July Softball – The Burnout Factor Written By John Michael Kelly
This time of year after months of playing endless games I start to see the wear and tear on both body and mind begin to take its toll on my athletes. It’s an important time of the season, but a perilous time if you aren’t careful to read the signs your athlete or team is about the crumble!
As I often talk about here the emotional strain we as parents and coaches put our kids under often borders on child abuse. We ramp up the expectations during Nationals season and as our expenses or traveling go up…magically so do our expectations for our athlete and team.
At the older ages elevated expectations (including self-expectations) coupled with the pressures of performing in front of college coaches who can decide the course of their future.
The mental strain becomes ever evident. Weather gets hotter, competition gets better and every failure or miscue on the diamond gets magnified under the microscopic eyes all around.
Additionally after playing 100 games since January (for you warm weather folk) the body begins to break down as aches and pains become more frequent and nagging tendinitis and those scrapped knees and elbows that never seem to heal become nearly intolerable.
So what can you do as parent or coach to help your athlete or team finish the season strong in spite of these five signs:
1. Give them a break. If your athlete plays every inning of every game suggest to her coach to give her a breather during pool play. Burnout can happen from too much playing and too little rest. If her swing is slower, her feet are slower in the field, she becomes more quiet in the dugout and seems more frustrated than normal after making an out or an error, she needs a break.
2. Watch diet, sleep and mood swings. Monitor if your athlete stops eating as much, begins to lose weight, or isn’t getting enough sleep. Hot showers for achy muscles or ice baths (as one of my former pitchers uses for sore muscles) can reinvigorate the body. Vitamin supplements and more fruit and veggies can help to maintain energy levels. Proper sleep is paramount. Give her the best bed in the hotel; make napping comfortable in the car; bring her pillow from home.
3. Hydration. This may seem obvious, but a dehydrated body will cause lots of unpleasant physical side-effects like headaches, nausea, lack of focus and muscle cramping. Start hydrating DAYS before the big tournament, and keep hydrating before, during and after the games. Lack of hydration can also accelerate mental fatigue, which leads to physical errors on the field.
4. Mental relief. As parent or coach this time of year emotions can run high in national tournaments. Yet for many players they are at the emotional breaking point. Help to relieve that pressure by maintaining “big picture” thinking. Don’t kill her joy for the game. Keep it fun for her; plan team activities off the field to make it more than just about the game. (see #5 for incentives)
5. Playing any sport year around can cause burnout for any athlete. As the end of this season approaches, and as a motivator to get her through the next few weeks, create an incentive; maybe a “spa day” or a mini trip to an amusement park or to the beach/shore. Seriously…take the month of August off. Let her mind, body and spirit rest and recuperate. When the game stops being fun for her she will want to quit, or will care less about it. For any teen making the sacrifices we ask of them for the game is demanding enough. Give her a break!
When an athlete is emotionally “done” the best remedy is always rest. However, in the middle of the busiest month of the softball season try these five tips to gently nudge her to the finish line!
Thanks for reading! –John Michael Kelly
Coaching the Parents: How Mom & Dad Can Help You
Get Recruited or Keep You From It… Written By Robby Wilson
“Don’t just sit there and watch the third strike, at least go down swinging! If you do that again, we’re leaving you won’t even play the rest of the weekend!” We’ve all heard it, seen it, maybe even experienced it – the travel mom or dad standing behind home plate, arms crossed, looking for the first thing to yell about, whether good or bad. But we’ve all heard it a million times that the parents are an integral part of the recruiting process for more than just finances, family support, and location.
Think about it…put yourself in a college coach’s shoes and imagine you’re recruiting a kid. Imagine the athlete you’re looking to recruit has parents that are yelling such as the situation above, sitting behind home plate tearing their own kid down. Then whether or not you see the dad/mom say something to the coach as well, the demeanor that is permitted with this team tells you that these parents are the type that likely will attack the coach about playing time, playing certain positions, making a good/bad call, etc. What does this mean to a college coach? It means that if he recruits this kid, the parents are going to be more trouble for the next 4-5 years than the athlete may be worth. If the parents have been able to act this way for years in travel ball, attempting to set a standard/expectations once beginning in college ball, not likely to be successful because they’ve built a habit of being able to do and say whatever, whenever.
Recently in June 2014, I attended one of the year’s biggest showcases annually in Colorado. In scouting various games alongside several of the college coaches, I had a couple of situations that were exactly this. Sitting watching game 1 with several of the coaches, they made the comment how well-behaved the parents were, how helpful they were, and how the girls seemed to be enjoying themselves while working hard because there was no “background noise.” BUT, then game 2 rolled around. Two different teams and two totally different sets of parents. The negative things observed in the first two innings:
Pitcher’s dad behind home plate shaking his head and throwing his hands up in disappointment. Mom even told the umpire a few times how blind he was and so forth.
Another dad watches his daughter strike out and as she’s walking back to the dugout, he grabs his keys and tells her “I can’t watch this stuff, just ride with Janey” and leaves.
Another set of parents even GO OVER to the dugout after a kid grounded out, and begins verbalizing their irritation beginning with words that would’ve gotten soap put in a kid’s mouth.
And believe me, I could go on and on about what I saw throughout the week in Colorado. It was very disheartening. The point I wanted to make with this particular time was that as soon as these parents began doing those things, each of those college coaches got up and left. One even crumbled up the team’s roster sheet and tossed it as he walked away. In talking to several of them later that day at another field, they all seemed very disheartened as well. One coach even said
“with so many people not wanting softball to continue to grow, why would the people in the world of softball continue to keep the sport down themselves? If we know these are negatives about our sport, why do we continue to allow it? I simply will not recruit a kid, nor will I recruit from a team where that type of stuff is permitted. I prefer the teams to have the parental agreement some of them have, where they sign agreeing that they will be silent unless it’s in support, they will stay away from home plate and away from the dugout, and enforce a 24 hour rule on discussing things with the players as well as the coaches.”
This really sunk in when I thought about it. And when I talked to several more coaches about it they kept mentioning the similar statement of “coaching the parents”, meaning that the travel organization and/or team coaches should have a set standard and explain the expectations from the beginning and possible even sign an agreement and enforce it.
This is not to say that any parents have bad intentions, that’s 99.9% of the time not the case. The parents love their kids, want them to do well, spend a lot of money and time helping support the kid’s dream of being the best they can be and eventually playing college ball. But sometimes our support, time and passion of the kid’s dream allows us to get frustrated when things don’t always go perfect, and often times it is displayed at the showcase or taken out on the kid. It’s never intentional, but always detrimental. This doesn’t mean the parents have to tell the kids everything is all sunshine and lollipops either. It means we don’t have to say anything at all!
You see, the girls have been playing this sport for 4-12 years. They’ve been trained and taught for moments like this and showcases like this. Normally if they make a mistake, make an error, bad throw, strikeout, these girls are so trained and experienced in the sport that THEY ALREADY know what they did wrong, so why do we need to remind them publicly? We don’t!
From a college scouting perspective I will tell you this…the perfect situation of which I’ve had numerous times and later on, ended up working with that athlete is this:
The kid normally is flawless defensively and is a threat at the plate offensively…the kid makes an error or strikes out. At the end of the play the kid either (1) Doesn’t even look over at the parents, or (2) The kid looks over at mom/dad with a frown on her face but without saying a word, mom or dad gives a thumbs up or a look meaning “dust your shoulders off, you’re ok”. Then the kid smirks a little grin. And for the rest of the game the kid is back in action and never misses a step.
You see what happened there? The parents might have been frustrated that their kid made a mistake, but they kept it inside and instead of scolding her, they gave her some positive motivation and changed the kids attitude and demeanor in one split second. “The coach’s job is to coach. The player’s job is to play. The parent’s job is to be a supportive spectator without interfering.”
Even with my own daughter and keep in mind as a scout, it’s part of my job to be critical…I don’t say a word during her games. I sit back, support, give the thumbs up on good things and give a clap during bad things essentially telling her it’s okay, and I don’t get involved. She can tell me after the game the mistakes she made and what she should’ve done, etc. I simply nod my head and agree. After each game she “grades herself” in the form of A-F and then explains to me why she graded that way. After she tells me those things, she tells me what she wants to focus more on during her training this week. And we leave it at that. No griping, no belittling, no more actual talk about it that night aside from where we’re getting ice cream from. All that being said, my daughter is 8 years old. If she is knowledgeable enough about the game of softball and her abilities to tell me what she did wrong, etc…don’t you think a teenager who has played for 4-12 years can do the same?
A Coach’s Perspective
Imagine being the college coach and scouting the kid mentioned above with the dad behind home plate questioning every call the ump or coach makes, while mom is in the stands gossiping about the team, coaches, and other players not being able to hold a candle to her baby girl. Now if you’re the college coach, do you want to deal with this family for 4-5 years? Nope! Because the minute she arrives on campus if she’s not starting or playing where dad thinks she should play, coach is going to hear about it. Not only that, but the college coach LOVES for the kid’s parents to attend their games because it builds support for the teams and puts rears in the seats! It’s a traveling fan club! But on the contrary, he/she would have to intervene if the parent(s) tried those same antics and possibly consider cutting the kid after year one. There is no kid, no athlete, anywhere, that isn’t replaceable. Some will argue differently, but the good can never outweigh the bad with situations like that. Just because this 2016 pitcher is throwing 60’s, is 6 ft tall, and has stellar academics and a big bat to boot…I have a few of those that are my prospects alone! So how many of those do you think there are out there for the college coach to find? He/She is going to move on, find another, and this one will have supportive parents who understand letting their kid fight their own battles and discover who they are.
On the other side of things, an ideal family as described earlier, is an ideal situation for the coach and can help drive the kid’s recruiting with that coach/school. How? Imagine two different girls, both 2016 pitchers, both great academics, both good bats, but one is hitting 58-60 while the other is hitting 63. But the pitcher hitting 63 has the yelling dad and gossiping mom, while the girls hitting 58 has the quietly supportive parents with the child who understands handling her own business. More stress or less stress? More friction and trouble? Or less friction and trouble? The kid throwing 58-60 is going to win out, every single time, every day of the week. Why? It’s much easier to have your pitching coach work with her and bring her speeds up and/or utilize her movement much more, than to deal with the dad calling you because his daughter isn’t pitching a game or standing behind home plate yelling at her because her drop ball isn’t dropping.
This goes beyond just what you see at the fields during game time. It’s what’s known around town. What the other parents say. What the parent is posting on facebook, twitter, blogs, instagram, and so forth. Everyone has seen the posts about questioning the coach, we would have won if my daughter pitched, the coach lost the game(s) for us, my super stud kid better get some playing time or I’m switching teams, and so forth. Whether you do it in person, in public later, or on social media, the negativity with a sense of “entitlement”, it is going to lose your kiddo many opportunities now and the cycle will continue into his/her adulthood in employment, as well as what they teach their kids.
What I Like To See
Whether the parents shows up in support but stays quiet, or simply cheers for everyone and even compliments the other team on various players and plays, those are the parents whose kids are probably smiling and having a blast while taking care of business on the ball field. I like to see that pitcher that has a homer hit off her and looks over and smirks at dad as if to say “she nailed that one”, and then strikes out the next at bat. I like to see that dad who has pirched up over on the left field fence out of the way because he knows he’s tempted to talk to her during the game and so he removes himself so he can be there in support, but not in mouthing and degrading. I like to see parents who keep it light. You may get tense in nerves because of the game, all parents do, but don’t let it show. Keep it light. Smile, have fun, dance even, but trust me – the fun loving good time will rub off on the girls and believe me, the girls have to be happy to play well.
We could go on for days on end about what to do and what not to do, but it’s actually not that complicated. The athlete playing softball (or any sport for that matter) must also have their “family support” considered by a college coach because it’s not just the kid who will be involved with the university and their program, it’s the family. And if the family is not the family you want around the program or that you want wearing your school colors at the game, there’s no kid too talented to move on.Travel coach should keep this in mind and possibly implement a structure and agreement with the parents, setting the standard on what is and is not acceptable, if you haven’t already. Parents should take a long, hard look at how they are during the games/tournaments. Talk it over with your softball player and get her perspective. Either way, the “family support” is just another piece analyzed in the recruiting puzzle that is widely known, but often overlooked. Hopefully this article goes a long way in confirming some of the things you’ve considered or wondered, but never knew for sure.
Drawing the Lines of a Leader Written By Shannon Murray
Almost every softball team votes or has designated team captains. Normally these are the girls that are seen as the best players on the team or have the most outgoing personality. But did you know that team leaders don’t have to be captains? If you didn’t, then you may not even know that you are seen as a leader on your team. Captains are meant to be the leaders of the team, but they are not the only ones. Is there one criteria to be met in order to be seen as a captain? These are some of the questions that come to mind when we are determining how to draw the lines of our team leaders.
Personally, I prefer to refer to team captains as team leaders. In my opinion, the word leader presents a stronger emphasis on the definition of the word, and in my personal experience has given a little more push to those girls trying to fulfill those roles. Diversity comes in handy when it comes to selecting the leaders of your softball team. Every girl has different strengths and weaknesses that should be utilized and accommodated for. Some girls on the team will be more vocal leaders and others will lead by action. Either of which can make a great team leader. I believe in having more than one team leader on the team to balance out strengths and weaknesses. Not only is there diversity in leadership skills, but also in the way the rest of the girls will respond to each captain’s leadership style. It would be rare to say that every girl on the team could one hundred percent agree with one team captain’s leadership ways. That is why it’s good to have some mix in the leaders. No matter what girls are selected as the team leaders, they should all understand that being a leader means you are there to serve the girls on your team and not yourself.
However, there are plenty of leaders on the team that are not official. They are the girls you see encouraging their teammates after striking out. These are the young ladies that stay after practice to take more swings or grounders and the rest of the team follows. The unofficial team leaders are the girls that will pick up equipment, share their gear and lend a helping hand all without being asked just because they know it’s what’s best for the team. They don’t see these tasks as beneath them or for anyone else but every girl on the team. Just as much as the official leaders on your teams, they too deserve to be recognized for their hard work and selfless dedication to making the team better. We must not forget these girls and their good service to the team that sometimes goes by right in front of us.
So what are the qualities to look for in team leaders? For this answer, there is no one answer. There are many and the right one will vary for each team. Every softball team has a different team dynamic and therefore requires a little bit of research to determine who will make the best team leader on it. Overall, there are some qualities that I look for in team leaders that could be taken into consideration on any team. I seek girls that are motivational. They want to win, reach goals, be a team play and a positive influence without even trying. This is their personality and it speaks to the team with or without words. Good team leaders have a vision. Their vision is realistic, inspirational, contagious and is one for the whole team (not just themselves). A good leader to me is a young woman that can exhibit good sportsmanship and get everyone on board with her vision.
Now that we’ve thought about what a good leader for a softball team is, what do we do as coaches? As any coach knows, we are not just building exceptional softball players, but also exceptional young women. By doing so, when we pick our team captains we are building future leaders. As the coach it is our responsibility to guide our team leaders and encourage them to embrace their leadership skills. You never know, you could be coaching a future college coach, the future president or CEO of a major corporation. But as we give them support and encouragement in these leadership roles, we can develop confident young women.
Let us remember that leaders aren’t born, but rather made. They are created by a large amount of factors, but how they built in softball is something we can help with. Educator and author Peter Drucker said, “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” Let us draw the lines of our leaders beyond their thinking of what is their limits, and show them they can lead teams to success farther than they could imagine.
“Rick Bertagnolli Enters The NFCA Hall Of Fame”
Sorry, listening to the audio on this website requires Flash support in your browser. You can try playing the MP3 file directly by clicking here.
Mom Made me Tough Written By Bill Boles, Jr
Mom created a standard that few could live up to. She raised three productive and successful boys by herself (dad put us in his rear view mirror and never looked back). She took the bus downtown every day to her job at a school, and she had her boys in church every Sunday morning, Sunday and Wednesday nights. She was strict and borderline mean…and she had to be.
What was even more remarkable about her is that I can count on one hand, the number of my games she missed, baseball, basketball, or football. Her favorite though was baseball. I would always see her walking up with her clunky rainbow-colored lawn chair and her collapsible little umbrella under her arm. She was there for every highlight…when I was 12, she saw me hit a game winning home run and the coaches hoisted me on their shoulders, she saw me impale myself on the dugout fencing to make a catch at 14 and I insisted on finishing out the double header. She was there through High School when I was swarmed after the games by scouts, college coaches and yes girls. She was there, mom was always there.
She was an athlete and a coach in college and played basketball in a day when girls only played half court and in a skirt but she knew the landscape of student sports.
She instilled respect in everything we did and especially when it came to her sons and their coaches, and their teachers, and their pastors, and their youth leaders, and their bosses, store clerks, mailmen, police officers, doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs.
She did her part as a parent, she loved the game and I remember our long talks where I confided everything to her. She had experienced enough hard knocks and disappointments in life that she didn’t build a hedge to shelter me from injustice or from being a victim or having an entitlement mentality. She raised me to navigate those inevitable things I would face throughout my life and my career.
As I grew older if I brought up a perceived injustice by my coach, she listened then got fired up and equipped me with ways to figure it out on my own. Never once did she kill the coach behind the fence or with a texting campaign (there was no such thing as texting back then, but you get my point).
Recently on Facebook, I saw a photo with a saying, Coachable kids become employable adults, let your kids get used to someone being tough on them, its life, get over it. I would add, …and they will appreciate it when they become adults.
Now back to mom, I now can see that if she had discussed with me what awful people individuals and coaches and bosses and pastors, and teachers were, that I would have absolutely no regard or respect for authority as an adult, nor would I have a willingness to learn something new from every person I come into contact with.
I recall on one occasion in a game when I was 14, I hit a triple, and I was standing on 3rd base smiling at my good fortune. At the end of our next practice, the coach tore into me and told me I shouldn’t be smiling during a game…that I had to be tougher. I remember I welled up with tears, and thinking of all kinds of things to say and I stood up from our meeting and immediately started running our “lap” route. I ran until all the other guys were gone but the coach stuck around. I told him that if I went home angry at you, my mom would chew my butt out if not give it a whack or two and running was the more preferable choice.
I remember telling him that I loved baseball more than anything else and that I had to be happy playing this game. From then on this coach and I formed a bond that exists today. My mom didn’t even know about it. And if she had I can assure you she wouldn’t have taken my side, nor would she compromise the reputation of this otherwise great coach and mentor in my life by whining to other parents about what happened. It is the first time I remember taking ownership of my own actions, and I can describe in such detail like it happened yesterday.
Today I am a coach and I have witnessed a paradigm shift where parents have become overbearing advocates for their kids and they don’t talk to the coach, they approach other parents in an attempt to create momentum to gather torches and pitchforks to go after the monster in the dugout. Sure coaches always need on-going training and there is always room for improvement, but the coup happening behind the fence is a shame. I told my kids that I am not coaching them as 14 year olds, but as teachers, dentists, physicians, lawyers, computer programmers, accountants and moms. I wish there were more parents out there like my mom, she was old school. Even today, if I showed her this article, she’d say…deal with it and control those things you can control including yourself, then she’d swat me on the butt like old times.