I was overwhelmed watching the battle to crown this year's Women's College World Series Champion. From regional play through the final series I was impressed with the remarkable fortitude of many of the teams. Florida State down by 5 runs with 3 outs to go. “Awe Shoot! I love Coach Alameda. I that their season has to end this way” . Not sure if there was traffic or she couldn't afford a ticket in this economy but I tell you what… the fat lady never showed up to sing, and next thing you knew those amazing Seminoles were victorious. If this were an infomercial instead of an article I might use my cheesy announcer voice and say “But wait! There's more.”
So much more in fact that I would probably dub this the year of “if we even have 1 out left then we are still in this thing.” It wouldn't have been a fitting end in fact had the first championship game not been as spectacular if not more so than the others leading up to it. Two of the top teams in the country dueled 10 complete innings and neither produced a single run. Then in the 11'th inning Tennessee essentially punched Oklahoma in the mouth scoring 3 runs. Knock out blow right? “Poor Oklahoma such a shame after such a heartbreaking loss last year.” Not only did Oklahoma match Tennessee punch for punch scoring 3 runs of their own in the bottom of the 11 ‘th, they then delivered the knockout blows in the 12'th to win the game.
We were all blessed to see three spectacular weeks of games in a row. So I should be thrilled right? Should count myself lucky to have been fortunate enough to see such great games. Well I'M NOT. Maybe it's just that I'm greedy but the fact is that I LOVE this sport and it hurts knowing that I will likely have to wait 49 weeks before I get to see that kind of competition again.
Why? Because the sport that I love … that I'm passionate about … that I sacrifice nearly daily for is in my mind absolutely and completely being watered down by stopwatches. Coaches and parents clamoring for more and more games. Tournament directors are responding with tournaments that guarantee “5-6” games, often in 1 day. “Wooo-hoo we'll get to play six 4 inning games and that's certainly better than playing three 7 inning games.” Really?????
I constantly see parents and coaches starting to ask how much time is left with 20 minutes to go. They tie their shoes. They have lengthy conferences with pitchers all intended to stall for time. Meanwhile on the other side of the field the players, coaches and parents who are down by 2 runs are talking about the next game so that they can be “mentally prepared”. They trod through the day like that. Getting their one hour and ten minute time limits per game and then they are surprised during the championship game that the girls are both physically and mentally drained by the end of the fifth inning. Coaches scold them for not being ready. Tell them to read books on “mental toughness” so they are better prepared.
Sure it's been a long day but more importantly they don't know how to mentally compete for more than 4 innings because for the past 3 weekends all they did was play 4 inning games. Now they have the chance to win a championship but they have no experience to draw from. They are used to 1 team getting a lead, holding on to it for 20 minutes and then rolling their bags to the next field right away. During a 4 inning game as soon as Shelly throws 2 bad pitches in a row the coach says “Sit down Shelly” and proceeds to bring in Annie. No time in 4 inning games for Shelly to learn how to regain her composure. To learn how to setup batters and not keep throwing the same pitch to the same girl. Not like this sport needs pitchers who are mentally tough. No time for her teammates to make adjustments and battle back and get her some run support. Not really a team sport anyway. No time for the team to get their heart into the game, support each other and battle to the very end. Not really a competition sport anyway.
If you are a coach, a parent or a tournament director who thinks this game is being advanced by having “more” games then I'm calling you out. I'm saying right here that what this game needs is fewer games not more games.
Sure it's inconvenient to show up for a 1:00 game time and find out the previous game is now in the 11'th inning and your game will be 1 hour late. If you are striving for convenience then find another sport where the clock is part of the game and stop watering down this sport.
Sure at the end of the season you won't have the bragging rights that your daughter played 115 games over a 6 month season. But if bragging rights over the volume of games played is what you are seeking then start playing checkers because you can get through those games really quickly and stop watering down this sport.
You see every now and then a competition of skills turns into a pure battle of wills. That's what we saw game after game after glorious game in this years WCWS. That's what we should see on a weekly basis. What the magnificent athletes and coaching staffs did this year was extraordinary. But it shouldn't be. I want that “extra-ordinary” to become “ordinary.” Each of your tournaments. Each of your teams. Each of your daughters should have those same kind of battles nearly each and every week.
This is a competitive sport but we are teaching players these days to fight for 60 minutes. If they get “punched in the mouth” and the clock runs out they just shake hands and walk away. What we need are more Seminoles and Wolverines and Vols and Sooners in our own parks and when they get punched in the mouth they get mad. They fight back. They fight back relentlessly. They fight back relentlessly in the pursuit of victory until the very last out is recorded. Not until some ten dollar stopwatch starts beeping after some arbitrary time for our convenience. This game is for them. This game is about them. So let's allow them to learn all that this game has to offer..
Tournaments should be geared to preparing Seminoles and Sooners. Not players who's cleats are more worn down from walking between fields than they are from playing on the fields. The coaches who brought us the most magnificent three weeks of softball I can recall in a long long time deserve nothing but the best in return from all of us. So here is my challenge to you. Every now and then a competition of skills turns into a pure battle of wills . . . are you prepared to win either way? Are you just playing games or are you seriously competing?
Dalton Ruer: Coach Ruer has been using softball to encourage and motivate athletes for 15 years. Throughout the year he is a private softball instructor to many college bound athletes in Georgia. He facilitates team based clinics and instructs at many elite and college recruiting softball camps. His specialties are helping players verbalize their dreams and establish a plan to achieve them and helping players overcome the fears that are holding them back from being exceptional athletes. He has produced 6 instructional DVD’s covering all aspects of how to win the short game and how to dive for the ball. Keep up with Coach Dalton by visiting his blog and resource site at CrossTrainingSoftball.com. Join Dalton On: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube
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