Blog Archives

It’s Getting to Be Time to Take a Break

Not for me – my work never ends. But for players we are coming to a natural point to dial back the softball activities so they can rest and recover and maybe experience other things life has to offer.

I know it can be difficult to think of stopping the relentless pursuit of perfection, whether that’s among coaches whose self-worth is tied up in their won-loss records or players (and by that I mostly mean parents) who are laser-focused on winning that college scholarship.

But everyone needs a little vacation from what they’re normally doing to ensure they continue to perform at their highest level the rest of the year.

Right now a lot of teams (although not all) have finished their seasons. Shockingly many have already held their tryouts and selected their teams for 2022-2023 so that’s out of the way.

Even those who haven’t quite finished are getting to the point of winding down the 2021-2022 season. So rather than jumping right into next year, why not put a pin in the softball activities for a little while and go do something else?

This advice, by the way, also applies to my own students. I love you all, but taking a little time off from lessons and practice so you can come at next season with a fresh perspective (and fresh body) would be a good thing. I’ll still be here when you’re ready to get going again.

Of course, for some of you who are all softball all the time you may not know what else to do with yourself. Here are 15 suggestions of how to spend the next few weeks.

  1. Lay around and do nothing. After the intensity of the season doing nothing in particular is perfectly acceptable.
  2. Sleep late. A lot of players skimp on the sleep during the season, especially high school and college players while school is in session. Take this time to build your sleep bank up again. You’re going to need it soon.
  3. Hang out at the pool or lake or water park (if it’s warm enough). Most coaches prohibit going to the pool on game or practice days because it can drain energy and hurt performance. Since every day is a game or practice day these days here’s your chance to enjoy the healing effects of floating in the water.
  4. Visit with non-softball friends. Sure, you love your teammates to death. But it’s ok to have non-softball or even non-athlete friends too. Go hang with them and do young people things.
  5. Visit family. Your grandparents would love to see you. So would your cousins. Spend some quality time with them. Because you may go from team to team but family is forever.
  6. Go to an amusement park. Spend the whole day there without thinking about what time you have to leave to make it to practice. Ride the roller coasters. See the shows. Eat junk (but not enough to throw up on the rides). In other words, have fun.
  7. Go to the zoo or a museum or a botanical garden. Anywhere you can take a leisurely stroll, look at things, and just BE.
  8. See a concert. Doesn’t have to be a big name star. It could just be a local band playing for free in the park, or at a local venue. Music is good for the soul. And since most performances occur at the same time as you normally practice or play, here’s your chance to hear music the way it was intended to be played – live!
  9. Watch a movie or a play in an actual theater. Just remember you’re not in your living room anymore so shut the heck up when the performance is happening.
  10. Go to dinner at a place where you don’t have to bring your own food to the table or where there aren’t 100 TVs playing sports all around you. Enjoy the experience of eating without worrying about what time to get back for warmups.
  11. Have a picnic. Yes, a good old-fashioned picnic where you bring some food and drinks, spread out a blanket, and just enjoy the day in the shade instead of on a blazing hot field.
  12. Go stargazing. Again, grab a blanket, go outside at night in a dark area, and just look up at the marvelous show above you. Appreciate how many stars there are, and remember that even if there is another planet out there somewhere with sentient beings they don’t care if you made an error, struck out, or hit a home run during the championship game this season.
  13. Have a campfire – or go camping. Building on #12, instead of going out for an hour get back to nature and either build a fire in the backyard (with parental supervision if required) or grab a tent and go to an actual campground and hang out in nature. There is something magical about staring at a real fire, especially outdoors (versus in a fireplace).
  14. Learn something entirely new that has nothing to do with softball. Play a musical instrument. Ask someone to teach you how to sew/knit/crochet. Take a course on computer programming. Try another sport like golf or tennis. Start collecting stamps or coins or something else that interests you. A good diversion will not only be good for now, but could also help you decompress once you get back to playing and practicing.
  15. Take a trip to somewhere new. It’s a big, wide world out there full of interesting people and places. Go somewhere where the goal is to experience the location instead of running from the hotel to the ballfield and back again.

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure you can come up with more if you give it some thought.

The key is to get away completely so you can rest, recover, put the last season behind you, and get ready to get back at it with even greater enthusiasm. Remember that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Take a little time off of softball and you’ll probably find your love for it has grown even more while you’ve been away.

Photo by Mateusz Dach on Pexels.com

Advertisement

7 Tips to Make 2022 Your Best (Softball) Year Ever

First of all, let me tell you I had quite a debate with myself on whether to write a New Year’s post or just go with a more general topic. But when the stars align – as in the last day of 2021 is also the day I usually put up a new post – it’s a good idea to just go with it.

So here we are. Hopefully 2021 was a great year for you.

We actually had somewhat normal high school, college, and youth softball seasons, although COVID-19 protocols often impacted the spectator part of spectators sports. At least the fans who got in didn’t have to wear a mask on 90-degree days.

Also in 2021, fastpitch softball temporarily returned to the Olympics, albeit in eerily quiet and empty stadiums and played on baseball diamonds. It was sort of like watching a dome game with a field set up for football. The fact that the oddly formatted mini-tournament was finished before the opening ceremonies took place tells you all you need to know about what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) really thinks about our sport.

The Women’s College World Series (WCWS) on the other hand was a TV rating juggernaut, averaging more than 1.2 million viewers per game. That’s 10% more than the 2019 WCWS.

The three-game championship series between Oklahoma and Florida State fared even better, drawing an average of nearly 2 million viewers per game. In the process, we got to see a lot of great softball.

Speaking of great softball, Athletes Unlimited entertained a lot of fastpitch softball fanatics with its playground-brand of choosing up teams and having no coaches on the sidelines. Maybe they’re on to something.

And hopefully you personally had a successful 2021 as well.

Of course, as the disclaimer on every “get-rich-quick” scheme quickly says, past performance does not guarantee future gains. So following are a few tips to help you make 2022 an even better year.

Tip #1: Practice with a purpose

Yes, I know many of you have t-shirts with that very saying on them. But how often do you actually take that approach?

It’s easy to get into the rut of “putting in time.” i.e., going off somewhere and going through the motions of a skill for a half hour or an hour or whatever, or coaches having players performing activities for two, or three, or four hours. None of which will actually help you get better, and could make you worse if the practice is sloppy enough.

If you’re going to practice, then have a goal and go after it wholeheartedly. For example, if you’re a pitcher working on leg drive, then work on getting yourself out faster each time rather than mindlessly doing the leg drive drill you were assigned.

Master the skill, not the drill, and you’ll be a lot better off.

Tip #2: Grow your knowledge

In today’s Internet-accessible world there’s no reason to do things a certain way because that’s how you’ve always done them. There is an incredible amount of research being done in our sport and an incredible wealth of knowledge being shared – if you will open your mind to it.

The National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) is one of the best. Right now they are in the midst of hosting a series of live coaches clinics around the country that enable top-level coaches to share their expertise with the rest of us.

If you want to go more in-depth on a topic, the NFCA also has its Master Coach program, which offers a combination of live and online courses. I took their very first online Coaches College course earlier in 2021 and it was well worth the time and money. Give it a shot.

There are plenty of private resources as well. PaulyGirl Fastpitch has its High Performance Pitching courses at the beginner, intermediate, elite, and pro levels.

You can learn all about great throwing mechanics from the High Level Throwing program. There’s a cornucopia of hitting courses out there as well.

Then there are resources such as the Discuss Fastpitch board and the Fastpitch Zone and The Bullpen Facebook groups that connect coaches from around the world with one another to share their knowledge and experience. And that’s the just the start.

If you want more knowledge it’s out there. Just be sure to come in with an open mind because some of what you hear may go against everything you’ve ever believed. And that can be a good thing.

Tip #3: Use video

This one doesn’t require a lot of explanation. There’s what we think we see or feel, and there’s what’s actually happening. They’re not always the same.

Virtually every mobile phone includes a high-definition, high-speed camera for free that would be the envy of coaches and players from just 10 years ago. Take advantage of it.

Video yourself or your players often, and see if what you think you’re doing is what you are in fact doing. Compare what you see to the best players in the world.

While you don’t have to match exactly, you should match in principle. If you’re not doing what you think you’re doing, adjust accordingly.

Tip #4: Work on your mental game

Ask any group of coaches or players “who thinks the mental game is a critical contributor to success?” and you’ll probably see every or nearly every one of them raise their hands. Then ask how many take the time during practice or during their free time to work on it and you’ll likely see few (if any) hands.

It’s sort of like Mark Twain’s famous admonition about the weather: everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it.

That is a mistake in my opinion. There are (again) plenty of books and other resources that focus on this aspect of sports. Here’s a list of a few:

  • Head’s Up Baseball
  • Mind Gym
  • The Champion’s Mind
  • Championship Team Building
  • The Mindful Athlete
  • Winning State
  • Mental Conditioning for Softball
  • The Energy Bus

Invest some real time in developing the mental game – especially the part about overcoming adversity – and you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

Tip #5: Make some time for recruiting activities

This is for those players who want to (or think they want to) play softball in college. If that’s not you, go ahead and skip to Tip #6.

For those still reading, playing softball in college at any level is an accomplishment – and ultra-competitive these days. You’re unlikely to be randomly discovered playing during a local tournament.

If you want to play in college, you need to make an effort to build a relationship with coaches at different schools, and at different levels.

One obvious way is to attend skills camps at schools where you might like to play. While some are just money grabs that have minimal involvement from the college coach, most are both an opportunity for coaches to give back to the game while checking out potential future talent. What better way is there to get them interested in you than to demonstrate your skills in their “house?”

Social media in general, and Twitter in particular, is another great way to establish and maintain contact with coaches. Follow coaches at schools you’re interested in and hopefully they will follow you back.

Share their Tweets with your followers. Send Tweets of your own about your/your team’s latest accomplishments and activities and tag the coach or the program. Be active and be visible.

Just one word of caution about social media: keep it positive at all times. The Internet is written in ink, and more than a few players have eliminated themselves from consideration by their dream schools because of things they’ve posted. That includes photos and negative comments about their parents or current coach.

Present yourself as if the coaches you want to play for are watching every post. Because they are.

Email is still a valid way to contact coaches too. Just keep it brief – they’re busy people and many get hundreds of emails a day. If you want to share a video, be sure the coach can see what you want him/her to see in ONE click. Any more than that and they’ll pass.

This isn’t just for high school players either. While the D1 rules changed and they can no longer contact players before September 1 of their junior years, it doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention to who can play and who is interested in their schools. And there are no such restrictions for D2, D3, and NAIA, although they tend to recruit later anyway.

Recruiting is a marathon, not a sprint, so get out there early and often if you think playing in college might be for you.

Tip #6: Make time for rest and recovery

When you’re dedicated to something it’s easy to overdo it. Don’t let that happen.

Rest and recovery is just as important to high performance as training. Your body needs time to build itself back up after intense activity. So does your mind.

It’s ok to take a day or two off each week during the season as well as during the offseason. Your body and your brain will tell you how much you need for peak performance. You should also plan on taking at least a couple of weeks off at some time during the year for deeper recovery.

Oh, and this applies to coaches too. You’ll find coaching is a lot more enjoyable if you let your batteries recharge now and then.

Tip #7: Resolve to have fun

This is probably the aspect that has been most lost over the course of the last 10-20 years. Yes, we have more technology that can tell us more things, and more practice facilities that enable us to keep working even when the weather is at its nastiest, and more opportunities than ever to take our game to a higher level.

But the tradeoff has been more pressure and more stress to the point where playing (and coaching for that matter) feels like a job. And not a particularly pleasant one.

It’s important to remember that softball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun.

That doesn’t mean it should be like a birthday party without the cake. But it shouldn’t be like studying for finals while waiting to see the dentist either.

Fun in most cases is what you make it. Some people enjoy really digging into things and pushing themselves to their limits. That’s right for them.

But it’s not right for everyone. Others will find their fun in getting a little better each day without killing themselves, competing (in a friendly way) with their teammates, or in being part of a team.

Understand what’s fun for you and then find/create a team with others who share your definition and goals. Like using the wrong pair of cleats, being on a team that isn’t a good fit can be painful.

Good luck to everyone, and I hope you make 2022 your best year ever!

Photo by Damir Mijailovic on Pexels.com

Keeping the Joy in Youth Sports

Keep the joy in the game

By now I’m sure many of you have seen this video (below) that went viral after last weekend (January 2019 for those reading this much later). It’s UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi scoring a perfect 10 on her floor routine during a competition.

If you haven’t, stop right now and watch this video. You will be glad you did.

While the sheer athleticism and artistry of her performance are incredible, that’s not what drew me to writing about it. After all, this is a fastpitch softball blog, so not much of what she does applies to hitting or throwing a softball.

But if you didn’t notice it the first time, go back and watch it again. Only this time watch her face and see how much fun she is having. (And how much fun her teammates seem to be having watching her.)

That is an element that seems to be missing from a lot of youth and school sports these days – fun. Everyone is so focused on winning, and improving their rankings, and securing the almighty scholarship, and all the other things that seem to go with “getting to the next level” that they forget to be in the moment.

That all-consuming drive to win (or for coaches to prove that they’re better than everyone else) is a lot of what causes the yelling and screaming that takes place on fields all across the country at every level – even with the youngest players. It’s what causes coaches to belittle and humiliate their players in the middle of a game, not to mention the postgame speech.

As I’ve quoted many times, softball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. But it’s kind of hard to have fun if you’re trying your best only to be told you’re not good enough, or talented enough, or smart enough, or whatever enough.

And who is someone who knows that feeling all too well? Katelyn Ohashi herself. The other side of this feelgood story is that she almost quit gymnastics entirely.

She was on a path to go to the Olympics, but the pressure from her coaches, and the negativity from fans and observers, simply sucked all of the enjoyment out of it. Fortunately for all of us, getting off the Olympic path, and going to UCLA, helped revitalize her love for her sport, culminating in a gift to all of us.

Studies have shown that the #1 reason players quit youth sports is that it isn’t fun anymore. In fact, a poll from the National Youth Sports Alliance says 70 percent quit by age 13 for that very reason.

That doesn’t mean practices and games have to be a “birthday party without the cake” as one of my former players once described her high school practice. Working hard toward a common goal with people you value can be fun. Working hard to improve yourself so you can perform better than you did before can be fun.

There is a lot of personal satisfaction in setting a goal and then achieving it.

What’s not fun, however, is working hard and never getting on the field. What’s not fun is constantly feeling like you need to look over your shoulder because if you make one mistake you’re done for the game, and maybe the day.

What’s not fun is receiving a constant barrage of criticism over everything you do, even when you’re giving your best effort. What’s not fun is being embarrassed in front of your friends, teammates, family, etc.

Players need encouragement and support. They need to feel like they can stretch themselves to the edge of their abilities someone constantly coming down on them, even if they fail.

Most importantly, they need the opportunity to get out on the field and try, even if their skills aren’t quite as good as the player next to them yet. Because that’s the reason they signed up in the first place.

When you think about what participating in a sport should look like, remember this video of Katelyn Ohashi. She is the definition of taking joy in what you’re doing. And oh by the way, she was rewarded with an almost impossible to achieve perfect 10 for her efforts.

Then look at your own team. If you’re not seeing the same look from everyone there maybe it’s time to start thinking about how you can make it the kind of experience everyone there – players, coaches, parents, family, and fans – will cherish forever.

%d bloggers like this: