EXCELLENCE: Requires Relationships

Dalton Ruer

Dalton Ruer

Written By Dalton Ruer

My youngest daughter (now 28) used to love to watch championship games with me. It didn’t matter to her if it was softball or baseball. She was not much of a night owl though so she would usually last for about 1-2 innings before falling asleep. But before closing her eyes she would always beg to be woken up just before the end of the game. You see more than anything else about the game she loved watching the celebrations. You know when the players all come rushing onto the field into 1 huge pile after accomplishing what they had worked so hard to do. More than a group hug or fist bumps or pats on the back those celebrations represent an all out “we did this together” moment.

In this great picture you can definitely see the Lander Bearcats on their field practicing. I’m going to take a giant leap and ask you to ignore the fact that they are practicing and imagine that you just see a group of players on the field. The group in the photo seems distant from one another which is a stark contrast to the image we have in our heads of Championship Teams after the final out.

Lander Field

Which brings me to my next point about EXCELLENCE … it requires relationships. Championship teams aren’t just made up of the most talented players in the world. In order to rise above the adversity that accompanies long grueling seasons players have to be truly bonded. The Bearcats in this photo have a way to go don’t they? At some point they are going to have to reach out their arms for one another and not be standing at opposite ends of the field.

But even that won’t really help. They will simply be a group of players on the field with the same uniform, distant from one another standing their with their arms open wide. Relationships are built strongest when they are built out of selflessness instead of selfishness. The photo will change dramatically when one of those players decides to stop waiting for everyone else to support her and she decides to walk over to one of the other players and support them. On the field it might be as simple as one of those many outfielders sprinting in to help the SS pick up the many softballs on the infield. “Hey girl great hustle. You were covering the whole infield by yourself I’m sure not going to stand out there watching you do all of the pickup as well. I’ve got your back.” Off the field it might be something as simple as noticing that her roommate was really stressed after she dropped her laundry and starting screaming and saying to her “Hey I really admire the extra work you’ve been putting at the cage and I know you’ve gotten behind on studying for that big exam as a result. I was going to be doing my laundry in a few days anyway how about I grab mine and just go do yours at the same time so you can study. I’ve got your back.”

I realize they are probably both silly examples but can you imagine the impact they would have? Both are simply selfless ways of saying “I’m not willing to just wear the same uniform as you all year long and I’m willing to put aside my issues to support you.” Unfortunately that’s not generally the case with most teams. Most teams stay at the point that they are arms length or more apart from each other. Not only do they not reach out to each other sometimes they put their fists up towards each other. By that I mean chuckles between two players in the outfield like “late again” when the SS arrives two minutes late for the second time in 3 years. Or the thoughts in the shortstops head like “Figures they need 8 girls in the outfield to shag while I cover the whole infield by myself.”

When I started hosting softball camps years ago the very first former player/coach to come and stand by my side was Ashley Tomlinson. What always amazed me about Ashley and still does until this day is that within 30 seconds she could totally draw in whoever she was speaking with. Whether it was a 6 year old player or a 60 year old grand parent. A player holding the bat the wrong way or a player who had stood out after hours of training. Her eyes would just look right into your heart and tell you that she was there for you. She actively demonstrated that she truly wanted to listen to you and hear what you had to say. Another of my dear friends is also a former player who was 1 year younger than her and played against Ashley. As it happens Ashley happened to be at the final game of this other player’s career and the game and season ended in heartbreak for her. Fierce competitors and rivals for years Ashley certainly could have behaved like most players with a “Stinks to be you but that’s what you get.” Instead Ashley reached out to this other player to try and encourage her. How would you have reacted if you were the other player? Would you have accepted it or would you have walked away? Did I mention how her eyes and her manner draw you in within seconds? She is a relationship builder and these two though once fierce rivals are now good friends. Before you get the wrong image in your head Ashley wasn’t just some peace sign toting cheerleader on the sidelines. Although she graduated more than 10 years ago several of her batting records are still in the back of the program (at Lander University of course) as a record holder for home runs as well as for … your gonna love this … sacrifice flies.

Players …
Can you imagine being on a team and playing with a player like that? Someone who instead of seeking praise for herself sought to help you?

Can you imagine the transformation that would take place in the photo if even one of the players started doing that? Are you even open to accepting acts of kindness from your teammates or are you still so heartbroken after being “stabbed in the back by some former teammate(s)?”

Can you imagine the risks you could take as a player if you knew your teammates had your back and would love you through failure? Can you imagine the risks your coaching staff could take if they knew they didn’t have to baby players who were the “outsiders” in the photo afraid of having the team reject them even more?

Wait better yet … Can you imagine the impact you could have on YOUR TEAM if you were the one to reach out to the others? If you were the one who like Ashley demonstrated that you actually cared about them instead of requiring them to spoil you with praise?

Coaches don’t think for a second that you don’t have a part in whether or not your team becomes a family that comes together and sticks together or has cliques that simply play together. In 2012 I was excited to hear that two of my players had been scouted for and were going to play for a man who had a great reputation in the area, the state and around the country. I saw one of the team’s first games in the fall and quite honestly upon initial observation I didn’t see anything special. He didn’t seem to whisper miraculous advice to players on the sidelines. It didn’t seem like he had taught them anything magic like how to jump 30 feet into the air make a catch and spin on the way back down to double up a base runner. He just casually watched them play the game even though they weren’t playing that well. About mid game it became really clear to me why this man, Coach Phil Berry, was so different than so many other coaches. You see for several innings there was what appeared to be a clear breakdown in communications between the signals coming in from the pitching coach and the pitches that were being thrown. Parents were beginning to chatter on the sidelines as so often happens. Was it the pitchers fault? Was she just unwilling to throw what was being called? Was it the catchers fault? Was she unwilling to call what was being requested because she knew the pitcher hadn’t warmed up very well? Was it that they simply didn’t like what the pitching coach was calling? You can imagine the whispers among parents on the sidelines. Well Coach Berry strode casually to the mound and called out the catcher. “Uh oh someone is in trouble now.” Right??? Wrong!!! He demonstrated a faith in all 3 of the people in the equation by allowing the players to talk through what was going on. As it turns out the catcher was calling the right pitch but it was difficult to see her untapped fingers so some signals were being misinterpreted. There is no room in great relationships for blame. There is no room in great relationships for distrust. How close did the team eventually become you ask? Great lifelong friends who talk about being “family” while they watch other teams win? As a first year 16U team the place admirably at Nationals. But this past season, their second together they became the 16U ASA National Champions.

Coaches …
Are you allowing things to cause disunity and ensure that wedges are formed by assuming the worst in your staff/players or are you demonstrating a faith in everyone and taking the time to truly listen?

What would the impact on your teams long term success be if you used some early setbacks as ways to prove to your staff/players that you actually care more about them than winning 1 particular game? That you care more about them “relationally” than you do about wins and losses?

Are you demonstrating through your own actions that you want the team to ultimately be close? Or do you demonstrate through your actions that you are embarrassed when things go wrong because you feel like it’s a representation of yourself and you allow your pride to overshadow players or others coaches feelings?

I have no idea exactly what it may look like in your personal situation. But I can tell you that you will not grow in deep relationship to others until you begin SACRIFICING your own needs and begin RECOGNIZING ways you can reach out to the others around you.

You see true EXCELLENCE absolutely requires relationship.

Fastpitch Magazine

Dalton Ruer

Dalton Ruer

Dalton Ruer: Coach Ruer has been using softball to encourage and motivate athletes for 15 years. Throughout the year he is a private softball instructor to many college bound athletes in Georgia. He facilitates team based clinics and instructs at many elite and college recruiting softball camps. His specialties are helping players verbalize their dreams and establish a plan to achieve them and helping players overcome the fears that are holding them back from being exceptional athletes. He has produced 6 instructional DVD’s covering all aspects of how to win the short game and how to dive for the ball. Keep up with Coach Dalton by visiting his blog and resource site at CrossTrainingSoftball.com.

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