And In The End…Trust.

Written By Jen Croneberger For Catchers Caps & Base Coach Helmets and protection!

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.

Softball Junk

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For Love Of The Game

Written By Jen Croneberger

Softball Junk

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For Love Of The Game

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I was six when I first sat out on my grandmother's porch, listening to the Phillies on her old brown radio. Staring off into space, for two hours or more, actually paying attention to every pitch. My parents knew then I knew what love of the game was. My town didn't have softball when I was growing up, so I played little league baseball with the boys. I couldn't get enough. I started playing softball when it was made available to us in 6th grade, and I never felt a stronger passion to compete and to retool my work ethic. It drove me, and some days, I drove it. But always, I had a deep love of the game that we all share, enough for us to coach and teach it now.

That deep love led me to diving into the side of the game that seemed almost elusive to me as a kid. I struggled with confidence, I was hard on myself, I was and sometimes am even now … a true perfectionist. But I knew that if that love stayed alive, I would find ways to dig deeper than I sometimes thought possible. And maybe to pull out some kind of strength that I needed to overcome the string of negatives that slipped from my lips. We can all relate. That is what makes the mental game so powerful. We all know what it feels like to fail. And the triumphs we share are sometimes enough to move us to tears. It's the tie that binds us all together. It's what I love about being a part of this game.

Everywhere I go, my first question to the athletes I work with is this: “How much of YOUR game is from the neck up?” In all of my years, all of my stops, from the 7 year olds to the 65 year olds to the professional baseball and softball players in between, to the hundreds of Division one, two and three athletes, all of whom I have worked with, I have yet to find someone tell me it's less than 65%. That is in fact, the lowest number I have heard since I first started asking the question. And that happened to be a 7 year old who could at least pinpoint that it's more than half.

My next question is then: “Are you spending that 65, 75, 90% of your time then on the mental game?” The answer is always a resounding “No.” That led me to studying sports psychology and realizing that this was the part of the game that really hit home with me. I could relate to that pitcher who beats herself up after letting go of the homerun ball. .. again. Or the one who walked away from the plate wondering why she swung at that last pitch in the dirt, knowing what it feels like to let her teammates down. The torture they will both put themselves through if the outcome isn't what they hoped it would be. There is so much more than just the fundamentals and mechanics that create the player. We can relate to that, and we can understand the feeling of let down our players often go through. Because of that, two of the strongest foundations of the mental game from the way I see it, are confidence and love of the game. They will always go hand in hand for me. I deliver a program called the “5 C's of a Mental Game Warrior” and the fifth, and most important C is Confidence. I truly believe that an athlete can change their whole outcome based on their confidence process. I spent the last year studying and researching this in fact, to write a workbook on instilling confidence in athletes for baseball and softball coaches. I realized how critically important it is to build a player's confidence. Sometimes, it's the most important piece. I know we all strive to be the best coaches we can for this game, for our players, for our programs. And if somehow we can remember that the confidence of these young women if often just a word away from being changed forever, we are aware of our greater power as teachers and as influencers. Confidence can be a fragile, delicate egg that we hold carefully. But the truth remains, it is what these girls learn on the field that create their paths for the rest of their lives. It is the thank you's and the gratitude that we receive from our players long after the game is over that mean the most to us. The life-changing experiences and words we bestowed upon them reminds us of our power as coaches. Our ability to affect is so great. Really understanding how confidence works can be our greatest asset.

The second, the love of the game, is what keeps these girls coming back for more. It's like the one good golf shot all day that makes you make another tee time when you go back into the clubhouse. It may just be one, but if you play golf, you know what I am talking about. It's the only one that is necessary. If the love is there, it's not as easy to give up when it gets hard. And we all know, it gets hard. So I start with these two pieces, and hope that maybe, the athletes I work with can continue to find one little thing that they can praise themselves for every day. And if their focus is truly on the process instead of the outcome, there are always small victories to be thankful for. I love the amazing growth potential our players have in the untapped power of the mind. It is so much more than just how much more weight they can lift or how many sprints they can run. The mind truly can be the game changer. I still feel the same butterflies, the same warmth, the same excitement when I step foot between the white lines. I still love to listen to baseball on the radio. And I still need a confidence boost every once in a while. And I absolutely know for sure, I still love this game.


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Motivation Versus Inspiration. Defining Moments

Written By Jen Croneberger

Motivation Vs. Inspiration

I often hear talk about motivating your team… I get questions about how to do so and techniques that are long lasting. I have been asked more so lately than ever the difference between motivation and inspiration, some even going as far as asking if there really is a difference. Well, what say you? I have a deeply defined understanding of the two concepts. Hopefully after reading this article you will too.

Here we go…

In psychology, motivation is defined as the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. In psychology there is also a discussion about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. I tend to disagree with this idea because of the fact that most motivation is extrinsic. I can motivate my players by firing them up. However, the burn-off effect of motivation is quick. It is like a rocket lifting off. It's quickly gone after the loud boom. The reason why external motivation often is fleeting is because every athlete is different and has different levels of what moves them to action.

Before we go further, let's get to the bottom of why we are even talking about this. Most coaches ask me how to motivate their teams. This question is interesting to me. I don't know how to answer that really. The truth is, there is a deeper desire here. It's not really about motivating the team… it's about getting the most out of them to succeed. Motivation is nothing if they don't take action. I sat and thought about this for a while. Again, in my mind, it comes back to the why. To every piece I have written about from the first month I wrote an article for this paper a year ago. Why are we coaching, and why are they playing? Defining that, understanding it, and deciding to make that your soul focus all of a sudden changes the game.

So back to motivation. It's helpful. It's good. And it can be fun…but the trophy, the rah-rah, the high never really lasts. So motivation is not really what you are asking for is it? Motivating your players isn't really what you seek to do…

I would like to suggest we use motivation for what it's worth, but we understand the real intrinsic value of inspiration. In Latin, “inspiration” means “to breathe life into.” This got me thinking. To breathe life into… to feel a strong pull toward something that one is meant to do… to feel almost a divine calling to be, do and have what it is that you are focused on. In Spirit. This seems a little longer-lasting than the 5th inning 13 second rah-rah speech in the dugout. It exists regardless of outcome. It have no bearing on win or lose. It doesn't know any better.

Ahh. Deep stuff. But this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the “mental game” can really get traction. This is why when I talk about the mental game I know I have different thoughts than most. But that's ok… I like to be different. To me, it's not just about helping our athletes feel good in that moment, or not beat themselves up over mistakes that inning. It's more than that. It's deeper than that. It's the responsibility of any good coach to understand that. Challenge yourself to sit with this for a few minutes. Motivation is filled with empty promises. Inspiration is the real golden egg we all seek to understand and embrace. Ok… so how? What do we do next?

Well… Nothing. We don't DO anything. We must BE a leader who inspires. When we come from a place of passion, purpose, and a deeper understanding of WHY, we will inspire others to do the same. Sound familiar? Yeah… I thought so. How many of you actually wrote out your personal mission statement/philosophy last month? How many of you know your WHY to such a deep level, there is no questioning it? It's NON-NEGOTIABLE… Inspiration must follow suit. It just is. It comes from within. Has no bearing on trophies or awards or stats. It doesn't care whether or not you fail. It is a long, committed relationship in the way that motivation is a one night stand.

I long to be inspired forever to coach from this place. When I lose that, I will hang it up. If I am no good to my team and I only become a good motivator, I will be trying to draw blood from a stone. It dries up. Frustration moves in. Teams fall apart. It's as clear as day when I see it happen. I have often been asked to work with teams in big Division 1 programs. I am always amazed at the disconnect between coach and team. It's not all teams, but those that seem to feel “vacant” of their why. All good warriors rally behind a cause. With no cause, there is no WHY. Good coaches lay this foundation with inspiration and a consistency of knowing… Having faith and trusting the process. Good teams follow this. They find their own inspiration and that becomes everything. This is the path of a champion. These are the defining moments.

It starts from within. It ends from within. And the process is all the same.

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One More. Always… One More.

Written By Jen Croneberger

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There is a quote that I have long lived by. It’s John Wooden’s personal philosophy on motivation.

“Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing that you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

There is so much truth to that: the self-satisfaction, for nothing more than seeing your own improvement, the knowing that you gave everything you had, and the peace of mind that you had nothing left in the end. I often see players who doubt and question themselves. This usually is a byproduct of not emptying the tank, of having regrets when it is all said and done. The focus of process vs. outcome is very much alive and very strongly routed in Wooden’s principles of success, in his pyramid and his books.

So how can our athletes never take the long walk of regret off the field? How do we create a culture of giving 100%, knowing that if they do, it will be enough, win or lose. We go back to the CTCs and the right focus on the right things. If we work on what we can control, the rest will take care of itself.

I think so often character, the first C in my Five C’s of a Mental Game Warrior program, is what sets the tone for work ethic. Being the right person, on and off the field. Doing the right thing at practice, always wanting to get better than you were yesterday.

I love watching my team practice when they are stuck in the fieldhouse, sharing the space with the baseball team, in less than ideal conditions. I like the intestinal fortitude I see when they are pushing the line of peak performance and fatigue. I have really bought into John Wooden’s philosophy of getting to know my players. Every one of them is different, every one of them have a different level at which they find optimal performance. The key word is awareness. Hitting the top of the mountain is great, but consistently being able to find it when it counts is priceless. We strive for that moment as coaches, when the athlete becomes aware of just how far they can go. It’s the greatest reward to see it pay off.

In asking our athletes if they are “All in,” they are often reminded that there is no other way but giving all of themselves, mentally, emotionally and physically. 100% of what they have is always required. And just when they think they can’t give anymore, they remind themselves of the “One more” philosophy. TS Eliot once said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” The ability to push from the bottom up, to help every athlete in our program find the line for themselves, makes the path easier for them to walk down.

Limitations can be blinding. The “Law of the Lid,” as explained in John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, states that a group will never go beyond its leader. It will never break free from the lid until someone pushes the bar higher. This includes coaches, our captains and team leaders whom everyone else follows. We all know who they are. When they take one more cut, throw one more pitch, do one more lap, push out one more sprint, collapse after one more push-up, the others will follow. Energy is contagious. Both good and bad. When doing “one more” is a way of the program, the energy becomes brilliant and strong.

So how does your team define success? Is it the numbers in the stats column? Is it the mastering new pitches or getting all their bunts down? Or could it possibly start with character? With being the right people in the eyes of those around them? Give me the player willing to do one more any day and I will take them over the talent that is afraid to work hard. Give me the player who wants to be better than yesterday, regardless of sacrifice over the one who reminds us that practice is almost over. But most importantly, when we have a team of players who know that success is defined by the character they bring to practice, by the mentality of excellence, by the work ethic that can’t be challenged by anyone but themselves, we will find success is more than wins and losses.

One more. Always, one more.

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