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Congratulations to Kate Kiser for signing at Bowdoin

Kate Kiser signs her National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Bowdoin CollegeThis one is going to be a bit unusual because it’s actually not about a fastpitch softball signing. But I still want to offer my public congratulations to a terrific young woman, Kate Kiser, on her signing to play volleyball at Bowdoin College in Maine next year. Go Polar Bears – coolest mascot ever (pun intended).

So why is a softball guy talking volleyball? Because before she became a bigtime volleyball player with scholarship offers at all levels from all over the country, Kate was also a terrific pitcher and hitter.

I first met Kate when she was 9 or 10 years old. This was shortly after she’d survived a vicious attack by a large dog that had done so much damage she had to wear a pressure mask for a few weeks and had very visible scars.

Her mom Kim (also a terrific woman and a good friend) wanted to get Kate involved in something quickly to take her mind off the trauma, so she signed her up for softball. And knowing her daughter was not one to do anything halfway, she signed her up for some pitching lessons too.Excited for Kate Kiser

Kate was rather shy and quiet those first couple of lessons, but we hit it off pretty quickly. She was a diligent student, even at that age – one of those you don’t have to worry about whether she will practice in-between lessons or not. She had a rare will to succeed in whatever she did.

I remember after a few weeks she had a game, and was going to pitch. Her mom asked if she should try to do what I was teaching or do it the old way, and I said give it a try, and if it doesn’t work than do what you need to for now. This was during fall ball, so no harm, no foul.

She continued to develop, and after a while hitting lessons were added to the mix, perhaps when she was 11. Because of her busy schedule, as well as mine, lessons often didn’t start until 10:00 pm – pretty late for a young girl. But she was always full of energy.

One of the things I remember most about Kate is her curiosity. I encourage questions during lessons, and Kate would ask them. But then, when we were done, Kate would say “I have one more question,” which really was a lie because she had many more questions. 🙂 We’d chat until her mom decided everyone needed to get to bed.

At first, as a player, she had a rough time. She got onto a Daddy Ball travel team that had its favorites and its “all you others.” You know the type. Whatever Kate did wasn’t good enough for them.

I remember hearing about one tournament at a location where they had to stay in a hotel. She and a good friend of hers didn’t get on the field for pretty much the entire weekend. At 10! It was tough, but she bore it with grace and kept working.

By the time she got to 14U much had changed. By now she was drawing looks from college teams, pitching and hitting up a storm. (Her mom told me at the signing ceremony she was still getting contacts from college softball coaches even though she hadn’t played since her freshman year in high school.)

She built quite a reputation for herself, at least within the general region. People marveled at her “natural talent.” Her mom and I just had a good laugh about that. Because while Kate is undoubtedly a wonderful athlete, none of them were there when she couldn’t find the plate, or I had to cajole her to stop thinking so much and just let the pitch fly, or to “see ball, hit ball” instead of over-analyzing everything. It was her work ethic, not just her athleticism, that got her to that point.

No one gets there alone. Some of the coaches who have helped Kate Kiser along the way.Unfortunately for me and some college softball team, along the way Kate started playing club volleyball. She became a star there too, and eventually had to make a decision on which sport to play.

I blame myself for her decision. She always said her dream was to play for me as her coach. One day, when my 18U IOMT Castaways were going to be short a player for a practice game, I invited 14 year old Kate to come out and guest play for us. She did fine, and then apparently checked it off her bucket list. Just kidding, Kate. If you see her on a volleyball court you know why she went that way.

I do claim credit for two major things in her life, however. I introduced her to the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival (her tastes ran more to classical music at that time – did I mention she also played piano?) and I talked her mom into buying Kate her first Shamrock Shake. For better or for worse, long after she’s player her last game she’ll have me to thank for those two things.

All kidding aside, I am thrilled that Kate, once again after too much thinking, finally decided on her college. She plans to be a surgeon someday, and Bowdoin will be a great place to get that journey started while still being able to play volleyball. And you never know – maybe the softball team will need one more player to help them out and Kate will agree. Right after she asks one more question.

Congratulations, Kate. I know you’ll do well, and I wish you all the best!

The long reach of coaching influence

When you’re coaching it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day aspects of it. After all, if you’re a team coach there are practices to plan, tournaments to schedule, equipment to order, insurance to purchase, lineups to make out, etc.

Hitting spots is not the be-all and end-all

Kate Kiser pitching back in 2011. Those were the days!

If you’re a private coach there is (hopefully) a procession of players, each with different needs that must be considered and planned for, scheduling to do, fields or facilities to work with, promotional materials to get out and so on.

So in all of that it’s easy to lose sight of the longer-term impact you might have. That’s why I wanted to share this article today. It’s about a top-level high school volleyball player named Kate Kiser and how she got to be that way, but bear with me. It’s also a softball story.

In the article, the reporter asks Kate which coaches had the biggest impact on her athletic career, and Kate very kindly named me. What makes it interesting is that this is a volleyball article and I coached her in softball pitching and hitting. Kate stopped playing fastpitch softball a couple of years ago to focus on volleyball, and clearly it’s paid off for her. Not just in local accolades but also in the colleges that are recruiting her.

While I didn’t teach her how to set, or serve, or dig or do the other stuff volleyball players from what she says I did have an impact that wasn’t sport-specific. What better reward could there be for a coach than knowing you’ve had a lasting effect on a player?

What makes this success story of Kate’s more remarkable is that she wasn’t always a superstar. I first met Kate when she was 9 (I confirmed that with her mom Kim, a great lady if there ever was one).

Kate had an interest in softball and wanted to pitch. She and her mom came in to the facility I worked in at the time to give it a try. I was pretty booked up, so they had to start lessons at 10:00, which is pretty late for a 9 year old, but they were there every week. After some early progress we started doing hitting as well.

Yet when she went to her first travel softball team it was a rough ride. The coach had his favorites, and Kate didn’t see the field much. In fact, I remember hearing about at least one out-of-town tournament where she didn’t play an inning all weekend. It was rough, but she never gave up.

Fast forward a few years and by 14U she was usually the talk of the tournaments she played in. She was a dominating pitcher and a powerful hitter. Some great travel coaches gave her the opportunity to demonstrate her skills and she blossomed as a softball player. It didn’t just come out of natural ability, though. She worked hard to get there.

Around 12U, I think, she started getting involved in volleyball as well. She quickly worked her way up the club ranks and started attracting attention. By the time she got to high school she had to make a decision on which sport to play. She went with volleyball (obviously), although I can’t help but think her heart is still on the diamond since she mentions it first when listing sports.

Still, while I hated to see her give up softball it’s hard to argue with the results. In addition to All Area and All Conference honors, she’s also been named to the All State team. As I mentioned, a lot of top schools are looking at her to play there too.

On top of all this, she’s a great student, with a shot at valedictorian. She wants to become a doctor, and I have no doubt she will not only do it but become a great one. She may just be the one who cures cancer. I wouldn’t put it past her.

So coaches, there’s something to keep in mind. While you’re teaching the game of softball you may be conveying other more important things to your players as well. You never know where it might lead.

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