’s no advantage for the top teams in each age bracket either. Players can’t afford to wait, because if they don’t make those teams and haven’t committed elsewhere they may find themselves without a place to play the next year.
It’s a shame. It would be nice if families (and coaches for that matter) could get a week or two off before beginning the whole process again. They could all come into it fresh and energized instead of tired and burdened. But unless there’s a groundswell movement, it looks like the only advice is “suck it up, Buttercup.”
Oh, and fall ball starts in two weeks.
Time to bring back an “oldie but goodie” post because the advice is still relevant, and the topic is definitely timely with so many players (and coaches) in the midst of the tryout season.
Showing well at a tryout isn’t just about having great skills. It’s also about looking like you’d be a great fit on a team. Or as Herb Brooks says in Miracle:
Keep all of this in mind as you go through the tryout process. It may be a grind. But bringing your very best every time may just be the difference-maker.
It’s that time of year again. We’re in the midst of tryout season – that time when players try to show coaches what a great addition they would be to the team(s) of their choice.
While there’s no doubt it’s important to show your skills, there’s more to a tryout than skills alone. That’s coming from a coach who participated in tryouts for more than 15 years.
The reality is there are many very skilled players out there. In fact, if your skills are far above everyone else at that tryout, you’re probably trying out for the wrong team. So how do coaches make their decision?
Much of it comes down to character. One of the tests I used to give players I was interested in was to offer a bit of advice on how to do something.
Maybe they were having a bit of trouble hitting or fielding. I’d offer a suggestion on how to improve. But it wasn’t about whether they’d do better the next time. It was about seeing how they reacted. Were they coachable? Did they give it a try, or did they give me attitude instead?
I’d look at who was hustling. Not just during the drills but between the drills when they’d transition from one area to another. Also who seemed like they were enjoying playing as opposed to some who looked like they were forced to be there.
I’d also listen to them, especially those who sounded like they could be potential team leaders. Did they encourage others? Did they cheer for those who made good plays, such as diving for a ball? (Pssst – if you get the chance, definitely dive for a ball; it always makes a good impression.)
I loved watching what would happen after a player made a mistake. If she booted a ground ball, or missed a few pitches during a hitting session, did she put it behind her or have a meltdown?
Mistakes are a huge part of fastpitch softball, so you’d better have the mental toughness to deal with it. The last thing a coach wants in a tight game is a player who is so upset over an error or a strikeout in the previous inning that she isn’t focused on this one. That’s a sure recipe for disaster.
If we gathered the group together and one of the other coaches was talking, I’d take a look to see who was listening and who was looking off into the distance, or otherwise spacing out. It’s not that hard to pick out.
Here’s the thing. Tryouts are like a job interview. Theoretically everyone is on their best behavior, showing their best selves. If the self I’m seeing at a tryout doesn’t seem like what I’m looking for, it’s unlikely it’s going to get better once you’re on the team. In fact it’s probably going to get worse.
It’s pretty rare that a player’s skill level is so awesome that it can make up for a lot of poor character. Again, if you do stand out that much you’re probably not at the right tryouts.
These days teams are together for a long time – essentially 12 months. As a result, chemistry means more than ever.
If you want to increase your chances of making your first choice team, make sure you have your act together and can show the coaches you’re more than your ability to throw, catch, pitch, hit, run, etc. You’re the kind of quality person they want to be around – and who can perform no matter what the circumstances are.
First of all, congratulations to the Crush Tidal Waves (CTW) 18U JS team for taking it all in the recent USA Softball (formerly ASA for you old die-hards) Chicago Metro. The Metro is always a tough tournament with strong teams, so winning it is definitely an accomplishment.
But it’s the way they won it this year that makes this story worth sharing, in my opinion. And since Life in the Fastpitch Lane is my blog, I get all the votes. No pretense here.
Basically, the CTW did it the hard way. First, it was a very hot and humid weekend in the Chicago area. Temperatures were in the mid-90s for most of it, and with the sun beating down it felt even hotter. I know, because I was outside for much of it.
CTW started out with two wins in pool play on Friday before beginning bracket play Saturday. They won their first game, then fell 5-2 in their second game of the day. That put them in the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination tournament, with a long way to go to get back to the championship game.
Still, they persisted. The challenge now was to win 7 games in a row – two more on Saturday in the brutal heat, then three on Sunday to get into the championship game. After that, they’d have to face a team that hadn’t lost in bracket play and was well-rested as they waited for all the other teams to beat each other up. And, of course, they had to win twice.
The first of those two games was a real nail-biter, with CTW leaving it all on the field to gain a 3-2 victory. You would think they’d have felt pretty good by then, having taken the top team to the what-if game after all that. No one would have blamed them if they had come out a little flat for the final match-up.
But again, they persisted, and instead they came out strong and took the final game (and the trophy) 5-1. Not sure where they found the reserves of strength after all of that, but they did.
Battered but not broken, exhausted but elated, and probably ready to jump head first into the nearest swimming pool, the CTW 18U JS team came out victorious.
So it does go to show that if you’re determined enough, and persistent enough, and just not willing to lose you can come back to win a big tournament like that.
Congratulations to the players, coaches, parents and fans. But mostly to the players and coaches for never giving up.
(A special shout-out goes to Katie Armstrong, a long-time player for CTW and one of my pitching and hitting students. Savvy readers may recognize Katie from my vlog on hitting off a pitching machine, among other mentions. Katie did all this with a hip injury that will require surgery after the season, which has limited her pitching time this year. But I think you’ll agree she thought it was worth it.)
I imagine for a lot of the players this season is the end of their travel ball careers, and for those who aren’t playing in college it’s the end of their entire softball careers. But what a memory they gained!
It’s also the kind of story they can tell future employers who say “Tell me about a time when you faced incredible difficulties but managed to succeed.”