To improve, you must make your weaknesses your strengths.
In order to truly improve at your craft and perform on the field at high levels, two things are vital; self confidence and the ability to give yourself an honest self assessment. Those two things come at completely different times. The self confidence aspect should always be there but more so than ever when you are on the field in a game. You have to believe that you have the ability to perform at a level that you may not be able to. Thinking you can do something is a very powerful tool. But one thing that we should all be able to do as an athlete outside of the game type situation is be able to give ourselves an honest self assessment.
Believing you are better than what you are when you are in battle is a powerful tool to perform higher than the levels you may be capable of, but believing you are better than what you are in your training will severely hinder your ability to actually get there. Sometimes it is very difficult to think to yourself that there is something you cannot do, but you have to be realistic with yourself in order to improve on certain things. The power of the self assessment is the first step to believing in a process to improve your game physically and mentally. Your coach or instructor may be one of the best in the game, but if you as the athlete do not buy in, than you will not get better.
You need to give an honest assessment, write down your strengths as an athlete, but also write down your weaknesses. Your goal should be to make your weaknesses your strengths and make your strengths become second nature. For example, if you are a shortstop, you may do extremely well moving to your glove side, but struggle a bit on the approach going to your right. Identify that weakness and work on it. Get stronger, get faster, learn how to read to ball off the bat better, and improve your skills or approach to the ball. You should never ignore your strengths, those need to constantly be worked on as well, but the weaknesses need the extra attention. During practice and training you should never think to yourself, I can do it all, I am the best. There is always something to improve on and there is always someone better.
With that being said a flip must be switched when it becomes game time. There is a quote that seems simple but it is so true, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is a little bit extra”. That extra 10-15% of intent and self confidence makes the world of difference when it comes to competition. Whatever you are thinking in your head, you are right. You are up to bat and the Pitcher may be the best in the league, and you think to yourself, “Man, she is good; no way can I hit her”. You are right, you are already defeated. But if you think to yourself, “Yea, she is good, but she can't throw the ball by me, I am even better”, you may surprise yourself with the result. Mindset and self confidence in a one on one battle is one of the most important things you can bring as an asset, but it is not something that any coach can give you. You have to believe in yourself and what you are doing, and that goes back to the self assessment.
By giving that self assessment to yourself and working on the things that you may struggle with better prepares yourself for that battle. Practice is like studying, and the games are the test. If the chemistry exam is the test do not tell yourself you know the periodic table of elements when you are studying when you really don't. You are setting yourself up for failure. Think to yourself, “I really need to know this. I need to put the time in and get to know this so I can go into the test ready”. Once the test comes do not go in worried. You prepared, you did what you had to do and right now all you have to do is go in confidently and trust your preparation.
It is a very fine line, basically what is being said is that you should humble yourself, break yourself down, admit your weaknesses, and then do what you have to do to make them better. But once that game comes you have to trust that process, trust your preparation and believe that you are even better than you are. You cannot make that extraordinary play, hit, or pitch without believing in yourself that you can do it. The mind is a beautiful and powerful thing, use it to your advantage to give that little extra and become extraordinary.
One of the most overused word in sports is great. It seems these days that many athletes are great and people freely like to label these athletes as great. It happens in softball as in other sports. You hear fans talk and they mention that such and such is a great player. Not really. Maybe in their minds the player is great, but in reality there are very few great players.
Certain players may dominate an era or a period of years and they could be classified great for that period of time. In reality there are many players who are average, good and excellent. Not that many are great, but people forget that and unfortunately don't look at an athlete's career to determine if the athlete was dominate enough to be considered great.
In women's fastpitch softball, two athletes are generally considered the greatest or the greatest for their period of time. They are Joan Joyce, the current coach at Florida Atlantic University, and Lisa Fernandez, an assistant coach at her alma mater, UCLA.
Joyce and Fernandez each excelled as pitchers and playing a different position when not pitching. Joyce played first base and Fernandez third base. Besides playing another position, each was gifted on the mound. Joyce and Fernandez dominated inside the circle and certainly earned their distinction as the greatest players of their respective eras.
Unfortunately, as time passes people forget what each of these two athletes did in their career and their careers become only memories to many people. If you were fortunate enough to have watched either one of these two play–and this writer did–you didn't forget their dominance on the softball field.
Fernandez starred at UCLA and of course has the distinction of being the only player in the history of college softball to lead the nation in batting and ERA. In 1992, Fernandez batted .510 to lead all hitters and had an ERA of 0.25 against the nation's best collegiate players. She finished with a 93-7 pitching record and a .382 career batting average. She was a member of three USA Olympic teams and batted at a record of .545 in her last Olympics. Lisa is clearly the “total package” and could have excelled at whatever position she wanted to play instead of third base when she wasn't pitching. Her determination and work effort to be the best was unrivaled.
Who knows if an athlete in the future will duplicate this or surpass this feat, but I doubt it. It takes enough time, effort and preparation to be good at one phase of softball let alone another phase of the game.
Joyce, who excelled at other sports such as golf, basketball, and volleyball, was named an ASA All-American 18 times and shared or won outright the MVP award in the ASA Women's Major Fast Pitch Championship eight times. She is a member of nine Halls of Fame and had an overall pitching record of 753 wins and 42 losses, plus a .327 career batting average. In 1994, she was named the head coach at Florida Atlantic and has had only one losing record during that time. Joyce retired from ASA play after the 1975 season and then devoted her efforts to pro softball for the Connecticut Falcons.
So the next time someone says such and such is great, stop and think and remember that very few athletes are actually great in the overall history of their particular sport. For Joan Joyce and Lisa Fernandez, there wasn't any doubt. They were and still are the greatest.
Visualization- what is it and how does it help you be a better athlete?
Visualization is one of those elusive tools often used by coaches to try and get their players to imagine on the field successes. When executed properly, visualization can help catapult your players to the next level while helping them overcome challenges on the field. Many coaches explain visualization as closing your eyes and seeing yourself execute the task at hand perfectly. For example, seeing yourself take the perfect swing at the plate and driving in the game-winning run. While this explanation is correct, it is very difficult for athletes to do. Below I will expand on the idea of visualization and teach you how to effectively put it to use.
I was first introduced to the idea of visualization around the age of 12 by my pitching instructor. He would often try and get me to slow down and visualize myself throwing the perfect pitch. I, like any other 12 year old, listened to my instructor and closed my eyes and tried to see myself throwing the pitch. (When I say tried, I mean I closed my eyes just long enough for him to think I had seen myself throw the perfect pitch.) There were times I put effort into it, but most of the time I brushed it off as being unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Now as a pitching coach I realize just how mistaken I was.
Visualization should not be limited by just your eyes; it should use all 5 senses. In order for it to work its best you must be able to see it, feel it, smell it, taste it and hear it. Since I was a pitcher I am going to focus on that aspect of the game, however, the items below can be easily converted to any other aspect of the game or in other areas of life.
So let's start with the basics- visualization is a tool that is used to help pitchers/players overcome challenges and/or speed up the learning process by involving not only their body- but also their mind. True visualization takes time and should be handled over multiple sessions with your player. You cannot expect to throw your players into the details of visualization head first if you want them to succeed. You should not emphasize their speed of learning as much as you should emphasize and encourage them to have a mastery mindset when approaching visualization.
The first session should take place during a one on one (or group at the college age) session. Explain to them exactly what you want them to do. Example: “I want you to physically stand on the pitching rubber, close your eyes and visualize yourself (watch yourself) going through your pitching motion and throwing the most perfect pitch you have ever thrown.” Give them some time and then ask, “Were you actually able to see yourself do this?” Most girls will tell you yes, but don't take their word for it at first. (Chances are they are having a hard time but do not want to disappoint you.) Ask them to describe in detail what they saw. What color shirt was her catcher wearing? Was there a chalk circle around the mound? What did the pitch do? What pitch did you throw? You will be able to tell pretty quickly how clearly they were able to see things during their initial attempt at visualization. During the first session you want to expand on the details of what you are expecting as much as possible- this is their first impression of the skill after all.
In the next phase of this session you want to introduce the concept of “feeling” the pitch. You can do this by saying the following: “I want you to physically stand on the pitching rubber, close your eyes and visualize going through your pitching motion as we did last time. But this time I want you to imagine, that you can actually feel yourself going through the motion of the pitch. Feel your hands come together, feel your muscles tighten as you explode off the mound, feel the resistance you create as you land and feel your arm whip through to your target.” Have them try this a few times but if the whole motion seems too daunting for them, have them work on one or two things at a time- like feeling themselves take their place on the mound and having their hands come together. If you check in with them and they say they still cannot do it, have them physically complete the two steps focusing on how it feels and then have them step behind the mound and ask them to repeat that step in their mind with their eyes closed. Now that they have something to refer to, feeling their visualization should be a little bit easier. Continue going through this until they are able to feel the whole pitching motion with their mind. For ease and time, you can break this down into multiple sessions if the student is having a big problem feeling the visualization. You do NOT want to frustrate them; you want to allow them to take baby steps to complete the task if that is what is needed by them. Remember everyone works at their own pace and what might be simple for some is often difficult for many.
The goal of the second session is to introduce the idea of feeling other aspects of the pitching scenario. For example, add the game element into it because it will force so many more uncontrollable things into their mind. Perhaps they now feel their heart pounding, the sweat on their forehead, or the heat from the sun on their skin. You want them to incorporate as many touch items as possible here. You can guide them if necessary but they should try and pick things that they feel on a regular basis while on the mound. That way the things they are trying to recall are familiar items. Basically you want them to become hypersensitive to what their experience on the mound is really like.
By the third session they should seem pretty comfortable recalling the feel of their pitching motion and how the external items feel when they step on the mound. It's at this time you want to introduce the concept of seeing what is going on around them. We often teach pitchers to have tunnel vision when on the mound, but for visualization purposes we want them to recognize the background scene. (Side note- once they are able to recognize things around them they can take steps to ensure it affects them less during games by practicing blocking certain things out through visualization.) As they visualize the background they see while they are in the pitching circle, have them explain it to you in as much detail as possible. So instead of accepting “I see the umpire”, have them focus on what the umpire is doing, is he setting up behind the catcher or is he getting a drink of water. If they see fans (parents) ask what color shirts they are wearing and if they have sunglasses on. Make them work to recall as many details as possible; there are no wrong answers you just want to exercise their mind the way you do their bodies in practice. This process may be difficult for them at first and will probably make them uncomfortable, but this is normal. If they are really struggling, they can open their eyes while you talk to them and probe them for information. The answers don't have to reflect actual instances that occurred recently, but you want them to find something they can recall with ease to insert into their visualization practices. Seeing their catcher give them a sign should be an easy one to recall because the mind has seen it so many times it becomes ingrained.
The fourth session will start with you walking them through the visualization steps you have already introduced and then talking to them about the sounds they hear from the fans around the field. You want them to tell you the cheer that is coming out of the opposing dugout as well as their own.
They need to be able to focus on each sound individually. The ultimate goal will be to use visualization to teach them only to focus on the sounds they WANT or NEED to hear thereby creating their ideal on the field scenario for success.
During the fifth session, you want to begin to talk to them about the smells they smell and the tastes they taste while on the mound. Perhaps it's the smell of ballpark hot dogs, rain in the air, or the dirt getting kicked up. They may also recall the taste of the sunflower seeds they eat during the game or the flavor of the bubble gum they chew. Since they are used to the amount of detail you want from each sense this should be easier than the last session, and they should begin to elaborate the smells and tastes to you with little prompting. I know it may seem weird to ask the pitcher to visualize the smells and tastes they experience when on the pitching mound, but I want to stress its importance, visualization works because the student should be able to imagine game situations as close to a real live game as possible so they can teach themselves to visualize the desired outcome of any given game situation before it happens.
Now, it's time to help the student to put it all together. The first time you review everything together you want them to stand on the pitching rubber and verbally tell you what they see, smell, taste, feel and hear during the visualization process and then have them open their eyes and pitch. Next, you want them to close their eyes and only visualize what they see, smell, taste, feel and hear. After they visualize you want them to pitch the ball trying to recreate exactly what they just created in their mind. You always want to reiterate to them that they want to visualize the best pitch they have ever thrown or the ideal scenario they would like to create. An example of this would be to have them visualize a pressure situation with a perfect outcome: bases loaded, bottom of 7th, tying run at 3rd, full count on the batter, and they have to throw the best rise ball they have ever thrown to strike the batter out at the plate. The goal is to get them to be able to visualize and perform the desired outcome every single time they are faced with it during a game. It teaches them to anticipate success especially in those critical high stress, high performance situations.
The more your players practice visualizing, and the more seriously it is taken, the bigger the impact visualization will have on their level of play. It is also important to mention that visualization is an important life skill for everyone to have. It's like having your own personal life coach because you can and will change the outcomes in every aspect of a player's life. Perhaps the student you are working with is a poor test taker. If they can apply visualization to enhance their athletic abilities they can surely use it to increase the probability of becoming a better test taker because they will have the skills to imagine taking the test and succeeding before they actually sit down to take it. Visualization requires a lot of hard work in the beginning but once it is learned it becomes second nature.
Personal sacrifices are really the beginning of the end of everything because you don't win because you do one thing or two things right. You win because you do one thousand little things right throughout the year.
As a softball coach, softball parent, and former softball player, I have a pet peeve. Well, actually, I have more than one, but I won't bore you all with them. This one in particular I've seen too often recently and it REALLY drives me crazy!
Pet peeve: When the only thing a coach teaches their athletes is to “do as they're told” vs empowering them with the knowledge and tools they need to make smart decisions about their own training and performance.
This upsets me. It really does. I believe we, as coaches, should be building players up, not dumbing them down.
Don't be that coach. Empower your players!
How will players ever own, or take responsibility for, their training and performance if all they know how to do is what someone else tells them? When they've been trained to simple be a pack of followers instead of emerging leaders?
These same coaches rarely demonstrate, or pass on an understanding of, WHY players are doing what they do. I'm not sure these coaches know
WHY they run the drills they do or teach the methods and concepts they teach. All they seem to know is WHAT their team is “supposed to” do and how it should look.
These coaches typically do things because…
They think they're “supposed to”
Because it's what other teams are doing
Because they read it in a book somewhere
Because they saw it on a video
Because they heard about it at a seminar or convention
Because they saw it on tv
Because it's what everyone else is talking about
Etc, etc, etc
But they don't have any further understanding of the WHY behind it. They don't bother to dig past the WHAT. They think you can just throw a piece of a program into your team environment and it'll work just like magic. They don't understand that those pieces are part of a bigger picture and often don't quite work under different circumstances or without the other pieces of the larger whole.
These coaches can't tell their players what there is to gain from the methods or concepts they teach or when and how it should be applied. They mistakenly teach concepts as the ONLY way, usable in ALL situations.
Don't be that coach. Seek a deeper understanding of what you implement with your team. Know HOW you want it to work, WHAT you want it to accomplish, WHAT you want your team to get out of it, WHY you want to use it, and HOW it will help your players.
Any time you show your team something, or ask them to do or try something, you should be able to explain it well enough that they understand WHY they are doing it and how it can help them. They should understand the purpose of drills they do, otherwise they're just going through the motions and never get the most out of it. Heck, they may even miss the point entirely!
Do you have to explain every single detail of every single drill to every single player?
But you should be able to explain if they, or anyone else, ask.
It IS your job to understand the details so you can help any player get the most from their training. You should be able to identify when something isn't working and why. You should have ideas on how you can help them improve and make adjustments necessary for maximum results in training and performance.
Don't ever leave your athletes thinking, “This is stupid. Why are we doing this? It doesn't make sense. ”
This does not help you. This does not help them. It's a sure fire way to waste precious time and energy and undermines your players' confidence in your ability to successfully train and lead them.
Don't be that coach. Dive deep into your craft. Care about what you do. Don't just stop at WHAT to do, understand WHY you're doing it and HOW it works so you can give your players reasons to WANT to do/try it. Plus, it's the only way you can make timely, effective corrections and adjustments to keep your team moving in the right direction. Without this understanding, when things don't go well, you'll be left wondering why, with no clue what to do or how to fix it.
Don't be that coach!