It’s Not A Reasonable Fear

Written By Coach Dalton

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One of the common themes in nearly all of my articles is how to deal with fears. There are certainly lots of reasonable fears that players have in this great game. Fears that I recognize and help you fully understand what to do differently so that you don't have to be afraid. But the fear of getting hit in the head with the ball when you are bunting isn't one of them. Oh it's a fear, just not a reasonable one.

I'm not saying I'm a big fan of getting hit in the face with the ball. But there is one important difference between me being hit in the head with the ball and you being hit in the head with the ball while you are bunting. That difference is called a BATTING HELMET. You get to wear one to completely protect your head and your face, but I don't get to.

POW! You get hit in the helmet and you might be “freaked out” for a second or two but you will still be fine. But if you keep turning your head away you are opening your throat up to the ball and that will hurt. So stop it. Recognize that you are wearing helmet and there is no reason to be afraid.

This month I'm going to ask you to do something that there is no way you will do if you remain even slightly afraid of the ball. I'm going to ask you to …gulp… get your head, specifically your eyes, as close to the point of contact as you possibly can. Remember those rolled up socks I had you have your mom toss to you last month? Get them back out because it's time to practice with them again. This time I want you to wear your helmet and as they are coming at you I want you to track them with your eyes right into the bat so that your face gets as close to contact as you possibly can.

Transition from the socks to using waffle balls. Like last month keep working on trying to bunt the ball off the very end of the bat. Have you noticed that the farther the ball is outside the harder it is to get your head at the contact point? There is a reason for that … it is. Despite your best intentions your neck doesn't stretch as far as you might want it to. So what's a girl to do? How about crowding the plate instead of backing off the plate? No way if you crowd the plate the ball might just hit you in the head. Oh yeah that's the safest part of your body with a helmet on. So do it. Have the person tossing to you start tossing them right at you. When they do you will learn an incredible lesson. It is really, really, really easy to bunt a ball that is coming right at you.

So now that you are getting more comfortable I'm going to ask you to do something that will make you uncomfortable again. I'm going to ask you hold the bat so that only about the 6 inches at the end of the bat will be showing and bunt the ball that way. Now I'm willing to bet your eyes work a little harder and you will bunt the ball off the very end of the bat. Be sure to watch the video at this point if you aren't sure how you should be holding your hands.

Once you get comfortable doing that with waffle balls I'm going to ask you to do something a little uncomfortable again … have the person tossing to you start tossing real softballs. Not kidding. When they do that you will have no choice but to focus even harder with those eyes. Keep in mind when they are tossing the ball their job isn't to toss the ball straight at the end of the bat. It's your job to move your hands to ensure you catch the ball at the end of the bat or the ball will hurt your fingers. Your eyes will be your best friend and will get you through this. You've GOT THIS!!!

After you rock that drill there is one more step in the development of your amazing ability to use your eyes.

After you rock that drill there is one more step in the confidence you are building as an amazing bunter.

After you rock that drill there is one more thing I need you to try that is crazier than using just the last 6 inches of the bat. I want you to hold the bat like you are pointing it at the pitcher and bunt the ball using the very end of it just like Lauren did in the video. Practice that until you get really comfortable then I want you to think about something. Think about the fact that you can drop down perfect bunts using nothing but the end of the bat when you using those tiny little eye balls the way you are using them.

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But I Don’t Want to!

Written By Coach Dalton

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I hope you are sitting down as you read this. Because I’m going to ask you a brain teaser and I don’t want you to get dizzy thinking to hard and fall over. Are you ready?

When can you GET DIRTY without actually GETTING DIRTY?

Most of my articles to this point have involved the physical kind of dirt. But I submit that when you “roll up your sleeves” so to speak, you get over your fears and sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the team you have in deed “gotten dirty” regardless of how much physical soil/grass may be on your uniform.

A perfect example of this would someone laying down a sacrifice bunt while your teammate gets to score the winning run. It’s not really glamorous and lowers your batting average. But if you like winning then more often than not then this skill is crucial.

Yet week in and week out I watch games at all levels that are lost because players on one side or the other are in a situation of being able to win the game if they can bunt and yet the players can’t do it. CAN’T DO IT!

While I talk about bunting for hours with my students, and as you watch the videos you’ll see I’m at no loss of words regarding bunting. Yet I want to start the series by really keeping things very simple … At the end of the day bunting merely involves two things:

Physically it involves holding your bat out in front of the pitch so that the pitch hits the bat. That’s it.
Mentally it involves your willingness to sacrifice your chance for a home run for the betterment of the team. That’s it.
You aren’t trying to time anything.
You aren’t trying to hit it over the heads of lightening fast girls.
You simply have to let the ball travel to you and hit your bat.
But I don’t want to!

So why does such a straight forward combination of skills go so horribly, horribly wrong in games at every level? That wasn’t a rhetorical question if you can tell me why girls at every level of this game so consistently fail to execute this skill I would love for you to email me. Because for the life of me I just can’t figure it out.

If you are reading and you don’t have the answer to the question either then I hope you’ll join me in championing this much needed but so dramatically under practiced and under appreciated skill. Please watch the videos, practice the drills yourself and share them with your teams and the rest of the softball world.

As you watch the drills consider the fact that you can easily practice any of them in the comfort of your own living room. Simply have mom/dad toss some rolled up socks at you instead of a ball. You don’t even have to give up your favorite television shows because you can simply do the drills during the commercials. Can it be any easier than that?

As you progress, consider modifying the drills slightly to make them tougher and yet more fun? I know what you are thinking “what could be more fun or tougher than the drills I teach?” Fair question. Several of my drills this first week involve trying to catch the ball on the bat instead of poking the ball. The concept is that if you catch as you would a hot potato the ball will fall right into the bucket below you. Instead of using a bucket consider using a bowl and instead of a ball consider having them toss your favorite snack or M&M’s at you. If you do the drill correctly your favorite snack drops right into your bowl and you have a snack afterwards to celebrate your ability. Of course to simulate game conditions your heart will be broken when you throw away all of the snacks that missed the bowl and are now on the floor. You get to eat the ones that fall into the bowl, and like a game your heart is broken when you throw away those that hit the floor. If you are able to practice with teammates add some competition to the drills. 10 pitches to each other at a time and the first to 50 perfect bunts into the bucket wins.

Choose Your Partner Wisely

Written by Coach Dalton

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Your ability to do what you've been dreaming of is now out of your hands and completely in the hands of your partner. So think through all of your options. Choose carefully.

Some of you probably aren't comfortable with that. Trust your career to someone else. Yikes. But guess what? It's time to put your big girl pants on now.

Sure you rocked the first month diving from your knees and your feet leaning forward in May. Yeah you totally lit it up last month diving to your sides. But now it's time to put all your practice for the past 2 months together and do this at full speed like … I don't know maybe like you were in a game or something and the championship depended on it. To do that you absolutely have to have a partner committed to helping you by making great tosses.

Just as we got started two months ago the first diving should simply be for balls straight in front of you. What I love about the accompanying videos is that they are totally portable with you. No reason not to have your iPad at the field with you to watch Savannah and Graham this month (for you) and your partner can see how I toss the ball for them. What you both will see is that the tosses need to be low. Forcing you to get low, and get your glove under the ball.

If I was some big time fancy smancy instructor I would probably film them 100 times and edit the video so that everything you see is perfect. They look perfect. I look perfect. Reality is that I'm not sure how seeing two players doing perfect dives every time would help you. Yes these videos are supposed to help you understand the concepts and help you build confidence. But seriously you aren't perfect either. Just like you will see in the videos both of them do something wrong as we get started. What I don't want is for you to make mistakes and walk away thinking “I can't do it.” Instead I want you to realize that failure as you start learning is just part of the process. Also part of the process with a partner learning to make good tosses to lead you towards the perfect dive.

As you are watching them come forward once I feel like they are both into it I just make some tosses that will force them to their side. As they did on their knees initially in June Graham and Savannah's brains are smart enough to say to their hips “pivot 12.2 degrees to the left/right” and as they dive they are still really diving “straight” it just happens to not be coming straight at you. This will be important for your tossing partner to understand as well. No need to say “lets do 5 straight, 5 to the right side and 5 to the left side” just let them know that once you appear comfortable they should toss it to lead you in any direction so that you will see just how smart and athletic you are. As with last month the most important thing to remember is to always, always, always extend both of those arms so whether or not you make the catch you come up safely.

As you feel comfortable you can work on practicing tosses where you are running full speed to one side or the other and have your partner toss the ball. From your vantage point you are simply catching a ball straight in front of you but your partner is tossing it much differently now because they see that you are actually going side to side. A key learning point that you will hear during this drill in the video is me telling Savannah to “super woman” the catch. What you don't want to do is get in the habit of hitting your knee before diving. You want to imagine that you are flying through the air like super woman. If you recall from the very first diving video when you “fly” like super woman your neck will be arched, your chest will be off the ground and your knees will be slightly off the ground. If you haven't watch that video or haven't tried it just lay down right now. Extend your arms forward and imagine that you are flying. See to easy. By doing that you will ensure that it is your torso, that large area of your body from just above your knees to just below your chest that takes the impact of the dive and ensures that your face doesn't plant into the ground. When diving for the ball the added advantage is that it kind of forces you to watch the ball into the glove when your fear might normally take over.

Ok now back to the video. One of the final things you need to work on is diving for balls that are over your head. This is one of the hardest things there is to practice. Please not because it's hard for you because you totally rock by now. It's hard because it is so hard for the tosser to judge where to toss the ball. As we practice in the video you'll notice that Savannah starts on her knees again, I have her lean out and give me an idea of where to toss the ball. Once I'm comfortable that I have a good idea of where to toss the ball, and you know it's all about Coach Dalton, I have Graham try it standing up. You can do the same thing. From your perspective the only difference in everything dive you have done thus far is that you are looking backwards in the opposite direction of where you are diving. Good thing there are no trees or brick walls in the middle of our fields.

I want you to know that I truly consider it a blessing for you to bring me into your household and give me the opportunity to help you improve in this sport that I so deeply love. As the video ends I want you to replay it multiple times. Get the sound of my final “THAT A BABY” into your head. From this point forward as you start totally robbing other players of solid hits that they thought they had, feel free to replay “THAT A BABY” in your head. Cause I'm always in your corner and by all means feel free to thank your partner. Because the reality it is would be hard for you to build the confidence to make the play you just did without their efforts in leading you with the perfect toss. They kind of rock to.

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But Wait! There’s More

Written By Dalton Ruer

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But Wait There's More

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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?

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Buford T. Justice Said it Best

Written By Coach Dalton

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One of my favorite movie characters by far is Buford T. Justice. Despite my old age I still vividly recall a scene where this crusty old sheriff stopped only momentarily to confront a group of boys in the middle of nowhere as they were clearly trying to steal a car. Well sort of. You see he didn't have time to actually arrest them since he was in “hot pursuit” so he had them place their hands on the car and then told them to watch the car until one of his fellow officers arrived because there might be vandals out there who would want to harm the car. You probably didn't see the movie but I'll just bet you can imagine what the boys were thinking as this sheriff walked back towards his car. Then old Buford T. Justice turned back to them and uttered one of the funniest lines in history without cracking as much as a grin … “Don't go home. Don't go to eat …. Oh you can think about it. But DON'T do it.”

No I haven't lost the other half of my mind. There is a absolutely a purpose to why I said Buford T. Justice said that line best as I will be using it later in the article and it's important that you have a point of reference for the intensity with which I want you to perceive the line.

If you did the work I asked you to do last month I'm sure by now you have completely dominated the art of diving for a ball that is in front of you. This month we are going to kick it up a notch and work on diving for balls that are, “gulp”, at your side instead of right in front of you. The “gulp” of course is my dramatic way of drawing attention to what you might already be thinking “How in the world can I dive for a ball at my side without injuring my shoulder?” Sometimes in life there are silly fears, but this isn't one of them this is a legitimate fear. So much so that we will start very slowly. Get your glove and a ball and then kneel down. Hold the ball in your throwing hand and separate it from your glove hand. On your knees try to lean forward almost to the point you will fall over with your glove facing up. Now imagine that the ball was hit right in front of you, continue leaning and sort of dive forward and bring your hands together for the catch. Remember (or go back and read last months article) that the key is always, always, always to continue extending your arms.

Now sit back up and I'm going to have you try again but just slightly differently. This time imagine that the ball is hit about 1 foot to your glove hand side instead of being exactly in front of you. Make the diving catch and continue extending. Sit up and try again, only imagine it was hit about 1 more foot towards your glove hand side. Make the diving catch and continue extending. Continue doing this until you imagine the ball being hit almost directly at your side. As you do this you are going to notice one thing about yourself that you hadn't before. Your brain is actually very intelligent when it comes to learning something new like this. Because while you didn't have to think about consciously your sub conscious brain told your hips to pivot before diving for the ball. So while the ball started going to your side, your brain simply adjusted your body towards the balls location and you actually dove straight out. Just happened to be straight out to your side.

Now sit back up and lets imagine, not do, just imagine, a hit to the side of your body you throw from or what we call your “backhand” side. This is a bit different and does cause us to think. Until now we have been making these sure two handed catches while diving. But if your glove is turned over to make the catch so that you are looking at the back of your hand it's kind of odd to put your throwing hand on top of the ball for a two handed catch. Go ahead and see how that feels by holding the ball in your glove like you've made a back handed catch and see how it feels to try and cover it up. Silly right. Nobody does that. And so now we are left in a bit of a pickle. What do you do with your throwing hand when you dive?

Oh you're going to want to put it on the ground to brace yourself. You're going to want to put it on the ground because you don't know what else to do with it. But listen closely . . . . “Oh you can think about putting that hand down, but DON'T do it.” You didn't see that one coming did you? Seriously with the strongest look I can give you don't dive and put that hand straight down, you do not want all of the energy that your body takes into the ground coming right back through that one hand/arm/shoulder.

You have to drive that arm forward just as though you were simply diving on the bases. Simply one in which you use your other arm to make a great back handed catch at the same time. Talented little thing aren't you.

I'm so serious about wanting you to do this correctly that I'd like you to watch the video first before you proceed with trying a backhanded dive. Watch Savannah and Graham demonstrate it as many times as you need in order to see that you can in fact make the catch while extending your throwing hand. After you think you have it simply prop your !Pad up with something so that you can watch them and try the backhanded dive yourself. Remember as you are trying always start as low as you possibly can, and start already extended. Practice in a way that gives you the confidence to take it to the next level and start up in the air. Before next month you should be totally rocking both forward and side dives from your knees and in the air already leaning as far as you can.

Who knows if Savannah and Graham are up for it next month they just might demonstrate diving for the ball at a full run forwards, side ways and back ways. Oh you can think about not working hard this month, but don't do it.

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Don’t Let Fear Get In The Way

Written By Dalton Ruer

 

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The sun is setting on another long day at the ball field. A day which held a number of ups and downs. One in which you are leaving the park with yet another of the$3.27 trophies that you have won in your career. Only this trophy has the words “Second Place” on it and you have no intention of putting it on your shelf. Not because you didn't hit well. Not because you didn't fight all the way until the end. No this trophy won't be on your shelf simply because you know deep inside that you allowed fear to get the best of you.

It's a fear that has been gnawing at you for years and one that you can't seem to get over. You know you aren't the fielder you could be because you just can't get over it. You can't even focus while the coach rattling off his customary “its ok we played our hearts out today” kind of speech. You know the one he says while avoiding eye contact with you. You don't hear a thing your parents are saying as you get into your car because the voice inside your head is practically screaming. The same thing it seems to scream at every big tournament “Why do they always hit line drives near me when the game is on the line and WHY CAN'T I DIVE FOR THE BALL?”

If you've read my previous columns you know that they are usually full of humor. It would seem disrespectful of the game, and dishonoring of all the players out there for whom this is a very, very, very real fear. But if you've read my previous articles and watched the accompanying videos you also know that I'm not about to bring up this fear without providing a way to get over it. And that's exactly what I expect you to do … go get your glove and a softball right now and get over it.

The fear of diving for the ball is based on a lack of understanding of what to do that allows you to not just belly flop onto a very hard field. Well getting over that fear starts with realizing and repeating two key things: 1 – Diving is best done really low to the ground and 2 – Diving involves going forward across the ground not down into the ground.

Sit down on your knees. Put the glove on. Lean forward with the back of your glove hand touching the ground with the glove open facing up with the ball in it. Now put your other hand on top of the ball, you know that whole 2 handed catch thing. Now simply extend your arms away from your body. Repeat the very simply “extend your arms away from your body movement” until you are comfortable.

If you are still alive and didn't injury yourself diving for the ball in step 1 then take heart you just might get over your fear and are certainly ready for step 2. It involves leaning forward just the same way but instead of your hand being on the ground you need to lift it off the ground a few inches with open part of glove and ball still facing up and the other hand still covering the ball. Now continue the lean forward and practice extending your arms away from your body but this time, gulp, you'll be 3-4 inches off the ground so that you'll be able to differentiate flopping straight down from forcing your arms to extend.

If you are still with me I'm going to ask you to do something really hard. For this drill you are going to still be on your knees but sitting up instead of already on the ground and your hands are going to start out at your side. For this drill you are simply going to start leaning forward and bring your hands together for the catch as you do and then force your arms to extend. Your glove hand should do the same thing, the back of the glove should make contact with the ground with the open side up so that you can make a two handed catch and extend . If you have trouble visualizing this step, pause your reading and watch the video as Graham and Savannah demonstrate demonstrate for you as soon as they finish this part then stop the video and come back to this step for your own practice. Don't rob me of the pleasure of telling you the next thing by going past that step in the video.

So what is it I wanted to share with you first . . . simply that you've just done the most difficult dive of your life. done the most difficult dive of your life. that I mentioned . . . Diving is best done low to the ground and up on your knees is way higher than you will need to dive once you stand up on your feet.

If you didn't read my column about diving on the bases this might seem a little crazy but seriously once you stand up you'll find that you have the most wonderful gift from God, the ability to bend your knees and lean forward . When you do that you are actually much lower to the ground than you are when you are up on your knees. If you don't believe go ahead and watch a little more in the video, or have your mom or dad co me sit on their knees and you try and bend and lean as far forward as you can with your glove leg in front of you and your throwing hand in the back, right next to them and you'll see that you are in fact much lower than you were on your knees.

How cool is that? Not kidding that is awesome news. Or at least it should be. It means that everything else you'll work on this month and in the 2 articles that follow are all going to be gravy compared to the whopper of a dive you did way up in the air on your knees. So let's get on with the easy stuff now.

Start out by standing up in the air and do that same lean, glove leg front, ball in your throwing hand, and lean as far forward as you can before gravity pulls you down and then dive forward and bring your hands together for the catch just like you've practiced since the beginning.

Did you do it? Did you repeat it? Did you get up thinking “Go ahead and hit that same line drive near me next game and see how that works out for you” Because you should. You are no longer a player who has to fear the ball coming near you but not right at you because you are now a player who can DIVE FOR THE BALL. Next month we'll be looking at the next step in your progression so see you soon. Or at least you'll see me. It's not like I can see you or anything. That would just be weird.

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