My Daughters Coach Got Thrown Out And Why I Have His Back

My daughters coach got thrown out and why I have his back

My Daughters Coach Got Thrown Out And Why I Have His Back, Written By Renee Ferguson

Today for the first time since my daughter began playing select softball in 2007; her coach was ejected from the game. Some may say there is never a reason for this to happen because the coach is the ultimate model for the players. How the coach reacts and what he or she allows dictates the overall culture of the team. Normally I agree with this but after witnessing today’s situation, I have a slightly different take on this. As a coach, I try my very best to live by the standard above but today I could not be prouder of my daughters coach for being ejected from the game and here is why…

Let me give you some back story first; we were the home team, 1st inning 2nd batter when the head coach of the other team questions the legality of our pitcher. The base umpire calls the play dead in the middle of the pitch because the coach just walked out of the dugout onto the field and began to question the ump without first calling time or waiting for an appropriate time to call time and approach the umpire. As taught, our pitcher who was in mid windup at the time pitched through the abrupt NO PITCH that was called from the base umpire. The result of this action was a no pitch for us and absolutely no warning or punishment for the opposing teams head coach. The base ump confirms our pitcher is legal…all’s well.

We come in to hit and go up by 2 or 3 runs. Next inning begins, the coach of the opposing team is still arguing the pitching issue and after 3 outs are made again comes out of the dugout and questions the umpire about the legality of the pitch due to the amount of drop on the ball. The plate umpire again tells him it’s legal. Throughout the game there were bad calls for both sides and our coach questioned one play at 2nd base where he walked out calmly (or as calmly as he can….he kind of has an angry walk if you know what I mean), and asked the base ump if he was willing to appeal to the home plate umpire, he said no, again all’s well.

As the game wears on I begin to notice the plate ump is spending a lot of time on the other side of the field chatting with the coaching staff of the other team, giving high five, fist bumps and sharing sunflower seeds, etc. At the same time I begin to notice his strike zone becoming smaller and smaller for our pitcher and those drops that were originally strikes are now called balls. Please note I am in no way of accusing anyone of throwing a game or showing preference for another team. I am just giving you my perspective on what happened during the game.

Finally here comes the play in question, our girl is attempting to make it from 2nd to 3rd by sliding into third base. The base umpire calls her out, no big deal so far right? At this point in time our coach tells her to hold her position because he plans on appealing the call. To be specific her position was sitting back in the sliding position. The player was smiling and waiting to get up when the plate umpire, yells at her to get up and get off his field. He addresses the player a 14 year old girl in a very loud and unprofessional manner and continued to do so as our coach called time to walk up to him to discuss the situation. The umpire continued to yell and berate the player for following her coach’s instructions.

Obviously our coach was upset and told him not to speak to his player in that manner and to address the issue with him as the coach. He said he would address it with the girls because he was not going to have her holding her positon to “show up the umpire”. Until this point I have purposely not quoted anyone because I can’t really remember who said what exactly. What I can tell you is that both were angry and upset. One took it out on a 14 year old girl and one took it out on the umpire because he felt it was inappropriate for him to speak to “his girl” that way (in case you are wondering the child in question was NOT our coach’s daughter). At this point in time the umpire yelled at our coach to go back to third, it was very clear that the next step the umpire was going to make was eject our coach if he didn’t be quiet and go back to the coaches box. Our coach complied to keep himself out of trouble and to get the game moving. At the end of the inning our coach approached the plate umpire again to express his displeasure for how the situation was handled and after some back and forth he was ejected from the game.

Some parents on our team thought that he handled the situation incorrectly and let his emotions get the best of him. I on the other hand am in total agreement with how he handled it and if I am being honest here, I am pretty sure I would not have made it to the end of the inning as our coach did. Our coach stood up for his TEAM, his actions showed that his girls deserved a much higher level of respect than they were given and he was willing to sacrifice himself to ensure that they got it. In my opinion, he was the ultimate team player because he made the ultimate sacrifice for to defend his team.

In my lifetime, I have seen parents and coaches get thrown out of games for arguing balls and strikes and safe and outs, so ejections per say were not something I am unfamiliar with and perhaps that is why I feel the way I do. In any case there is one thing I am sure of and it’s that I am proud of her coach for sticking to his guns in hopes of redirecting the umpire’s anger from our player to him. As parents of young women or girls what more could you ask for from a coach? These men and women who volunteer to coach this sport teach our girls so much more than the physical aspect of the sport, and as a mom of a 16 year old kid on the team, I can honestly say I hope my daughter can look back one day and remember this event as the day she learned what chivalry is all about and how she should never settle for anything less than her coach gave her teammate today.

Fastpitch Magazine

Bad Inning?

Bad Inning?

Bad Inning? Written By Renee Ferguson

One of the most painful things to watch in softball is the dreaded bad inning when no matter what the girls do; nothing seems to go right. Missed groundballs, overthrows to first base, throwing to the wrong base and missing the sure out; my heart goes out to the teams that are struggling with this issue, as I too have been there. Many coaches have asked me, “How do I to stop the bad inning once it has already started?” and my answer is always the same, “you can’t”. Stopping the bad inning begins before it ever gets started, pressure drills, relaxation techniques and controlling the speed of the game must be first taught in practice in order for them to be effective.

When you have a team who routinely suffers from bad inning syndrome the best thing for a coach to do is step back and evaluate your practice routine. Start off with self-evaluation, how do you react in practice when mistakes start to happen? Do you yell, do you ignore or accept them? How competitive are the drills you are running? Are you just putting them in their positions and working the outs or do you create an environment where it’s fun to compete and put pressure on yourself? Are your drills designed to make their heart beat a little faster or are they pretty lackadaisical? Once your self-evaluation is complete you can begin to look at implementing the ideal drills to combat that pesky bad inning.

Pressure drills are a great way to help improve a player’s ability to perform under pressure. We have our version of money in the middle, where a circle is formed around a player who is essentially the monkey. This is a rapid fire drill to make the player focus on fielding the ball first and good footwork 2nd. Each player from the outside of the circle throws a groundball, the player in the middle fields it and throws it back to the player who threw it to her, essentially working her way around the circle twice finishing on the girl they started with. There is a little more to the drill than that but you get the idea (I hope). This drill requires each individual player to meet a certain timed goal and requires the team to meet an overall team goal. This allows girls to see that even though they may not make their time, their teammate’s can help pick them up and still allow the TEAM to ultimately succeed. This helps create trust amongst the girls that hey if I mess up I know my teammates have my back and we can still achieve our ultimate goal if we all continue to work together.

The next kind of pressure drills I use are designed to create a little bit of chaos. Ideally these drills will focus on keeping the players moving and running the entire drill and requires them to be in certain positions at precisely the right time for the drill to be effective. If they don’t do it right, we run it again and again until we get it right. If I want them to thrive in chaos instead of collapse we must practice it. An example of a drill we use is the star drill with a reverse. This drill uses the same throw down pattern that the team uses when a batter is struck out and bases are empty, the chaos comes in when I yell reverse. Immediately the girls need to change the direction of their throws and go backwards through the pattern, it makes them pay attention and it encourages a healthy level of anticipation or nervousness because they never know when I will yell reverse and it makes them talk so they can keep everyone on track with where to throw the ball.

Finally, I want to invoke a little healthy competition on my team so I encourage and design drills that make teammates compete against one another. We have used hitting competitions that pit player against player and requires them to drive the ball to a certain location on the field in a certain manner for example give me a deep fly ball to right field so the runner at third can tag and try and score. I want them to feel pressure at the plate and learn how to control their emotions because we are going to need them to be confident and in control when they are up with bases loaded and 2 outs with the winning run at third. I also use fielding drills as competition, we use a timed drill called ”protect this house” that requires girls to lay out for balls that are just out of reach, get up and throw (there is no chasing. If they miss they start over.) then move on to the next ball thrown in the same exact manner. Their time sets the standard that the rest of the members have to meet. Every time someone scores a better time we update the time on the board. When we repeat the drill later in the week or during the next week we bring the last best time out as our time to beat so we are always trying to be better than we were the last time.

If you begin utilizing these types of drills, you will be able to teach your players how to control the bad inning. As you are running these drills be sure to pay attention to your player’s body language and how they are breathing at a minimum. Are they taking shallow chest breaths (chest moves up first on inhalation) or are they taking calming breaths (belly expands on inhalation) between mistakes)? Calming breaths help lower the anxiety in the player to an acceptable level. I also encourage you to ask them what they are thinking when things start to go south, 9 out of 10 times it is what is going on between their ears that is their biggest problem. If they are thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” Or “Gosh we suck”, it’s your job as a coach to get to them to change that thinking. Obviously your words can only do so much so modeling the behavior you wish to see is really important. Do you hang your head every time they make a mistake in the field or do you keep your head up and your body language strong? Modeling strong body language tells your girls you have faith in them to get out of the inning and not to let the bad over run all the work they just put in. In other words, be the force you want to see, you need to speak, act and look exactly how you want your players to look during those challenging innings.

Fastpitch Magazine

Six And Under Softball?

Six And Under Softball

Six And Under Softball Written By Renee Ferguson

I have a few friends who have young daughters (9 and younger) that play tournament softball, so when I saw a Facebook Post by Matt Lisle that stated, “It blows my mind that there are 6U softball/baseball tournaments and state/national championships. SIX AND UNDER!?!? This is one of several reasons the youth sports “industry” is completely screwed up.” I thought I HAVE To write about this. I am going to give you my knee jerk reactions to both sides of this scenario in the below article. Some statements and generalizations may not be PC but I want to be as real as possible and show you how I evaluate most situations before deciding what would be best for my family or personal situation.

My initial reaction when I learned that my friend’s daughters played tournament softball at the age of 6, I was completely shocked. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why someone would want to subject their 6 year old daughter to 6 game weekends in 100 degree weather. On top of that my thought was that their daughters were going to hate softball by the time they reached high school or college age. I mean by that time they will have played hundreds upon hundreds of games especially if they play the same sport both in the fall and spring. Having played an average of 100 games a year from the time I was 14 and dealing with all the drama that comes from being on a team of 12 girls I can totally relate to the question of burnout.

Then I immediately turned my attention to the fear that these kids are going to be subjected to overuse injuries which have been seen more and more recently in softball. It all just seemed very scary to me. My true thought was am I knowingly putting my daughter at risk for an overuse injury at the time when her career may be beginning to peak during high school and will she then miss out on being recruited to play softball at the college level because of the injury all because I wanted her to play so competitively so early in her softball career?

Almost as soon as I was finished worrying about the potential long term problems that could occur from a program like this I went right back at evaluating the situation and honestly thought, man I wish we had something like that around here. I know it’s not for everyone but that doesn’t mean that it’s not for ANYONE.

I immediately thought of all the potential benefits that could come from creating a sort of test the waters partnership with local organizations where you start kids in a more competitive program like the one my former college teammate, Kelley Griffiths started, called the Tri County Comets out of East Tennessee. While most kids there are still being introduced to softball through recreational softball leagues and are asked to move over to the tournament side of softball, I thought what if we reversed that? What if we put everyone in a tournament league like the Comets? According to Kelley, the “Coaches are more focused on teaching the games as the front runner.” Could this be in lieu of putting our girls in a league where they receive minimal instruction or incorrect instruction depending on the skill level of the coaches? (Disclaimer: I am not saying all rec leagues or their coaches are bad I am more using this as a generalized statement, I know plenty of rec coaches who are just as committed as the next guy to teaching the ins and outs of the sport, please don’t take it personally. It is just how the Rec side of the sport is perceived.)

How would softball evolve as a sport if the format to the introduction stage of softball changed? Honestly this thought still makes my head spin, why not have a starting place for kids to find out if they love the competitive side of softball instead of giving them no choice but to fall in love with the more passive side of the sport which focuses on the girls level of fun instead of increasing their overall skill and knowledge level of the game? As Cara Morgan, who is also a former college teammate of mine says, “That's why I can see the need for rec and select at even at 7 years old., there is a huge difference in development in some girls…even in my own family! Interest level, commitment, skill…why hold girls back that want to eat, sleep, breathe it? Rebecca (her daughter) could do it all day every day.”

My next question is, are we afraid to challenge our daughters as we would challenge our sons and if so why? There is no difference between having a 5 year old boy playing flag football, which requires 5 nights of practice for the first month and then 3 nights of 2 or 2 and half hours of practice for the rest of the season in order to train him properly and having a 6 year old softball player attend practice 3 times a week to further enhance her skill level and understanding of the game. Having the younger select or tournament option would allow us to further enhance our daughter’s level of confidence both in softball and in life, if we assume that they want to live and play with passion and effort instead of assuming that they just want to have fun.

So long story short I can see it from both angels, I think we need to do everything we can to protect both the long term and short term safety of the girls who participate in softball at every level. I just hope that sooner than later rec and select softball realize that both are here to stay and both have a place within this sport. Bottom line is this, you know your daughter better than anyone, is she a driven person who thrives in challenging environments or not? All these leagues are trying to do is provide a place for the girls who do thrive in a more competitive environment a place to grow; will it work out in the long run? I guess only time will tell.

Fastpitch Magazine

But First Let Me Make This Line Up

But First Let Me Make This Line Up

But First Let Me Make This Line Up Written By Renee Ferguson

The easiest thing a coach has to do is make a line up. I mean how hard is it to put the best 9 players on the field? Anyone who has ever had to make a line up knows all too well the difficulties associated with this process. If a bystander can look at a group of girls and know who the 9 best players are why is making the line up one of the single most difficult things a coach has to do? Well let me explain in a little more detail the thought process that goes into making the lineup.

Making a line up is not cut and dry, I for one did not have those true 9 best players and honestly my girls played out of position so much that I make all of my players take infield and outfield before each game. Sure there were some kids I knew HAD to be in the lineup either because there was no one else who was physically capable of playing their position or because their bat was too important to the team to remove them from the lineup. But other than that select handful of kids there were always more questions than answers as to who was going to start and where they may play.

The first thing I always evaluate is the anticipated strength of the other team’s hitters. Do I need to strengthen my outfield because I am anticipating them to hit us hard all day or do I think that they are going to small ball us? After I make a determination on what I think the other team’s game plan is, I then look at my pitchers to determine who I will be starting first. Do I start my faster pitcher first and then slow them down or do I slow them down and then make them speed everything back up? I evaluate this during our warm up time, do their hitters look aggressive or more relaxed at the plate, do they cast their hands too soon or do they have a nice compact fast swing?

After my starting pitcher is set, I then need to determine if I need the freedom to rotate my pitchers freely during the game. If so this means I will need to remove someone else from the hitting line up and put my 3rd pitcher in as a designated player (DP). Having my 3rd pitcher in a DP and the other 2 pitchers on the field would allow me to flip flop back and forth between the 3 of them without substituting which means I could theoretically change my pitcher every batter if I really wanted to. I have literally switched pitchers 4 or 5 times in one inning if I think it will throw the team off enough to increase our chances of winning.

Now that my pitching staff is set I look to the rest of the team and spots that remain. These positions are often the most important when it comes to deciding who will play because I didn’t have a true position player for those spots, meaning I had to convert someone who was a true left fielder to a second baseman. There are many different things that I took into account for these type of positional players, did they recently have a fight with or break up with their significant other, how did they look in practice leading up the game, what is their body language like with their teammates, do they look alive or like they are dragging?

Usually there is one spot on the field where I have a multitude of players fighting for that position, this year it was right field. I always struggled with whom to start first and who to sit mainly because there wasn’t that one star athlete for that position so as I continued to evaluate them based on practice attendance and effort, attitude coming into the game, how they looked in warm ups when being hit fly balls (did they hustle are they overplaying or underplaying the position) and who’s bat looks the best in warm ups. In the end it usually came down to whose bat looked the best in warm ups.

And finally, as I am walking up to the coaches and umpires meeting I write in my last few players positions. Something that is perceived to be a simple task effectively took me an hour and half to complete with enough confidence that I could call it final. My real point is this, it’s very easy to sit on the sidelines and say put the 9 best girls on the field but as a coach understanding that those 9 best players may not be the BEST players for that particular game is priceless. So next time you question a line up or positional change I hope you think back to this article and have better understanding of all that really goes into putting the 9 best girls on the field.

Fastpitch Magazine

When It All Comes Together

When it all comes together

When it all comes together Written By Renee Ferguson

Have you ever had one of those teams where you just knew the talent and ability was there but for some reason the team never quite reached the level of play that you as their coach knew they were capable of? Yeah, me too. This college softball season has been one of struggle. Not only the struggle to reach our potential, but the struggle to work together, the struggle to never quit and the struggle to either get on board with the program or get out of the way. As a coach I am still not sure how to best deal with teams that struggle with a lack of internal motivation towards the game. Some seem to think it’s the coaches job to motivate them to do better, others seem to think that it’s on the players and yet there are others like me who feel like it needs to be a 2 way street.

I am a coach who honestly can no longer “DO” what I want my players to do. I have an autoimmune disorder and most of the times suffer from extreme joint pain and tiredness. I work 3 jobs, have 3 kids, and a husband. If I did everything I wanted to do at the field I would end up paying for it with pain and days spent sleeping 17 out of 24 hours. On several occasions I asked my team what I needed to do to motivate them, I used several strategies all of which had worked with past teams (yelling, running, being patient and understanding) you name it I tried it. Yet we too often found ourselves rolling over during tough games. After a while I resigned myself that this was just the way it was going to be this season. I removed my expectations of how well I thought we should perform as a team and found myself faced with the reality that we just weren’t going to perform at the level of play we were fully capable of.

I stopped talking to them after we lost, they knew what happened and so did I so what was there to talk about? I made quick talks out of our wins and tried not to focus on one thing more than another, simply stating that errors were killing us, instead of going into lecture mode and trying to get feedback about performance from them. The day before regionals we had our ‘final’ practice and honestly we looked less than stellar, so much so that I cut the fielding portion of practice short and moved onto hitting.

Then something amazing happened, we show up for our first game at regionals and I mean we really “showed up”. I finally got a glimpse of the team I always knew we could be, we stayed pumped up, and energized through every game that we played that weekend, not because I wanted them to but more importantly because they wanted to . The team who struggled to recover from mistakes was gone and a team who picked each other up both at the plate and in the field remained. The games weren’t cake walks and two of the 3 games we won by one run but in the end, I am so very proud of these young ladies because for everything that they have endured as a team this year got them to this very place, a place of hunger and desire to achieve the team goal that we set at the beginning of the season to ultimately wind up one of the top 5 teams in the nation.

As far as knowing how a team will perform, we as coaches often try to predict the future based on past experiences; this season I have come to realize that sometimes you have to give up hopes and expectations in order to create the room for your players to develop and grow as individuals and as a team on the field. I can’t look at them and set a standard based on a previous team with similar athletic capabilities and determine exactly where or how we are going to finish as a team. Doing so pigeon holes the current team’s desire or ability to transform into the team they can be. One thing is for sure, I always try to put together a schedule that will allow for our team to peak at the right time of the season (usually a couple of weeks before playoffs) in the hopes that we can ride the wave to the national tournament. This process is usually hit or miss but I’m telling you one thing, I never know exactly when it’s all going to come together but when it does…”its magical.”

Fastpitch Magazine

Softball’s Valuable Lessons

Softball Lessons

Softball’s Valuable Lessons Written By Renee Ferguson

For the majority of my life I didn’t just play softball, I lived it. I traveled out of state every weekend and between normal team practices and individual hitting and pitching practices with my dad, I practiced 6 days a week. The true understanding of what softball taught me didn’t happen until many, many years after I stopped playing and started coaching. It wasn’t until I started coaching that I realized that everything I learned on the field could be turned around and used as life lessons.

Something that not too many people know about me is that after my college career ended, I gave up on softball in every sense of those words. I let the years of drama between players and the politics of the game get to me, to the point that I was done with softball and I mean completely done. I didn't pick up a ball for about 10 years after I stopped playing, I refused to watch it on TV or stop by a local field to watch a youth game. It wasn't until my daughters 2nd year of recreational softball that I decided to get back into the swing of things and even then, if I am being honest, it was more out of necessity than love for the game. I hated watching my daughter get zero instruction on the field, I hated knowing that her bad mechanics were well on their way to becoming permanent bad mechanics, so I decided that it was time to put up or shut up. As you may know, it is really easy to sit on the sidelines and complain about what a coach should or shouldn't be doing on the field but unless you are willing to step in and do something about it, I have always felt it is best to keep your mouth shut.

My first adventure into coaching did not go to well after offering to help out with the team, the head coach very clearly told me he was looking for some “dads” to help him out at practice. Looking back on it, I should have reach out and shook his hand right then because his comment instantly reignited my level of passion for the sport of softball. That conversation made me I realize that I would not settle for being a fair weather coach and that I had to jump into it head first if I wanted to prove myself and make a difference in the level of softball instruction my daughter was receiving at the time.

My first season as a coach is when I fell in love with softball all over again, but this time it wasn’t as an uber competitive player, it was as a teacher. I couldn’t believe how much joy and satisfaction I got and still get out of seeing a player “get it”. Seeing the skill level of a young girl progress from not knowing how to hold the bat on the first day of practice to hitting a homerun during the last game of the season melted my heart and allowed me to fall in love with the game again through their eyes.

As the years have progressed, I have often looked back to my years as a player for guidance, not only as a coach, but in the role I serve for a local nonprofit. You see, whether you are reading the defense, reading a ball off the bat, or reading your teammates depth in the field to know exactly how much ground you have to cover if the ball is hit your way, softball is all about perception.  My ability to correctly perceive and anticipate the needs of my teammates directly determines my overall level of play on the field. If I can’t read the ball off of a bat or don’t read the defense properly I am not putting my team in the best possible position to win the game. Meaning I am directly contributing to the teams failures on the field.

The ability to perceive what my team needs continues to serve me well today. As I sit in meetings at work, I strive to see what I have to do in order to make up for my teammates (coworkers) shortcomings. Now I don’t mean shortcomings as in they suck as an employee or teammate but realistically speaking, we all have areas where we could really stand to be picked up by a teammate or coworker from time to time. (Why do we stop picking one another up when we stop playing sports? We are all still a part of a larger team right?)

I hope the players I have had the opportunity to coach so far as well as the ones I may have the opportunity to coach in the future will be able to look back and the see the many lessons they learned on the field can be applied to every aspect of their lives off the field. I hope to give back to each player exactly what my coaches gave to me, a willingness to sacrifice the “I” for the “WE” or the “ME” for the “TEAM”.