Friday

Does She Believe She Will Be Successful?

After coaching girls' softball for over a dozen years I have found the female athlete to be amazingly determined, wildly passionate, fiercely loyal yet emotionally fragile.

This emotional fragility is heightened by parents and coaches who don't understand the uniqueness of the female athlete.

A young woman's self-esteem, self-image and self-beliefs need to be nurtured and respected, particularly as athletes in a game as difficult emotionally as fastpitch softball can be.

For an adolescent female athlete her self-belief on the field is everything. I marvel at how many players I see, work with and coach have issues with their self-confidence. I have come to realize that it's just not easy being a young woman in a world obsessed with physical perfection and often expectations for flawless behavior.

In truth your athlete or team will only go as for in their skill development and on the field performance as they believe they will. These often limiting self-beliefs can greatly impact her motivation and desire, for if she really doesn't believe she is good enough why is all that extra work really worth it?

On the field I witness an epidemic of "self-doubt;" athletes afraid of making mistakes for fear of letting down parents, coaches, teammates and self. I see so many young ladies searching for their identity on the diamond and having to cope with the inevitable emotional roller coaster ride that fastpitch is.

Then I see parents, usually Dad's, and coaches berating an athlete or her entire team after a mistake or poor game and I cringe knowing the damaging they are doing to their athletes' self-esteem and self-confidence.

In the world of sports psychology it's called "self-efficacy;" one's belief in their ability to perform a task successfully. From psychologist Albert Bandura:

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

--View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered
--Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate
--Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities
--Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments

People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:

--Avoid challenging tasks
--Believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities
--Focus on personal failings and negative outcomes
--Quickly lose confidence in personal abilities

So how can you help your athlete or team to build up this self-efficacy, the self-belief that "she can" be successful?

1. Support her and nurture her self-esteem, confidence and sense of self; particularly after a tough day on the field (or classroom).

2. Suspend your judgments, criticisms and need to be right around her. Step into her shoes and her world for a few minutes. I assure you that the amount of pressure she feels today in ALL areas of her life to excel is far greater than you experienced at her age.

3. Respect and honor her for her effort, her talent, her loyalty, her love for her teammates and the game.

4. Listen. As adults (yes I am often guilty of this with my daughter) we feel the need to talk too much when often all our daughters want us to do is put our arm around her and listen!

5. Continue to challenge her limiting self-beliefs and always encourage her to get better on the field (as in every area of her life). Start seeing her as having unlimited potential for greatness and watch her start to believe the same.

In truth the greatest gift we can give our daughters and those young ladies that we coach is the gift of confidence that propels their self-esteem, self-worth and their own belief that they can do anything they set their minds to in a sometimes difficult world!

Thanks for reading. --John



Monday

Top 10 Lessons You Don’t Want Your Athlete To Learn!

After finishing 11 tournaments in 12 weeks in various venues around the country in June and July one sad truth I saw that continues to plague the great sport of softball is bad behavior by both parents and coaches.


This bad behavior is damaging to your athlete, her team, and the organization. It cheapens the game in front of parents, other teams and college coaches.


So, here are 10 lessons you absolutely do not want your athlete to learn while on the softball field:


1. Not playing when a college coach is there to watch. I saw this in Colorado and I couldn’t believe it. The coach knew the athlete had a coach coming to scout her and he still did not play her in a meaningless pool game. Unforgivable! (The lesson: “My coach doesn’t care about me.”)


2. Putting a single athlete above the team. You know, “It’s all about my kid…scr** the team.” Pointing out your athletes statistics compared to her teammates.This kind of selfishly is becoming more and more prevalent. (The lesson: “I matter more than my teammates, and my stats define me.”)


3. Ripping your players. I saw this every weekend…coaching yelling and belittling their players. Really? You expect female athletes to respect and play hard for you when you embarrass them and rip into their confidence? These teams were usually eliminated early in the tournament. I wonder why? (The lesson: “My ego as a coach is more important than how you feel or how you play.”)


4. Bad mouthing coaches in front of everyone. I realize national tournaments mean more $$ spent, but rein in the emotional outbursts and act like an adult. If you don’t like the coach or his/her strategy then change teams at the end of the season. Just don’t poison the well DURING a tournament. Also understand there are game and tournament strategies you don’t understand that involve how a roster is utilized. (The lesson: “I never need to respect my coaches because my parents think they’re idiots.”)


5. Talking to college coaches. College coaches do not want to (and, in many cases, are forbidden by NCAA rules) talk to parents about their kids. Give them room and let your coaches and official team representative speak with them. Pimping your kid really only hurts her chances. College coaches know you embellish the truth, so back off. (The lesson: “My parents embarrass me in front of the coaches.”)


6. Quitting on your team. I saw it a few times whereby a player wasn’t getting playing time at Nationals and the parent pulled their kid, packed up and went home. Or, after approaching the coach about it the coach cut the kid. Yikes…can’t we all just get along! (The lesson: “I don’t have to honor my commitments because it’s all about me.”)


7. Being habitually late to games. There always seems to be one or two kids on a team that ALWAYS show up late to pre-game warm ups. Why? Plan it out, use Google maps or your cell GPS. Set the alarm earlier. Do whatever it takes. Don’t make your coaches have two sets of rules for the team. (The lesson: “It doesn’t matter if I’m late.”)


8. Talking to your athlete DURING the game. This is a major “no-no” in my book. Give her plenty of water or Gatorade BEFORE the game. Do not approach the dugout to talk about the game. I even saw a mom walk right into the dugout during the game to give her kid nachos. Seriously? Let the coaches coach, and the players play. You can do your mom or dad thing AFTER the game is over. (The lesson: “I don’t have to follow team rules, nor do I have to grow up!”)


9. Hopping teams. I see (back to the “me first” myopic mentality) too many players changing teams each season without a legitimate reason. In truth the green isn’t always greener. With the explosion of travel/club softball comes elevated competition to recruit players. Many coaches will tell you exactly what you want to hear so beware. Not to mention hopping teams yanks your athlete from friends and a comfort zone she may have been thriving in. The one caveat to this is a truly bad situation, in which leaving is the logical option (The lesson: “My princess deserves better because she is the best player on the team.” translation to the athlete: “My parents don’t trust me to succeed on this team. They just keep pushing me. I don’t want to change teams again. I like it here.”)


10. Yelling at umpires. Man, at national tournaments this was at epidemic levels this summer! Please honor the game and respect all those who make it happen: coaches, umpires, the opponent and every player on your athlete’s team. (The lesson: “I don’t need to respect the umpires, and I can always blame them for my failures.”)


Friday

Tony Gwynn's Message to Fastpitch Players

I met the recently departed Hall of Famer Tony Gywnn for the first time on the field in our college days when he doubled off of me into the left centerfield gap merely days removed from the conclusion of his basketball season at San Diego State.

I met Tony off the field decades later at a charity function, when he chuckled with that infectious laugh of his upon hearing my recount of his success hitting off of me, then reassuring me that I wasn't the only pitcher he did that too in his career!

Tony Gwynn was the epitome of consistency; a "pros pro" who never took his success for granted. Gwynn was, in fact, one of the last of a breed of ballplayers (along with fellow HOF inductee Cal Ripken, Jr.) whose Herculean work ethic and drive to better themselves pushed them to the limits of their God given talents, while serving as sterling role models to all who observed their relentless pursuit for perfection in a game built on failure.

Gwynn pioneered the use of video, endlessly studying his at bats after every game looking for the smallest flaw he could correct with more work. Gwynn was also known to be at the ballpark by noon for a 7 pm game, again working on perfecting his craft with countless swings in the cage and off the tee.

In his obit to the now "late" Tony Gwynn, "In a .338 Lifetime Average, Every Day Counts," the New York Times Tyler Kepner writes:

"In 1994, while on his way to the fifth of his eight National League batting crowns Gwynn spoke passionately about the attitude of the modern player. 

"They just feel like stuff is supposed to happen to them," he said. "They're not going to have to work for it. And that bugs me because I know how hard I had to work to get where I got. Sometimes they sit there in amazement at why I come out (so early) every day. But I cannot let their way of thinking into my head."

Unfortunately in 2014 I see the same thing in fastpitch softball Tony saw twenty years ago in baseball; a lackluster work ethic and a growing entitlement mentality where "getting better" often means doing the bare minimum despite an increasingly ultra-competitive softball landscape, all in the quest for college scholarships.

I have had several college coaches tell me the same: that their job description does not include baby sitting or having to deal with the endless drama and emotion that many "thin-skinned" athletes bring with them to college.

I'm confident that if Tony Gwynn were to speak to your athlete or team, as I'm sure he did often to his San Diego State baseball teams, he would say the following:

  1. Challenge and push yourself to be better. You'll never know how good you can be unless you try.
  2. Have pride in your game. Take your weaknesses and work tirelessly to transform them into strengths because, as a competitor, you care deeply about how the quality of your play.
  3. Focus on the little things. Look for ways to get better by becoming a relentless "student of the game."
  4. Don't let the team or your friends dictate your effort or performance level. Be a leader and set the example; raise the bar of excellence for yourself and others.
  5. Never let anyone tell you "you can't" achieve any level or goal you set for yourself. In the end it's "you versus you." GO FOR IT!
When Tony Gwynn began his professional career his outfield skills were below average. But as with his hitting Gwynn worked his tail off to improve his arm strength, his footwork, and developed a quicker release on his throws. The end result of all his hard work...five Gold Gloves to go along with his eight batting titles, fifteen All Star appearances, two trips to the World Series and immortality in Cooperstown.

Closer to home the summer after my high school graduation, prior to commencing my college baseball career, I spent an hour every day taking a hundred swings in the local batting cage, working on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. My thinking was I would see better pitching in college and trying to pull everything and hit home runs against mostly mediocre high school pitching wasn't going to fly at the D1 college level. Turns out I was right and all that hard work paid off for me in college.

As summer is upon us your athlete and team has no excuse not to work hard and smart to improve their game. Like I always say, "How good do you want to be?"

Like Tony Gwynn, develop an expectancy for success and build that rock solid sports confidence that only comes as the result of countless hours of quality preparation through a work ethic forged from desire, dedication, determination and passion.

Tony Gwynn both expected and achieved monumental success in his 20 year Major League career. He did it the hard way, through relentless effort. It's the only way he and Cal Ripken, Jr. knew how to play the game.

Plant these seeds in your athlete and team as greatness is always available to the player and team willing to go after it and do whatever it takes to be their absolute best!


6 Must Tips for Finding a Great Travel Team

Whether you are contemplating the jump from rec softball to travel, or you are a seasoned travel family picking the right travel team can be the difference between your athlete loving the game and maximizing her skills (at the younger levels) to reaching her goal of playing at her ideal college with a fat athletic scholarship or not.

Picking the ideal travel team or organization requires extreme due diligence and some very clear steps and components that you must be aware of and follow to increase your odds of landing your athlete on the right team. Travel softball requires a tremendous investment in time and money so why not match your athlete with her best travel fit to insure the best return on your softball investment!

Having coached at the highest level of travel softball in southern California for the last five years I’d like to offer you six tips, strategies, “must do’s” for any parent looking for a travel softball team:

1. A good fit talent wise – The most important consideration if your athlete is younger is playing time. Be wary of rosters above 12 players as playing time can be uneven. Find a team that is a good fit for your athlete’s talent and competitive level. You want to find a team that she will see plenty of playing time, yet be challenged by slightly better competition both on her team versus the teams they play. If your athlete is overwhelmed her confidence will slide and her performance will suffer (as well as her desire to play). Be realistic about your athlete's talent and potential. If need be seek input from several qualified coaches.

2. A good fit age wise – If your athlete is 9-14 years old you need to look for a team/organization with a great track record for teaching and developing players. Don’t get caught up in the winning. In fact, RUN from the team that only cares about winning! At the younger ages you want your athlete to get better in all facets of her game. Beware the rabid “dad” coach who wants to win at all cost, and likely with his/her daughter and her friends playing every inning and batting 1-5 in the lineup! If your athlete is in the older 14u age group or older development now turns into “college exposure” as the most dominant factor in choosing a travel team/organization. Look for a team/organization that has had great success placing their players with quality colleges with substantial financial aid (whether athletic/academic scholarships or academic grant money). Read tips 4 and 5 for more on recruiting and exposure.

3. Track record on the field – Check to see how the team has played before. Speak to current parents as to their experiences. They likely will only speak positive since their kid still plays there. Therefore you need to ask some very specific questions in order to bring the truth to the surface.

a. Find out of the coach’s daughter plays on the team and what position she plays and where she bats in the lineup. Ask if the other team coaches have daughters and where they play. Ask about playing time for their daughter.

b. Ask subtly how important winning is to the team and coaches. If the parents start bragging about how much they have won be wary. Hey, as a coach, I like winning too—but remember, if your athlete is younger developing skills is far more important than winning. And often in developing skills winning has to be sacrificed for the good of a player or team’s future.

c. Ask about practices. How are they run? Are they efficient and does the coaching staff seem to be competent in teaching the full array of softball skills (hitting, defense, base running, mental game)? Have they noticed their daughter getting better while playing on the team?

d. How do the girls on the team get along (any bad apples)? How do the parents get along (any parental poison)?

4. Track record in recruiting skills – As your athlete reaches that tipping point age of 15 (14 for a pitcher) skill development takes a secondary position to the execution of your college softball “recruiting plan.” At this stage your travel team/organization becomes vitally important. You’re close to the “payday” so look at the team’s/organization’s track record of placing their former players into college programs.

If you are looking for maximum financial contribution from a university then D1 and D2 schools should be your target, as D3 schools cannot offer athletic scholarships. Ask the prospect team where their “graduates” are playing? Look on their website to see as well. Ask what percent of their seniors get athletic scholarships and what is the average % of scholarship given (25%, 50%, 75%, 100%)? Since the maximum number of scholarships any D1 school can give is 12 and D2 7.2 very few athletes get “full athletic rides.”

5.  Exposure – This is where the rubber hits the road. What showcases does your prospect team/organization attend? Are they in the “invitation only” mix to top showcase events? Are they scheduled on the main fields or relegated to the back fields (which fewer college coaches go to watch)? Does the team/organization have a quality website with individual player profile pages that college coaches can view and download, with links to skills videos on YouTube? Can the coach or administrative head pick up the phone and call target school coaches for you (and will those college coaches take the call)? Do the travel coaches on your prospective team nominate their players for top college showcase camps and all star games like the Fireworks Showcase in Colorado and On Deck?

6.  The Big Picture – Of course from the mental standpoint you want your athlete to continue her love for and dedication to the game within the bigger picture of selecting the right travel team/organization. Let me interject, however, the perils resulting from switching teams too often. I call it “team hopping,” and in southern California it’s a full blown epidemic! For your athlete to play her best she needs to “feel” her best, so team hopping can rip her away from a comfort zone into a new environment that may challenge her sports confidence. 

Now if she isn’t getting playing time or the coach is a jacka** by all means change teams. But to bail on one team for another based on promises being offered or the chance to wear the cool name on the jersey or play for a winner may not be what is best for your athlete.

The second half of "big picture thinking" is assessing your athlete's motivation and desire for playing. As travel will require a much bigger time commitment and a likely lessening or near abandonment of her social life be sure she is in sync with her athletic goals and is "all in." She much find the self-motivation to work hard and make the self-sacrifices that come with travel softball (as all members of the family must buy into). If your athlete is still playing to please you that dog won't hunt much longer...believe me!

In my experience if you really want to find the truth their are always plenty of places and plenty of people to help you in the softball community. Good luck with your search. Let me know how it goes!

"JMK'S “TAKEAWAYS”

Here are a couple of key takeaways for you from this article:

1. Be patient and be prepared to exercise due diligence in finding the best match for your athlete. Ask questions and do plenty of research online, including team track record, roster sizes and coaching bios.

2. Be sure the team is a good fit for your athlete in regards to her talent level, commitment level and age. Remember...younger ages it's all about DEVELOPMENT; older ages it's all about RECRUITMENT.

3. Try to pick the right team and stick with it so your athlete can flourish within their system. Team hopping can result in diminished confidence, performance and enthusiasm for the game.