I’ve always been the ‘work horse’, the ‘bull dog’, the ‘first to arrive, last to leave’ type A personality. Many could argue this is why I’ve been successful both as and athlete and as a coach. If you don’t succeed the first time… try harder, work harder, push harder, right?! Maybe not, believe it or not there’s an element that has nothing to do with physical skills that is the most important aspect to coaching female athletes.
I had (and still have) such an incredible passion for this game that I was willing to give everything I had to be the best version of me I possibly could be…even if that meant sacrificing my body to make that really hard play, or beat the catcher to the plate. Nine surgeries and 15 years later, maybe that wasn’t the best approach (lol) but it sure felt right at the time! No one had to be hard on me because I was so incredibly hard on myself. I thought if I worked harder physically, I’d solve the problem, but had no idea how to take control of my mentality.
When I transitioned from my athletic career upon graduating from the University of Florida to my coaching career at the University of Tennessee, I had more of a drill sergeant approach. DISCIPLINE – HARD WORK- EXPECTING PERFECTION. “THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL”. (name that movie!)
You see, when you play and coach at the Division I level, excellence is the every day expectation. You are pushed beyond your physical and mental limitations. If you are on-time to practice, you’re late – always be 15 minutes early. You miss tests for games, not the other way around. The saying, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’ is incredibly on point. With the privilege of wearing the jersey/ logo, you are expected to work harder and do more than your ‘normal student’ counter parts. This is how I was conditioned and wired. This is all I knew. Fast forward to when I graduated with my Masters Degree from UT and transitioned from coaching at the Women’s College World Series to coaching 16A travel ball and high school ball.
Fresh off of a 2nd place finish to Arizona in the Women’s College World Series, I was excited to teach these young ladies everything I had learned… my catchers were on point, my hitters were smoking line drives off of the wall, we were stealing bases left and right, keeping hitters off balance with incredible mixes, ready for any type of defense situation etc. I had a 16A team of amazing young ladies from Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming competing against the best of the best in Southern California and doing a hell of a job holding their own! Don’t get me wrong, we got thumped a time or two, but these kids were competing! All of this said, as I look back, I was missing something…. I wasn’t teaching them the most important skill they needed at that vulnerable age – CONFIDENCE. SELF LOVE. GRACE. HOW TO CONTROL THE THOUGHTS IN THEIR HEAD. HOW TO SET GOALS. HOW TO MANAGE THE PRESSURE THEY ARE FEELING.
WHEN IT ALL CHANGED:
I took a brief hiatus from coaching when my kiddos were born. I have two beautiful, smart, strong, and incredibly stubborn and ornery little girls! I still claim they take after their dad, but deep down I know exactly where they get their ‘spiciness’. Right now, they are 2.5 and 4 years old. They are innocent. They see a world full of sunshine, rainbows, snow cones and bike rides.
Earlier this year I received a text message that read, ” Presley’s (my 12 year old niece), friend committed suicide today”. She was 11 years old. Turns out some boys at her school told this little girl that she was fat, ugly and should kill herself…. she did. Hearing this and knowing how bad bullying (both physically and via social media) is in our schools. Understanding the ever increasing pressures to perform at incredibly high levels academically and physically. Knowing what it’s like to want to fit in, be popular, be seen as beautiful and seek attention from others. I look into the innocent eyes of my girls and think to myself, “how to I raise them to be strong and confident in their own right in the midst of all of this?” So much so, that if a boy walked up to them and said – you’re fat, ugly and should kill yourself”, they would punch him in the teeth and tell them, “I don’t think so”. I know I can keep them in my bubble forever and I know the challenges they will face as they get older, so how do I do this?
THIS is where coaching changed for me. Yes, while my job is to teach catchers how to have a 1.6 pop time, block pitches in the dirt, tag a runner out at home, then throw the trail runner out at second….teach hitters how to be consistent, produce power, understand hitting situations and how to execute…develop as leaders, effective communicators, and improve strength and agility. While my job is to improve upon the athletes physical skills, the most important place to start is with the thoughts in their head.
In reality, my job is to teach these young ladies how to build their own confidence, so much so, they don’t need it from external sources. To teach them awareness of the self limiting and detrimental thoughts in their heads. To teach them how to control and redirect those thoughts so they serve them in a positive and constructive manner. To teach them how to dream big, set goals and work hard to achieve those goals. To teach them how incredible powerful and capable they are…and to teach them how TO LOVE THE PERSON THEY SEE IN THE MIRROR EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Softball and athletics in general provide us the platform to teach these young athletes skills that will take them far beyond the playing field. If I want my girls to be strong, confident, set goals, dream big and work really, really hard…it all starts with me. It is up to ALL of us foster that environment. Softball isn’t just about hitting homeruns, throwing people out at second and winning games, it’s much deeper. We have an opportunity to influence the way these young ladies see themselves. If my athletes never hit a homerun or establish a 1.6 pop time, but they wake up every day and say, “I AM CAPABLE”, “I AM BEAUTIFUL”, “I AM STRONG”, “I AM SMART”…. I have done my job.