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And In The End…Trust.

Written By Jen Croneberger

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And In The End...Trust

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It’s a long off season in some aspects of softball. I suppose many of you know the feeling. You wish you could spend more time, but also welcome the much needed break. Something magical happens when we learn to let go. More on that in a minute.

SO here you are, working on off season plans, figuring out schedules, booking spring break trips, attending seminars, enhancing your knowledge of skills and drills and all the rest. You are preparing. In many ways like squirrels fatten up for the winter, bears gather before hibernation.

You are seeking to find all that you may need come game time. You are getting ready. And then something funny happens when all of a sudden the calendar flips on its own and becomes a scary reminder of how much time we no longer have. How the holidays always sneak up on you, leading right into January. You know as you are reading this that I am right. The next time you think about this it will happen, and you will be smack dab in the middle of forgetting to turn the page and being afraid to all at the same time.

You constantly look for new ways to motivate your athletes, new ways to teach your philosophies and your ideas and your wisdom that you just went out and collected all off season. Sometimes we inundate their minds with useless things, too many thoughts at once and do what I like to call “give them a drink with a fire hose.” Some days you need to learn to say “enough is enough.” We don’t need to change every little thing. We have what we need, now let’s just work on pulling that all out effectively.

I saw this in action a few years ago when I coached at our fall tournament. We had a great day, played well, pinpointed what we need to work on and overall had some fun. I got to know some of my new players and watch how they responded in certain situations. Good or bad, it’s always important to learn. We had a philosophy as a team of “hard work always pays off.” And that we did the things that we needed to do to continue to improve. Every day. I also instilled in my players that “running is a privilege.” And that I don’t “punish” wrongdoing with running.

I strongly believe that running and doing work makes you better. My approach was simple. If my player ever broke a simple team rule (being late, etc) they would sit and watch practice instead of participate. They would watch someone else take their place. They knew at that point that they would have to earn it back when they were eligible next time to participate in team activity.

This creates something that is exciting to watch unfold. Sometimes you just have to trust that they get it. I watched this during that tournament as my players truly “got it.”
We had played 3 games in the tournament and at the end of the day, I turned to walk back to the dugout after the last game was over to collect my bag and my water bottle and as I turned around to tell the girls to meet me in right field, I saw the magic happen. Before I had the chance to say anything, the girls were lined up on the first baseline starting their “Everyday's” by doing their abilities and sprints. I just stood and watched. The parents behind me just stood and watched. I realized in that moment that they really “got it.” They took pride in working hard, and without my even having to tell them, they took ownership of their actions and of their outcome.

This time of year, all you have is the trust that they will prepare themselves accordingly. That they will do one more rep or one more bucket or that they will understand the true meaning of ownership. Whatever they will cultivate come May is all in the seeds they sow today. This understanding is where champions are groomed.

That to me is a magical thing to watch. I have listened to countless numbers of coaches who have shared similar moments with me…. those when they realized the connection was made and the lifelong lesson has been more than imparted. It has been absorbed and reverberated. The echo is wide spread. 
It becomes a part of who you are and what your culture says about you as an organization.

And in the end, the most important part about teaching the message is trusting that they got it.

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3 More Ways to Raise Your Recruit-ability

Written by Stacie Mahoe


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3 More Ways To Raise Your Recruit-ability

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In my last article I went over some of the basics of college recruiting: taking care of business on the field, in the classroom, and on your college entrance tests. However, there's more to being recruited than just talent and grades. You can increase your chances of playing softball at the next level if you strive for excellence in the following areas as well…

Attitude and Conduct

An area not everyone considers during their college recruiting journey is how their attitude and conduct affect future opportunities. I know you see professional athletes throwing tantrums on the field or celebrating excessively, but I wouldn't recommend being that kind of athlete.

Practice carrying yourself well and practice honoring the game every chance you get. This means doing so when things go well, but more importantly when things don't. I know tempers flare and you may feel extremely frustrated from time to time. That's human and it means you care about what you do. However, practice exercising self control and become a competitor that looks fierce, focused, and unstoppable no matter what! Be a source of determination, confidence, and positivity teammates can draw from in good times and bad.

The truth is, you never know when someone is watching.

Yes, college coaches and scouts watch for the skills you possess and the plays you make, but they also look at how you respond under adversity. What do you do when obstacles and challenges arise? Do you get down, give up, stop playing your game, and let negativity sink in? Or do you keep pushing forward? Do you continue making a positive impact?

Impress those who see you play in both your best performances and your worst outings.

Social Media and Online Presence

This can be an entire article all by itself. All I will say is, admissions departments, college coaches, and a whole lot of other people who will become influential in your future success, DO look at how you conduct yourself online. This is a FACT!

How they see your online presences is NO different than their evaluation of you offline, or in the real world. It's all connected. As far as they're concerned it's ALL a part of who you are. Do NOT give them reasons to discard you because you got all brave behind a keyboard or mobile device. Do NOT give them reasons to dismiss you because your friends thought it was funny to hack your account and post inappropriate content. It's still YOUR account. YOU are responsible for what shows up there, and don't think a clever nickname will “hide” you. Just because “everyone” else thinks posting their drama and stupidity online is fun, doesn't mean it's a good idea for people like you who actually have goals and dreams to go after.

Be willing to do what others won't so you can achieve what they can't!

The rule to follow for your online persona is simple: Always conduct yourself well, online or offline, as if the most important people in your life are watching. I don't care if you plan to delete a post later or figure just because it's a digital world you can “erase” it by deleting it. You can't. Once something is posted online, it's there, somewhere, and CAN be pulled up later. Plus, you never know who got a copy or a screenshot of what you posted before you could take it down. Don't take the chance!

Do the Legwork

One of the biggest mistakes I see student-athletes and their families make is assuming “if you're good enough, someone will find you and recruit you.” Why wait for someone else to determine your fate?

Do anything and everything in your power to get your name and face out there. In today's world of youtube, email, social media, Skype, and various other platforms, there's no reason for you to sit and home and wait for the phone to ring. Do not think that taking care of business in the classroom and on the field is enough. Do not think that simple attending recruiting events and showcases is enough. Do not think that creating an online profile with a recruiting service or website is enough. It's not, not if you want to give yourself the MOST opportunities possible.

Do not wait for your coach to do all the work for you. Do not wait for your counselor to do all the work for you. They each have many other student-athletes to help. YOU only have YOU to work on. Take ownership of your journey. Do the work.

Do not wait for college coaches to come find you. Go to them. Make it easy, but be smart about how you do it. I know college coaches who say the very first contact they get from a some players says something along the lines of, “I want to play softball in college. Do you have money for me?”

Um…what? This coach has probably already seen other players, been in contact with other players, heard about other players, and, if they don't know anything about you, and the first thing you ask is that question, the answer is going to be, “No.” They will consider other players they actually know something about before they ever think about giving you money when they know nothing about you.

Instead, start off like you would in real life when you meet someone new. Introduce yourself. Ask questions that help show your interest in attending their school and being a part of their program. Show you're interested in them by actually doing some research on who they are and what their school and softball programs are about. Don't ask questions that you can easily find the answer to on their school's website. This shows that you didn't care enough to do some work and you want them to do everything for you. Bad idea!

Show them how YOU can help THEM. Don't just go straight to asking or taking. Don't make it all about you. Give them a reason to listen to what you have to say. Make it at least a little about them. Why do you want to be part of what's going on at their school? Why do you think you'd be a good fit for each other? Include these kinds of details.

Make sure you use the right name for the coach and school. Double check this before you call or hit the send button in a message! This really does happen. I've talked to a number of college coaches who've experienced this kind of mistake or lack of attention to detail in communication from a potential recruit. Yes, it's a lot of work because the more coaches you contact, the more chances you'll have. Reaching out to coaches is not always the most fun task and it can be quite monotonous and boring, but again, be willing to do what others aren't!

Yes, there are templates out there you can use to help you begin communication with college coaches, however, if you're using a template you found online or via some other easily accessible source, chances are other players are too.

When a coach sees yet “another” letter written with exactly the same wording as a bunch of other emails they've gotten this week, they KNOW you didn't put much time or effort into writing it. They KNOW all you did was fill in the blanks. They KNOW you didn't put any personal thought or effort into your communication with them. This is a BAD way to start.

I'm not saying don't use templates at all. They can be very helpful. Go ahead and look at a template for getting a general idea of what kind of information you can or should include in your communication, but don't forget to add your own personal touch somewhere along the line.

Communicating with college coaches is likely a very new experience for you. This means you probably won't be perfect at it the first time you try it. You may not want to start off by contacting the schools you're most interested in first. Instead, start with the schools you have marginal interest in first to get some experience under your belt before you go for the ones you really, really, really want the attention of.

BONUS Tip: Follow Up

It's true college coaches can't contact you before a certain point in your high school years, however this does not mean you cannot contact them. Just because they don't immediately respond, don't give up. If you jot them a note or give them a call (and leave a message if they don't answer), from time to time, they'll likely remember your name before they remember the name of someone who only made contact once and never bothered to follow up.

That said, respect a coaches' time. They are incredibly busy and don't need pointless emails that say, “Dear Coach, just wanted to say Hi!” Have some kind of purpose for writing. Update them on something you just accomplished. Congratulate them for something cool that just happened with their program. Whatever reason you find, make sure it helps them see how you can benefit them and that you're serious about their program.

Be SMART about who you contact. Make sure you meet the general requirements and would be a decent fit for the school and program you contact, otherwise you're just wasting your time and theirs. There's enough work involved in your college recruiting journey. You don't need to add to it by spending time on tasks that don't benefit you. Best wishes to you in your journey. Work smart AND hard on and off the field.

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An Open Letter To Umpires and Parents

Written By Mitch Alexander

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An Open Letter to Umpires and Parents

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In an October 5, 2013 18u gold showcase tournament at Big League Dreams in West Covina, California, where the Minors Gold played the California Cruisers, many sports blog websites reported that a softball atrocity took place. The Minors Gold were up at bat and were winning the game. They had bases loaded, and the Cruiser's pitcher walked in another run. The Cruisers’ coach then called for a conference in the pitcher's circle. On the very next pitch thrown by the Cruisers’ high school junior, the catcher jumps out of the way and the pitch hits the bespectacled, grey-haired umpire square in the face. The coach, pitcher, and catcher were ejected from the game and the game was then declared over.

Video was taken by a high definition camera located above the umpire's head in the backstop, so the vantage point was quite good. The pitch that ultimately walked the batter was questionable as a ball. If it was good (which it may have been) it was low in the zone. The pitch that hit the umpire looked high and would most likely have been called a ball. Since the pitcher was throwing at both ends of the vertical zone, she seemed to have reasonable control of her locations.

At the 18u gold level, catchers are expected to be able to catch most reasonable pitches so, therefore, it appears that the catcher chose not to catch this particular pitch. The umpire's safety equipment was minimal. Here lied on the skill of the catcher to keep himself safe and most teams are aware of this. I have heard many umpires remind catchers that they need to do all they can to block the pitch from hitting the umpire. Thankfully, the umpire was not injured as the ball ricocheted off his face mask, but it could have hit him in the throat or caught him in the shoulder, chest, or arm.

It looks like a lot of things went wrong in this game. Many Internet sites and blogs claim this was retaliation for the umpire making bad strike zone calls. There is no room in softball for any kind of retaliation. Retaliation is completely unacceptable and un-sportsman like. With that said, if this was retaliation, did the umpire play a role in causing the Cruisers to come to the conclusion that they needed to retaliate? Yes, he did. Did he deserve what he got? Clearly not. The umpire's strike zone was quite small. He did not give anything on the outside corner to the Cruisers. He was also not giving any pitches that were at the bottom of the zone. This may have frustrated the coaches to the point that they were not thinking clearly in the heat of the game. The somewhat loud third base coach on the Cruisers made many comments in earshot of the umpire, further hurting his team’s relationship with the umpire. The Cruisers’ coach also did not control his team parents, who were making comments the umpire could hear.

You can watch a clip of this sequence on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMOHzMOT4nc make sure you turn the volume up so you can hear all the chatter in the game. You can also Google to find a video of the full game. The following does not apply in particular to the Minors Gold vs. California Cruisers game, but to all games.

Dear Umpire,

You have a tough job. No, scratch that. You have a REALLY tough job. Umpires are held to a high standard where you are expected to get every call right. Surgeons, airline pilots, and nuclear engineers are held to this kind of standard. If you get one call wrong, the team receiving the bad call hates you and the other team loves you…. that is unless you make a bad call for them too, and then everyone hates you.

A few things we as coaches and parents would appreciate you doing before games that would increase the level of respect we all have for you is:

Please look neat when you arrive at the field. Sloppy, unshaven umpires do not instill confidence in the teams and it also shows a lack of respect for the game.

If you are supposed to have game balls, please obtain them before the game and don't expect to play the game with our used practice balls or expect the coaches to run and pick them up instead of warming up our team.

Please check the field for unsafe playing conditions and alert the coaches and any league or tournament officials of any issues found.

Please don't buddy up with either team. We respect your tough job, but it causes parents, players, and coaches to think you will not be impartial in your judgments. Even if you know the other coaches, it isn't appropriate for you to be seen yucking it up and reminiscing about the good ole times.

There are also a few things we would like to bring to your attention about the play during the game:

It is NOT your job to keep the game fair. One team may be much better than the other. Call as accurate a game as possible for BOTH teams regardless of the outcome. You do a disservice to the players and the sport if you try to “adjust” the outcome – that is NOT your job.

If the coaches or a player aggravate you during the game, please DO NOT take it out on the team. They have been practicing their hearts out and don’t deserve retribution from the umpire, just because of the coaches or one bonehead player.

Pitchers deserve an accurate sized strike zone. “Squeezing” a pitcher so none of her specialty pitches or comer pitches are called strikes is unfair to the pitcher. Making a pitcher throw down the middle goes against everything pitchers have been training thousands of hours to do.

Batters deserve an accurate strike zone. Calling balls at their helmets as strikes frustrates the batters and causes them to throw their good batting mechanics out the window to reach for these balls (even when their coaches are telling them to lay off any high pitches).

If you are working a game alone, when possible, please come out from behind the plate to make base calls.

If you get a call wrong, it helps diffuse tension if you let us know you made a mistake, even though the call still stands.

Dear Parents,

Your coaching staff is in control of this team. We are responsible for the players, coaches, and you, the parents’ actions. You need to trust in us and believe that we will handle ALL issues within the guidelines of the rules of the game and good sportsmanship.

Umpires have a very difficult job. Most likely, they will not get every call right. This is part of the game of softball.

You are NOT permitted to harass the umpire in any way during the game. If you do so, you will be asked to leave the game.

We NEVER argue balls or strikes – those are judgment calls made by the umpire. We may ask the umpire to clarify why a pitch was called a ball so we know what he saw. Our pitchers will be asked to adjust to the umpire's judgment. Sometimes, we will not agree with an umpire's interpretation of the strike zone, but this is NOT cause for any of us to argue about it. It is simply a game condition we need to adjust to.

The coaching staff will ask for the umpire's interpretation of rules and their calls if there are any questions. Only official coaches will do this.

At the end of the day, please keep in mind that this is a GAME. The outcome of this game does not have life or death consequences. Therefore, you are asked to be supportive and calm and show good sportsmanship at all times, regard less of what the other team or officials say or do.

Please instruct your daughter that she is never to do something she believes is morally incorrect or in retribution. These types of acts tarnish the great sport of softball.

The Minors Gold vs. California Cruisers game was an 18u college showcase tournament. This means that the participants in the tournament were there in hopes of attracting college recruiters – at a minimum to get a closer look and at best case to obtain an athletic scholarship. The California Cruisers’ coach (or coaches) probably wasted the team parents’ money by participating in this showcase event with game ejections and the game being suddenly ended by the officials, and most likely gave their organization a black eye for future player consideration. With no prior knowledge, I would guess that this is not the first time this coach has acted in an unsportsmanlike way. Parents beware – if your daughter's coach does not display near-perfect conduct and sportsmanship, you should really consider looking for a new team or this type of situation could be written about your daughter and/or her team.

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The National Fastpitch Coaches Association

Written By Bill Plummer

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The National Fastpitch Coaches Association

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The NFCA probably represents many things to its thousands of members. At its basic level, however, the NFCA is softball's version of a melting pot where once a year coaches at all levels (amateur, travel ball/club, high school, junior college, NAIA, Division One, Division Two and Division Three) plus umpires and fans of softball come together to make recommendations, propose and vote on rules, develop and plan programs for the betterment of the sport. Today the NFCA membership is more than 4,300 people strong and is expected to get only bigger in the future.

Since the summer of 1994 Lacy Lee Baker has served as executive director of the NFCA which completed its annual convention in San Antonio, TX with a record number of attendees and vendors. Rayla Allison was hired as the organization's first executive director in 1991. In 1995, the organization's name was changed to NFCA and it was effective in September, 1996.

Baker took time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions regarding the NFCA and the sport of softball.

Regarding NFCA future plans, she said: “It was apparent at the convention that there needs more communication between all groups of the NFCA, and the board is working to develop a plan to be more inclusive. In addition, we want our committees to be more active in growing the NFCA and the sport in general.”

The sport will only get stronger if there's opportunity for world competition on the biggest stage there is (Olympics). Here in the US television exposure has done wonders for the game and our sport has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. All the softball organizations need to work together to continue that momentum.”

The NFCA has played an important role in the development of the sport during those last 20 years and that is something Baker is proud of. “I believe that the NFCA has been an integral part of the growth of softball. We have wonderful members at all levels who care about the game, the student-athletes who play it and its future. They’re in the game for the right reasons, and their leadership has made the NFCA a strong organization. Their love of the game is the foundation for where we've been, where we are now and where we’re going. ”

The purposes of the NFCA are listed below:

1. To stimulate the development of quality leadership for fastpitch softball programs, and to recognize professional contributions to the sport by:

a. Keeping members informed of current coaching techniques and trends.

b. Providing national and international educational training for fastpitch softball coaches.

c. Encouraging, supporting, and providing guidance in the development and conduct of fastpitch softball programs whose purposes correlate with the general objectives of education.

d. Instilling within coaches a deep sense of responsibility for developing and conducting programs that will en rich the lives of the participants.

2. To encourage the playing of fastpitch softball in accordance with the highest traditions of competition.

3. To foster national and international amateur fastpitch softball competition.

4. To facilitate public and professional understanding and appreciation of the importance and value of the sport of fastpitch softball.

5. To identify and pursue issues relevant to fastpitch softball coaches and to the sport of fastpitch softball; and to provide a forum for the discussion of matters of interest to members of the Association.

6. To provide a channel of direct communication among fastpitch softball coaches at all educational levels.

7. To maintain a membership group representative of all sections of the United States, and all levels of fastpitch softball competition.

8. To organize the coaches as a group interested in formulating and promoting guiding principles, standards, and policies for conducting competitive fastpitch softball programs for girls and women; and to provide a united body for positive action relative to the sport of fastpitch softball.

9. To promote cooperative efforts with other professional organizations similarly interested in the ultimate development of fast pitch softball programs and opportunities for fastpitch softball players.

10. To promote cooperative efforts with other professional organizations interested in girls’ and women’s athletics (programs, coaches, and players).

There is no doubt that the NFCA has contributed and helped develop the sport, especially in the area of coaches and getting them together. It's a far cry from the early days of the organization which first developed from discussions at the National Collegiate Women’s Softball Championships in the early 1980's when the AIAW and the NCAA were vying for the control of college softball. Judy Martino of North Carolina is credited with forming the organization as collegiate coaches wanted an awards program, a forum to discuss issues affecting the sport, a means to better educate coaches and update them on softball-related issues, and representation in such organization as the NCAA and the ASA. At that time, dues were $35.00 per year and the 1984 budget showed income of $17,375 and expenses of $14,529.

It was determined that the purpose of the National Softball Coaches Association was “to educate softball coaches and the public in the game of softball, including coordinating the relationship between softball team membership and other educational endeavors through the development of softball in all its aspects as an amateur sport, including maintaining communication of new ideas and discussion of issues involving softball and education.” The NSCA planned to achieve these goals by initiating softball clinics, hosting national softball conventions, conducting regional meetings, and by providing official publications to all members. The major sources of income were expected to come from membership dues, corporate sponsors and clinics.

Since then, the organization's college coaches have welcomed assistant coaches, high school coaches, travel ball coaches and affiliate members, which consist of umpires, foreign coaches, professional coaches, former coaches and those persons generally interested in softball.

Other milestones in the Association's history are:

• Approval as an affiliate member of the NCAA in 1984.

• Approval as an allied member of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) in April, 1988.

Softball is only better because of the people who believed in forming the NFCA and the organization will only get better in the future because of the dedicated people like Lacy Lee Baker and her staff and the thousands of coaches and fans who care about amateur softball.

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