Jennifer McFalls Interviewed By Gary Leland
I have traveled all over the country interviewing great fastpitch softball players, and coaches for The Fastpitch TV Show. These videos have been viewed thousands of times by players, coaches, and fans. I am adding the interviews to The Fastpitch Blog for people who may have a problem finding time to watch a video, and just prefer to read. I hope you enjoy.
Gary Leland: Welcome to the show. I want to go back and talk about your youth. How are you when you start playing? Who's your first coach? Tell us a little bit about that experience.
Jennifer McFalls: Oh, gosh. I probably started playing when I was about eight and under. I started off out trying to pitch, do every position on the field but of course when I first started getting involve in softball, a lot of my family was involved in the game so I just grew up watching them play and had the opportunity to have my dad as a coach at one time early in my career.
It's just really a lot of influence from my family at home and then just a great opportunity to play in a good organization in Grand Prarie, Texas. I then moved on to the more competitive leagues in the Dallas – Fort Worth area, and by the time I graduated high school, I was playing for a team out in Fort Worth that actually most of our girls were from the Grand Prairie, Dallas Fort Worth area. So we were called the Everman Shadows out of the Fort Worth area and really, I had just an outstanding group of young ladies that went on to play at the next level.
So by the time I got into high school, we had a really solid foundation and solid program and young girls really had aspirations of playing at the next level.
Gary Leland: When you're in Grand Prairie, were you a Gopher or a Warrior?
Jennifer McFalls: Haha! I was a Warrior.
Gary Leland: They have a lot of good teams come out of that school and, a lot of good talent. So what was your high school career like? How was it playing in high school?
Jennifer McFalls: Well, the funny thing is I actually didn't have softball in high school. I was a multi-sport athlete so I played volleyball, basketball, soccer. I did everything but softball in high school and middle school growing up. To be really honest, I didn't realize softball was going to be my avenue until about my junior year in high school.
Gary Leland: So there was no softball in high school. You didn't have a softball team.
Jennifer McFalls: No.
Gary Leland: So things have changed a lot, haven't they?
Jennifer McFalls: Things have changed a lot. When I went off to school, I believe it was like my senior year in college that they actually started softball in the high school level. The crazy thing about it is, we had so many girls playing at that time that I played with on my volleyball, and basketball team but we all played summer travel ball softball together.
It's just a really great group of athletes that we all played together outside of school. We all played together, volleyball, basketball, soccer in school and it would have been amazing had we had a softball team at that time in high school. I've certainly feel like, at our high school, we've would have gone pretty far.
Gary Leland: Yeah. So you played in college? Did they scout the teams back then like they do now, and sign them as early? I'm sure. And was what that like at the time when they didn't have any softball? That's kind of a different time when they didn't have softball in high school.
Jennifer McFalls: I played for a team that was competitive enough that had other players a little bit older than me that where getting looked at by colleges. So playing with the Everman Shadow, I played with a young lady that was a year ahead of me, named Charlotte Cannon from Arlington. She was a pitcher and she had committed to Texas A&M. So about my sophomore year in high school, I was at a practice one night and the Coach from Texas A&M came over to watch Charlotte practice and at the end of the practice, he grabbed me after and my dad had a conversation with me about coming to Texas A&M and things just sort of escalated from there.
So yeah, we really just got recruited in the summer and there was a little funny saying of “You never really know who's watching”. Things just sort of landed in my lap at the right time. I had a pretty good summer career and I guess it was after my sophomore year in high school that I really started to get some good looks from some colleges. At that time, I've started thinking that softball was going to be my ticket to the next level and it was.
Gary Leland: I had to ask Amanda Scarborough this, and I'm going to ask you. What it's like being an Aggie at UT?
Jennifer McFalls: Well, I'm very, very blessed and thankful to have my degree from Texas A&M. It was a great school for me to go, to attend, a great fit for me personally, my family, the traditions. I will always have A&M blood in me but things happen, life happens and growing up in Texas,
I've always been a Longhorn fan as well. So being able to have both of those schools in my life at this time, it's just really, really amazing to me and to my family. So after moving on of my college career at Texas A&M and have an opportunity to actually get a pay check from the University of Texas and coach at this level and work with Connie Clark, it's just a blessing for me.
Gary Leland: You made it to the Olympics and the first Olympics, correct?
Jennifer McFalls: Yes. Well, I was an alternate in '96, in the '96 games in Atlanta and I actually played in the 2000 Games in Sydney.
Gary Leland: Okay. So you had a lot of experiences. What was that like in the '96 just being there part of the team and going to the first Olympics in softball, seeing Dot Richardson having the first home run ever in softball and having that group of talented players as your teammates?
Jennifer McFalls: It was such a learning experience. Another phase in my life, I just didn't realized that I was going to have the opportunity to continue to play for another four years, or eight years at that point.
It was actually my junior in college when my coach said, “Hey, are you going to try out for the Olympic team?”, and I thought, “I don't know.” I get all that opportunity and sure enough I did. I graduated from Texas A&M, finished up my career in '94 and it just really landed at the right time to get invited to USA's first try out ever.
When I first went to the first try out, I think I was number 226 or something like that, out of the girls that were getting the opportunity to try out. As the days went on, I just continued to stay in the process and before I knew it, I had the opportunity to be a part of the top 30 athletes that they had picked to go represent the USA in some events.
From that point, it just became another phase in my life where another door opened because of softball. My whole life just changed at that point. I started thinking about the opportunity to get to play with some of the pioneers of the game, playing behind the legends of the game like Dot Richardson, playing with Michelle Smith, Lisa Fernandez. So every day that I had that opportunity to step on the field with those young ladies and practice, I took it as an opportunity to get better and just learn.
At that point, being an alternate on the '96 team, I tried to be a sponge everyday. I learn everything I could and just sat back and watched. It became a dream of mine at that point to really find a way to make the 2000 Olympic team. After the '96 Games, the experience alone, is something I can't explain it. I can't replace it. I mean, you just dream of it. From that point on, I think my work ethic got a little bit better. I got more committed, more disciplined in my personal life as far as wanting to compete then at that point and represent the United States in the 2000 Games and my dream came true.
So from '96 on, I was on the National Team every year. I got a chance to play in the Pan-American games, the World Championship Games. I got gold medals from those events. Then just stepping on the field on Sydney, Australia wearing USA across your chest, it’s something you can't explain. It's amazing.
Gary Leland: I'm sure it is. Here is the question I get all kinds of answers. Where are your gold medals right now?
Jennifer McFalls: You probably will laugh because it's in a drawer at home.
Gary Leland: I've had every answer on this.
Jennifer McFalls: For a long time, I just kept it in the drawer because I didn't really want people would say, why don't you put it in safe deposit box?
Gary Leland: That's one of the answers I get sometimes.
Jennifer McFalls: I could but if somebody asks me to see it, I won't be able to run in there and grab it, and show them. So I've had it in a nice storage cabinet area at home that I've had it displayed with some of my other medals and things like that. That were really significant.
So I've had it out and on display but I'm in a little bit in transition right now with moving and figuring out where settling in Austin and all that so. I would say it's safe.
Gary Leland: You can get to it at any time.
Jennifer McFalls: I can get to it. Yes.
Gary Leland: That's funny. Now, I want to ask you because there are lot of kids playing softball now, a ton of them. And we were talking about the pyramid. A pyramid's base is all those kids at eight years old, but then when you get up on the top of the pyramid, is pretty tiny up there. What piece of advice would you give to kids that are trying to get to that peak, the top of the pyramid? Just a tip, just something you say, “Hey this is something that I know that will help you out.”
Jennifer McFalls: Well, I think you can never stop learning. What you do lies in your hands as far as what your work ethic is and your commitment level is.
We go out, recruiting everyday and I'm sitting in the stands as a coach of player number one that is really fun to watch. She's got a great chemistry with her team. You can obviously tell she's a great team player. She's having fun and she's extremely passionate about what she's doing on the field. Last but not the least, her work ethic is unbelievable because I feel like, if you don't have a cap on what and how hard you are willing to work, the sky is the limit.
If you want to make it to the top, you've got to be able to be strong academically. You have got to be able to be strong in the character on and off the field. Your work ethic, your time management, your commitment level has got to be unstoppable.
Gary Leland: If someone wanted to play for your team, not using this as a promotion. But if someone would say, Hey, I wish I could get seen. What would be a way that they would have a chance to being seen by you. Because you can't go everywhere in the United States and see every kid that wants to be seen and I'm sure, there ton of kids that wanted to play but you just never could seen because of time. What would be your advice to them?
Jennifer McFalls: Well, for a long time it was about, making sure you emailed the coach. Now, we get so many of those that they kind of get lost in the shuffle sometimes. So the best way would be, to find a way to get to our campus and get to a camp.
Because we work our camps and that's the one time we can start to build a relationship with those players and get to know them because that's the first step in the processes. We want to be able to recruit a kid number one that wants to be at Texas and number two, that we have built a relationship with them.
It's a business. It's a partnership. And so we get to see those intangibles at the camp, whether it's a one day or two or three day situation, but that is the one place that we actually get to spend a little bit of quality time, especially with the early recruiting.
Otherwise, we show up at the field and they're playing and that's great. We need to go see them play and once we identify them but it takes some time initially, thus sort of build that relationship. Getting know to know them. Put a name with a face and we go out and watch them compete.
Gary Leland: I want to ask you about college exposure tournaments, just in general. There's so many of those now. What are the odds of a team getting into a hundred-team exposure tournament and you see in a player and signing in that tournament? What do the odds that it will happen?
Jennifer McFalls: Pretty slim.
Gary Leland: That's what I mean. I think, things are going out there and all these coaches are ready to sign them and I think you have people you're going to see. You've done your homework and you're going out there to work. You're not going out there just to watch the game and hope that one kid comes on the field.
Jennifer McFalls: Generally, we go to exposure camps and our hope is to walk away with a list of kids that we would go back and start the research on. We never actually walked up to a field after a tournament or a game and make an offer right there and then because it is a business deal.
It's a long time commitment for us so we've got to do homework. We've got to go back and research that kid and find out what her day to day life is like. We don't only just watch them compete on the field. We want to know what they are like in high school. We want to know what their relationships are like with their teammates. So we start that process and start to identify but when we leave a showcase, ideally is to walk away with a list of five to ten kids that we can just tap into and start to research a little bit.
Gary Leland: So you got to make sure they're not poison in the dug-out? You know they are talented, all of a sudden your whole team breaks, there's a lot to this.
Jennifer McFalls: There's a lot and that can happen. That's why it takes the early recruiting as a little bit scary because you are identifying kids at such a young age.
Gary Leland: That was the next thing that I'm going to ask. I mean, this is so young now. In three or four years, that kid could be a whole different person.
Jennifer McFalls: Unfortunately for them, there's pressure on them to make an early commitment. For us, there's pressure on us to identify those kids and put those offers out there. The next process, the phase of that is to really watch them grow for the next three or four years.
Unfortunately, the deal is not finalized until they signed, which is their senior year of high school. So if those kids at some point start to taper off or quit, their work ethics sort of falls short, maybe they do some things from a character standpoint, or academically, they're not getting it done. It could be a situation that we would pull an offer but because these kids have to hold up to their end of the deal as well.
We don't want that to have to happen because when we put that offer out there, we are hoping we get to watch these kids really grow and become those great players that we're hoping. But they still have to fulfil their end of the deal.
Gary Leland: If you have interested players, do you check their social medias and see what they are up to because I do that in my business. I have people came in all the time, hunting for jobs. I go on there, they show themselves with pot. It's not smart for you to put that in our page. So you all check that out and say sometimes, well this is the first person we were interested in but obviously, we're not interested now.
Jennifer McFalls: No doubt. It's one of the first things we do, is check that. We check our players. We brainwashed our players so much. We talked about it so much about the pros and cons of social media. That it can just absolutely destroy their lives or careers.
Gary Leland: They're forever.
Jennifer McFalls: Right. It doesn't go away.
Gary Leland: You can't take away. If you think you took it down, it's still out there in cyber world.
Jennifer McFalls: And that's part of that teaching process with our young athletes. The hard part is with the NCAA rules. We can't really communicate with them on a day to day basis. We can only talk to them if they call us. So it is a little bit challenging to try to monitor it all the time, but we have to get a handle on it and we have to really start to develop that relationship with them.
So we can identify that because that's definitely some things that could jeopardize, once they say, “Yes, I'm ready to be a Longhorn.” They're representing our university and they're representing us so we've got to make sure that their standards meet ours.
Gary Leland: One last question for you. You have played at the top of the game. You've coached at the top of the game. You've done everything, and , you've done it well. What is that one moment that standouts that was the moment like, I know there are great ones but that moment that was the moment that you would remember forever?
Jennifer McFalls: Standing on the podium in Sydney, Australia with my USA uniform on. Getting a gold medal, put it around my neck and then ultimately, just afterwards turn to the fifteen thousand people that were there, identifying my parents and my grandparents and the significant people that were in my life, that were there to support me.
I was really blessed to have twelve people from my family that travelled over to Sydney. All that hard work, all those years of commitment, dedication really is a reflection of them because they helped me do it. They helped me achieved my dream.
Gary Leland: I never thought about that having your family members come with you, that's a new insight for me. So is that a lot for the average person's family?
Jennifer McFalls: That's a lot of people to be able to travel from Texas all the way to Sydney, Australia. It's a lot of money. A lot of time.
Gary Leland: We are use to traveling in Texas. It's a big state.
Jennifer McFalls: Sure. Yeah, I know but it was a journey for them. The day that I made the team, they were committed to find a way to get there too because they knew how important it was to me to have them in stands.
So no doubt, I never thought for a second that they wouldn't be there and there's not a chance that they would have changed their minds to be. So I think, I'm blessed to have twelve people go with me because obviously, there were some that were just lucky to have just one or two to be able to afford to go do something like that.
So yeah, it's a lot but it definitely means the world to us, as athletes. To be able to look up in the stands, and I think that is significant to our athletes today that are playing at whatever levels to have somebody there that's really behind them to help stay committed to get whatever level that is that they want to be.
Gary Leland: Well, I appreciate you taking the time for my audience to come on of course. Thank you very much.
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