Diamond Notes

Diamond notes are exclusive softball.com content from featured athletes, coaches, and great minds in the world of softball. Learn valuable softball tips and drills, read about the latest trends, or just what's on the mind of the greatest player in the game. Check back often to see the latest article.

08 / 15 / 2015

What Is Beautiful Fastpitch?
DIAMOND NOTES WITH AMANDA SCARBOROUGH

Fastpitch players are beautiful. There...I said it. It's true. "Beautiful" is a big word. It isn't used much because of the standard we have tied to it in our culture, and we know that something must be of utmost quality for us to tag that word on it.

Because of its limited use, it is put on a pedestal and rarely pulled out of Webster's to describe something or someone. But what if we used it to describe the way a young girl played softball? The word "beautiful" is not a daily softball adjective used out on the field or at lessons like "attack", "swing hard" or even "aggressive."

It's a word people shy away from because of its grandeur, and thinking that it only goes with a sunset or a model during a photo shoot. But "beautiful" is a word that can be used to describe softball players and the standard our sport should hold.

Playing softball beautifully has nothing to do with physical looks (i.e., eye color, weight, hair color). No—playing softball beautifully means playing it with poise, playing it with passion, playing it with positivity and calmness. It means slowing the game down in your mind, taking your time in your at bat, playing defense out on the field with head held high, anticipating the ball to come to you. It's being able to control your emotions during the game so that you have the ability to slow down in your mind the ground ball coming to you or how fast your at bat is going.

Softball has a fast pace as it is. When you're a player, the game speeds up 10x in your mind and everything seems faster than it really is. Ask anybody who has played - when you are out on the field, the game seems even faster because your mind is racing. Unsure players will see the game go by faster and faster until before you know it, the game is over. A player who is focused on playing beautifully slows her breathing down, slows her mind down and ultimately, the pace of the game slows down. This will yield more results because you can actually focus one pitch at a time, one step at a time, no matter what kind of mechanics you have.

Does playing softball beautifully mean that you're always going to get a hit and never going to make an error? Not a chance. That's our game. Our game was designed for you to fail, and if we didn't fail, there would be no fun in it. However, it's when you fail that your true beauty can be seen the most.

So how do we get our players to think this, feel this, believe this? It lies in our coaching and providing the information for them. Teaching them at a young age that they were made to play beautifully and having an understanding of what that looks like and what it feels like.

Can a hit be beautiful? Absolutely. Is a pitch with a lot of movement on it beautiful? You betcha. But those are things we cannot always control when we are playing. As a player, I can control my attitude during the game, my respect for my teammates and my approach at the plate during my at bat. I can control how fast thoughts are going through my head.

THOSE are the real things that add beauty to this game. Taking pride in your uniform, taking pride in being a good teammate, and taking the responsibility to make adjustments at the plate or in the circle. Those are things of REAL beauty. Unfortunately, those are the things that don't go in the scorebook or the news-paper article; they aren't the things of our game that get all the hype.

Playing beautifully is something (like anything) that needs to be practiced. It will not just show up magically in the game. By being aware of what we look like between pitches when we are at bat or on the field, we have a better understanding of what impressions we are giving off.

I go around and watch a lot of softball through college and travel ball. The players who are fidgety, always messing with their uniforms, always touching their hair, having fast/quick movements up at the plate or on deck—those are the players I know will not remember the game and it will pass them by very fast. Those are the players, to me, who will actually end up beating themselves. The players who are playing beautifully have calm, slow movements. They are slowing down the game in their mind with these movements, and thus, slowing down the game for their team.

As coaches, we get caught up in mechanics and fundamentals (which believe me, are very important and need to be practiced), but the idea of playing fastpitch beautifully needs to be discussed. For mechanics, every coach is going to coach something different—where to hold your hands, how to use your lower half, how to throw a rise ball. But with playing beautifully, I think there is a general consensus of what this looks like and what it should feel like to the players.

Most of you, I'm sure, watched the Women's College World Series and know who Lauren Chamberlain is. She is, in my opinion, the greatest hitter in our game right now, and maybe when she is done with her four years at Oklahoma, one of the greatest hitters to have ever play our game.

When you watch her play, look at her approach and her confidence in between pitches. She has a routine in between pitches in her at bat. She's calm. She is not constantly fidgeting, looking back at her coach and messing with her uniform. All of her movements have purpose and I guarantee she remembers everything about her at bat. She is letting the game come to her.

Does Lauren Chamberlain have great hitting mechanics? Yes—without a doubt. But without her approach, poise, and routine at the plate, she would not be able to use those mechanics to their fullest potential. Chamberlain would be a good hitter without her calm approach, but WITH the calm approach, she becomes one of the best.

Playing beautifully takes your game to YOUR next level. It's going to be different for everyone, and you can't compare yourself and your results to the person sitting next to you. This idea of being a beautiful player comes with time, it comes with practice and it comes with experience—all of which the idea of "beautiful" is at the forefront of your mind. Act it. Feel it. Know it.

Beautiful. Don't be scared to use the word, don't be scared to try to be the word, and definitely don't be scared to coach the word. All players have that beauty inside, it just needs to be brought out of each one in order for players across the country to play at their very highest ability.

Through sports and coaching, lessons are learned —competitiveness, work ethic, determination. These are lessons that when softball is over, allows softball to remain a part of you. Just like softball is a medium for life lessons, softball should be a medium to make girls feel good about themselves, to feel beautiful. The more beautiful you feel, the more confident you are, and the more motivated you are to go out and achieve your dreams and think the sky is the limit. It all starts with an at bat or throwing a pitch, and noticing a different way of moving and holding yourself to resemble being the most beautiful player that you can be.

And that is beautiful fastpitch.

DREAM BIG. DREAM OFTEN.
TRAIN HARD. TRAIN OFTEN.

FEEL BEAUTIFUL. PLAY BEAUTIFUL.

06 / 15 / 2015

Prepare And Shape Yourself For The Big Game
DIAMOND NOTES WITH JENN SALLING

What are the 5 things you do to prepare for a big tournament?

  1. Stay in Shape Physically.

    When it comes to the national team’s schedule, we are unable to train together as a team until June. Unlike college and having the luxury of training with teammates, we are required to work out on our own and individually hold ourselves accountable so not only do we feel confident and prepared for ourselves, but most importantly so we can contribute to the team to the best of our potential come competition time. For the Canadian National Team specifically, every two weeks we are required to send in a workout log, consisting of 22 categories, so it is important we keep up with our workouts.

  2. Stay in Shape Mentally.

    When training alone this can be difficult sometimes. However, that is no excuse to lack accountability and not find a way to get better every single day. A productive way to keep yourself mentally prepared is put yourself into game-like situations. Every round of offensive reps you take has a PURPOSE. Visualize yourself being successful in different situations—a runner on second base, two outs, bottom of the 7th inning and you’re up to bat. You need to find a way to get on base or score the run.

    Whether it’s offense or defense, creating a purpose in everything that you’re doing will make you feel that much more confident come competition time. Preparation breeds confidence. Softball is a game of repetition and it’s all on us as the athlete to help put our team in the best position for success.

  3. Watch yourself play.

    Video analysis from live action along with training can provide some of the best feedback as sometimes we cannot always feel the “incorrect” things we are doing. I would suggest video analysis as much as you can. Pick an area that you are working on or struggling with, watch yourself and use the video to help you make the necessary adjustments.

  4. Watch your opponents play.

    A good way to prepare yourself as well as your teammates is watching video of at bats you may have had against a team or certain pitcher you are preparing to face. This not only helps you personally feel prepared and come up with an approach but you can also share the knowledge of what you learned with your teammates.

  5. Nutrition.

    I believe good nutrition is important for everyone but as an athlete I have noticed how not eating properly can significantly affect performance. As human beings we are all so different, therefore, every person’s choices are going to be extremely different when it comes to this topic. Certain foods may affect some, but may not affect others.

    As a freshman I gained almost 30 lbs. due to poor nutritional choices. While I felt extremely confident offensively, looking back I was not nearly as quick as I would have liked to have been on defense, especially being a shortstop. The most important point at the end of the day is being aware of what YOUR body needs and doesn’t need to perform to the best of your potential. Live, enjoy and splurge but have a good balance!

Always keep your team in mind when training. You are training and working to be the best player and teammate for them. Your actions/choices in the off season are extremely important to the product you will be able to offer your teammates come competition time.

How has playing team sports shaped you?

From playing team sports I have learned, and still continue to learn, the fundamental skills sets within the game, but I have also gained many invaluable life lessons along the way. I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to surround myself with some incredible people, both as teammates and coaches. Some of which are my mentors to this day and have truly exemplified what it means to be all of the things I list below and more.

Below are just five of the values that I have learned and will carry with me for the rest of my life:

Selflessness: A quote that sticks out to me is “Be the first to serve and the last to be served.” In a championship culture, there is no room for selfishness. It is important to ALWAYS remember that you are playing for something bigger than yourself. A selfless person does anything they can to help the team win which means embracing any role that is asked of you. Individuals will respect you based on your selfless commitment, your character and how you carry yourself in tough times.

Accountability: Have the confidence in yourself as a person as well as an athlete to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself how you can be better before pointing the blame at someone else. Accept responsibility for your actions. Be strong enough to hold yourself and others accountable when he/she is not making the right choices. Be confident enough to be coached in life and in sport. There is always something to learn. 

Confidence: Be confident in who you are. Trust the life lessons and experiences you have learnt to get you to the place you are at now. Every experience, every person, teammate, coach has a lesson to teach you. As an athlete, trust your abilities and preparation. Preparation breeds confidence which then rolls over into competition. I strongly believe that if we do “right” in our daily actions (in life and in sport) we then become more and more confident in ourselves as human beings. Don’t forget, it’s what you do when no one is watching. When you are content to be yourself and don’t compare or compete, people will respect you.

Commitment/Loyalty: Our team is our commitment. Our team is what we are loyal to daily. Whatever you do off the field is a direct correlation/representation of your team. It is not just yourself that you are representing; most importantly we are representing something that is bigger than ourselves. Commit to being the best you in all areas of your life, not just on the field. Be loyal in your actions and in your words because you never know who and what they will disrespect.

Respect: Understand that the game does not owe you anything. Respect the game. Respect your coaches, teammates and the program that you are representing. Being surrounded by many different personalities will result in many differences of opinion. A sign of respect and a good listener is having good eye contact. Listen first; you never know what you could learn. Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.

Jenn Salling—Infielder

Career Highlights

  • 2011 Named Female Athlete of the Year at the WESPYs
  • 2011 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year
  • 2011 NFCA Second-Team All-American
  • 2009 Member of the University of Washington National Championship team
  • Four-year member of the Canadian National Team

05 / 15 / 2015

The Danger Of Changing Teams
DIAMOND NOTES WITH CINDY BRISTOW

I know it's common for players to change teams, even high schools if things just aren't going your way. And while that might seem great for you at the time—you might want to know it's a HUGE Red Flag to a college coach!

College coaches want to know what you'll be like if you come to their school, by looking at what you're like now. If you jump teams all the time and change schools a lot, that pattern tells coaches you'll probably want to do that as soon as things get tough in college. And trust me—they WILL get tough in college. Every college!

So, what can you do to avoid the team jumping syndrome and stay the course? Well hopefully it's the same thing you'll do to actually pick a college—do your homework. Hopefully you won't go to the first school that contacts you without looking into them further.

You'll find out what their staff is like, how long they've been there, what majors their school offers, how big or small their school is, what positions are already filled and what age are the players filling them. You'll take your time in making your college decision since you know it's a lifetime-type decision.

Be selective, take your time, check out the coaching staff, see how many other kids are playing your position, watch them practice AND play and see if it's a situation that you can live with. And by that I mean STICK with. Pick a travel ball team or even a high school team with the mindset that once you make the decision you can't change it. Take your time, do your homework, ask your questions and be sure.

Well that's exactly what you should do in picking a travel ball team. Be selective, take your time, check out the coaching staff, see how many other kids are playing your position, watch them practice AND play and see if it's a situation that you can live with. And by that I mean STICK with.

Pick a travel ball team or even a high school team with the mindset that once you make the decision you can't change it. Take your time, do your homework, ask your questions and be sure.

Because when you don't because you know you can simply switch to another team, it shoots up a HUGE RED FLAG telling college coaches that you're a quitter, that you run when things get tough, and that you aren't for them. Is that the message you want to send? Think about it...

About Cindy Bristow

Cindy Bristow has been involved in virtually every facet of softball throughout her 30-plus year career in the sport as a player, coach, leader, educator, clinician, hall-of-famer, Olympian, professional, and commentator. Learn more about Cindy at SoftballExcellence.com.

03 / 15 / 2015

BUILDING AND MAINTAINING A STRONG OFFENSIVE MENTAL GAME
DIAMOND NOTES WITH JENNIE FINCH

Preparation builds confidence and creates mental toughness. It doesn't just show up on game day. It is practiced, molded, and strengthened in the same way as hitting mechanics, pitching fundamentals, or perfecting your crow hop. Most players, coaches and fans remember me for my pitching skills, but I could hit too. Knowing I put in the time and prepared to the best of my ability allowed me to step into the box ready and with confidence every time.

One way I gained a strong mental game at the plate was by creating a batting routine. Now, this routine will be different for every hitter. Your routine might be one practice swing before stepping into the box while your teammate chooses to step into the box with her back hand up to the umpire while pointing her Mizuno Nighthawk toward centerfield, then lightly placing it on her shoulder.

    Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
  • Keep this routine short and simple. A pitcher may try to throw off your game with a quick-pitch.
  • Practice and use this routine every time you are hitting, whether in a game situation or at practice. Your routine needs to be natural for you and not something you have to think about when stepping up to the plate. Practice creates muscle memory and "trigger" that clears your mind and helps you focus.
  • Visualize a pitcher to help time your movements and also prepare for potential game situations.
  • Pre-game warm-ups can also be an advantage. These tools can help your odds but point is to be able to adjust and adapt throughout the game from on at bat to the next.
  • Take the opportunity to watch the pitchers warming up on the field and get your timing down with their pitching style.
  • Learn from the hitters ahead of you and what pitches are being thrown. The pitcher may be relying on a certain pitch or be catching your fellow teammates with another.
  • Know the umpires zone and if you do not know, ask your pitcher or catcher.

Remember, fastpitch is not an easy game. It is a game of failure and hitting is one the hardest things to do in all professional sports (which is one reason why I focused on pitching!).

There is not another sport that considers a 60% failure rate a success. When a low period happens, go back to the basics and focus on your routine. Your mind is your most powerful tool, make sure it is working FOR you (positive thoughts) and NOT against you. Believe!

Homeruns are great but you can contribute the most to your team with quality, strategic at bats that move the runner. These stats aren't found in the stat book but important in winning games. The game is not a team of one, but a team of many. It is the ability to handle success with humility and having confidence in your teammates to support you when needed.

Above all else remember it is a game. Softball has been an enormous part of my life but it's still a game, so have fun and enjoy it! Life is good if you're playing the game. There are so many girls out there dreaming to be in your shoes. Be the best YOU!

Dream & Believe,

Jennie Finch #27

JENNIE FINCH: Career HIghlights

Won two Olympic medals and seven world championships

"Most famous softball player in history" according to Time

Two-time Pan American Gold Medalist (2003, 2007)

Two-time World Cup Champion (2006, 2007)

Won 60 consecutive games at University of Arizona

Three-time World Champion

02 / 15 / 2015

WILL YOUR SCHOLARSHIP MAKE YOU HAPPY?
DIAMOND NOTES WITH CINDY BRISTOW

If you're like most softball players, your goal is to get a scholarship – so you play in every showcase, hunt for the best travel team, and generally stress out about it. But I have one question you MUST think about: Will your scholarship make you happy?

Your first reaction might be "Of course! Why wouldn't it?" That's a critical question that you should ask early in your recruiting process. Let me help you to better frame your softball desires so you end up happy and fulfilled in college— with or without softball!

Recently I had the privilege of doing an NFCA Coaching College with two outstanding coaches; Gayle Blevins, former head coach at University of Iowa and Rhonda Revelle the head coach at University of Nebraska. The title of the course was The Art of Coaching and we dealt with coaching skills; think communication, team culture, etc., instead of player skills like hitting, throwing, fielding, pitching, etc.

Gayle Blevins told a story about how she used to ask every single player she was recruiting one simple question: "Will your scholarship make you happy?" From that answer she could tell if the player would be right for Iowa and if Iowa would be right for the player.

You see, too many young softball players fall victim to the pressure of "getting a scholarship" or "getting recruited" without ever thinking about the amount of work it takes to be a college softball player and whether they love softball enough to work that hard. Also, do they really like everything about the school they've chosen, or did they just say yes to get a scholarship?

Remember that when you say yes to play college softball, you're saying yes to your future. You'll become both a student as well as an athlete. That means you'll have to go to classes, pass those classes, pick a major and feel at home in that environment. It also means you'll have to work harder at softball and improving yourself both on and off the field than you ever have in your life. That takes LOVE of softball and not just a love of getting a softball scholarship.

A scholarship is like a shiny new exercise band. It looks cool and makes you feel cool having it, but that's just the beginning. You've got to put in a LOT of work to make the exercise band pay off. Same is true with a scholarship. Once you pick a school and say yes, you have to play for that coach, and with those teammates, and go to classes at that school. Did you realize that it snowed there, or that it was HUGE, or was too small, or didn't really have your major, or the coach was too hard or too easy, or the team members were too good, or not good enough, or you never got to play, or whatever…

The point is, switch your thinking. Instead of playing softball to get a scholarship, play softball to get better, or because you like it, or to be with your friends. Players that do that end up enjoying softball a whole lot more, getting much better and eventually playing in college— if in fact that's what they want to do!

Extra Tip: Write down all your hopes and dreams and softball thoughts – among other things!

About Cindy Bristow

Cindy has been involved in virtually every facet of softball throughout her 30-plus year career in the sport. Player, Coach, Leader, Educator, Clinician, HOF, International, Olympics, Professional, Commentator. Learn more about Cindy at SoftballExcellence.com

1 / 15 / 2015

Being a Softball Pro in Japan
DIAMOND NOTES WITH Keilani Ricketts

QWhat did you enjoy most about playing in Japan?

A One of the biggest things that I enjoy about playing in Japan is how much it challenges me as a softball player in completely different ways than I am challenged as a player in the U.S. Their hitting and pitching approaches are very different than what I'm used to so it's a fun challenge to adjust to this and grow as a pitcher and a hitter.

QHow did you cope with the language barrier?

A It helps that softball is an American sport so they know a lot of words that we use with the game. (Example: Pitcher is pronounced 'Pee-cha'; Strike is Suh-trike-uh) The company that I work for has also provided Japanese lessons for the foreigners so I take lessons twice a week, and I have a translator who has helped tremendously with learning the language. On top of all of that, I have had a lot of fun trying to learn the language mainly because I want to be close with the girls on my team and be able to converse with them. I've always felt team chemistry is huge in creating a successful team so it's been one of my goals to learn as much Japanese as I can everyday while I am over there.

QWhat is the biggest difference between the Japanese style of play and what you have known?

A With most of the Japanese being super fast, they use short-game a lot! They will do multiple hit-and- runs a game, with a runner on third, or two out or two strikes— it doesn't matter, they love it! That's one of the biggest challenges I have had with facing Japanese batters ever since I competed against Team Japan with Team USA a few years ago because they are extremely good at short game in any type of situation.

QWere you able to adjust to the amount of practice time and game times in the Japanese softball culture?

A The biggest adjustment for me was the game times. Japanese are notorious for practicing for a long period of time and having more practices than we do as Americans, but I've grown to like it because it gives me more opportunities to find ways to get better and try all my drills with pitching and hitting since I have more time and practice days for it. The games are a tough adjustment since all of our games are day games where in the U.S. the majority of our games are night games. I've gotten better at being a morning person while being over there but I will still always prefer playing under the lights!

QHow has your game improved with your experience in Japan?

A I think my mental approach and game plan has definitely grown so far with my experience playing over in Japan. The hitters go after my best pitches early in counts so I have had to start attacking hitters with other pitches and my game plan is constantly changing throughout a single game with how smart the hitters are 1-9 in each at bat. My hitting game has also improved because I've learned not to under-estimate the pitching. Many of the pitchers we face don't necessarily have the speed or movement we see with American pitchers but they spot their pitches perfectly to set up the hitters which has challenged my hitting approach.

QWhat were you favorite and least favorite things about living in Japan?

A My favorite thing about living in Japan has without doubt been being a tourist. There are so many beautiful places over there and I love being able to explore whenever we have free time. My least favorite thing about living in Japan is definitely being so far away from home and the time change. Japan is 10-13 hours ahead of the U.S. so it's hard communicating with my loved ones over in America.

Keilani Ricketts is a two-time USA Softball collegiate player of the year. She currently plays for the USSSA Pride.

11 / 11 / 2014

Insights From A Player's Coach
Diamond Notes With Laura Berg

QThere are a ton of stats and characteristics that coaches look for in athletes to play NCAA softball… What do you look for most in a recruit?

A There are several things I look for in a recruit. I look to see if she loves to compete.
I watch to see how she handles failure. Does she hustle? How does she interact with her teammates, coaches and parents?

QWith your decorated history as a player, do you consider yourself a player's coach? Do you feel there is a clear advantage and ability to relate to today's athletes?

A Yes, I do feel that I am a Player's Coach. I've been in their shoes before. I know what it's like to be under pressure on the field and off the field. I know there are days where they are sore and need a day off or an easy day.

QIn the internet age, how do you feel email and social media has changed recruiting?

A Yes, email and social media have changed the recruiting game. I remember Gary Haning making me and my team handwrite 5 letters to the schools we were interested in attending. Handwriting letters takes a lot longer than writing an email. ;) The young players now are all very savvy when it comes to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They can follow their favorite schools online and check out what their favorite teams are doing.

QIn your playing and coaching experience, what has positively or negatively changed the most about the game of NCAA softball; then versus now?

A A couple of positive changes about NCAA softball are 1) the television exposure and 2) the quality of bats now. There are so many NCAA softball games on TV that the young players can watch. There are the PAC12 Networks, ESPN, SEC Network and the BIG 10 Networks. That's a lot of opportunities for the fans to watch this great sport. The quality of bats these days are amazing. I wish I could have swung the Worth 2Legit series when I played at Fresno State. I know my numbers would have been better. ;)

QA number of athletes have gone on to play in the NPF league, Japan and the National team... What are your thoughts on playing softball post-college? Are we still a ways off from success, or is it a viable option for athletes currently?

A I believe that playing softball post-college is a great thing. Women don't hit their prime until their late 20s. I think the model the Japanese use for their pro league has been the best so far.
This December we will find out if Softball/Baseball gets voted back into the 2020 Olympic Games. I was very fortunate to play for a long time after my college career was over and I feel the athletes should play as long as possible.

About Laura…
Laura Berg is a 4-Time Olympic Medalist, Head Coach of Oregon State University Softball and member of the Worth Advisory Staff.

09 / 15 / 2014

TEACHING PLAYERS HOW TO SLIDE
DIAMOND NOTES BY CHARLOTTE HIGLEY

"I know from personal experience that sliding can be a problem for players."

I was 11 when I first learned how to slide and it took MONTHS for me to be able to slide in an actual game. I believe this issue stems from the fear of getting hurt, or looking funny while doing it. The best way to overcome the fear is to teach proper technique to avoid injury, having players slide in practice (including game-like situations) and show that sliding IS fun.

Technique

The first slide I was taught was called the "figure four slide." Simply put, the legs create the number 4. One leg extends to the base while the other is bend and tucked beneath the extended leg. The ankle of the bent leg will go under, or behind, the knee of the extended leg. Also, make sure their hands are up instead of dragging behind them on the ground.

While times have changed and new products have been created, I still think cardboard is the most effective and cheapest to use when teaching girls how to slide.

Lay down a piece of cardboard, at least 4 feet long, and have the players 15 – 20 feet away. Make sure the girls do a few trial sprints to the cardboard so they know when to start the actual slide. Timing is very important!

Practice

Players should be able to slide in practice and in a game, but it is important to build the player"s confidence first.

Running the base path and sliding into a base is a great place to start sliding. As the girls become more comfortable, have the ball hit and make a play at the base they are sliding into.

About Charlotte...

Charlotte Higley has had a passion for softball her entire life. First as a competitor, now as an instructor for D-Bat and also as the Product Specialist at Team Express.

As a former collegiate athlete in softball, Charlotte played at Austin College where she earned All-SCAC Honors two of her four years as a Kangaroo. She appeared in 135 games as a catcher, outfielder and/or shortstop.

As an instructor, Charlotte has been giving lessons at D-Bat since 2012.

With over eighteen years of experience, she is available for catching, fielding, hitting and slap hitting lessons at the D-Bat San Antonio North location.

For more information call (210) 826-3228.

08 / 01 / 2014

Mental Toughness vs Feeling Good to Play Good

What's the difference between mental toughness and feeling good to play good? Are they one in the same or completely different?

Mental toughness and feeling good to play well are different in my opinion. Mental toughness comes into play when a game is on the line and you can stay calm and focused when all of the pressure is on YOU.

You are able to focus on the task at hand and ignore everything else that is going on around you (fans cheering, dugout hollering, the intimidating batter at the plate). It's very similar to that idea of "clear the mechanism" in the Kevin Costner movie, For Love of the Game (if you haven't watched this movie you need to!).

Mental toughness also comes from ignoring tiredness that may be setting in or any kind of small pain you may be feeling. When you are mentally tough, NOTHING ELSE matters but the task at hand. Mentally tough hitters want to be the one up to bat with the bases loaded and 2 outs in a tie ballgame. Mentally tough pitchers want to be the one in the circle with a full count and the 4-hole hitter up to bat with the game on the line.

Mentally tough players are not complaining about weather, umpires, opponents, soreness. Mentally tough players do not even notice these things.

One thing about mentally tough players, they don't even have to have the best mechanics — they are so mentally strong and their will to succeed is so high, they will do whatever it takes to win.

Feeling good to play good deals with the general feeling you get about the game itself. If a feel good to play good atmosphere is not created, then it will be more challenging for a player to be mentally tough in clutch situations.

Feeling good to play well deals with the atmosphere and scene that is going on around the game itself. Do you feel like you have coaches who believe in you? Do you feel like you have parents who support you no matter if you strike out or give up home runs? Do you feel good in your uniform? Did you prepare enough at practice that week?

When a player plays in an atmosphere that gives her confidence, she is going to flourish and surpass anyone's level of expectations.

Feeling good to play well is especially important for girls. Girls are different than boys. Girls have to FEEL good to PLAY well. And boys PLAY well to FEEL good. Surround a player in an atmosphere where it's nothing but positivity, strong role models and a big support system, and you're going to see a player SOAR when it comes to her results.

Amanda Scarborough is a pitching coach and ESPN softball broadcaster. Learn more at amanda-scarborough.com and follow her on Twitter @ascarborough.

06 / 01 / 2014

Beautifully Powerful

One of the biggest challenges I see for hitters in softball is not so much to find success, but to find success CONSISTENTLY. How do we as hitters be the player that can be relied upon every game, every at bat? And I don't mean getting a hit every time, I mean making a difference with each at bat. Whether that be working a pitcher deep into the count, having a presence in the box, going in with a plan and sticking to it, there are many ways to define success as a hitter.

Through the peaks and valleys of my own career, I have learned that my success begins with me. Not my coach, not my parents, not my teammates and definitely never the umpire. There is of course the physical side of me: strong stance, fast hands, explosive legs, good eyes. But the most important key for me as a hitter is the mental.

Our game is full of female athletes, including myself, who doubt. Who question. Who take humility to the extreme. My game took a change for the better when I found a way to BELIEVE. To know. To erase the negative self-talk, the questions "Can I do this?" Or "Am I good enough?" Those that play or have played the game know exactly what I am talking about. Those thoughts go through your head sometimes every game, sometimes right before you step into the batter's box. If you swing and miss just once, it almost answers the question for you: "No, I'm not good enough." "See, I can't do this." Instead, we need to change our mentality. Figure out a way to train your mind to KNOW you are good enough, that you can do anything, and if you do swing and miss (which will happen in this game no matter how good you are), almost smile to yourself because you know she can't get you to miss again. Beautifully Powerful.

You own the plate. It's yours. You have worked hard enough, know the game well enough, and care for this sport enough that no one can take it from you. So find that mental fight inside you, and begin to train THAT part of your game. Challenge yourself. How do you find a bit of cockiness when you are 0 for 3 coming up to your 4th at bat? How do you get yourself to BELIEVE you are better than anyone else out there (even if you are not)? Believe me, when you can flip that switch from humility to confidence, you will be more successful. You will have more fun. You will enjoy this game and remember why you played it in the first place. Beautifully Powerful.

When you go back to practice, you can be humble again. You can have doubt. Because that is what will make you work hard. Because you need to get better, you aren't good enough. In fact, let's stay after and work on hitting the outside pitch. But come to game time, you have to flip that switch. The doubt is gone. You know. And because you know, they know – make EVERYONE know. You are Beautifully Powerful, and you OWN that plate.

Love it. Dream it. Live it.

Jessica Mendoza

Olympic Gold Medalist

04 / 15 / 2014

The Pitcher-Catcher Relationship

Make Your Battery Better

DIAMOND NOTES with Kristyn Sandberg

The relationship between a pitcher and a catcher is quite unique. It's a dynamic relationship unmatched by any other set of teammates. Nowhere else in sport will you find the alignment of mindset between two players as meaningful as the one between a pitcher and a catcher.

 Throughout a game, a pitcher relies on their catcher to make the appropriate calls behind the plate. It's a coordinated strategy if you will, as both players must have a similar understanding on how to approach the batter.

Personally, when I know it's my game behind the plate I like to watch the opponents' batting practice to see how their hitters are swinging on a particular day. It is at this point in which I start developing my game plan for how I want to attack the batters in game.

Once I gather this information, I like to share it with the starting pitcher and get their input on the plan to make sure we're on the same page. Of course many other factors play in to the game plan.

For instance, what pitch is working well for the pitcher on that day?

What's the umpire's strike zone like? How many runners are on base? How many outs are there?  What did the hitter do in their last at bat? What did she do with her last pitch, and who's on deck just to name a few.

Given the many different scenarios that could occur in a game, it's important that your game plan be flexible. To be efficient in changing your plan and successful in executing it, it's important that there be a solid line of communication between the pitcher and catcher.

Most often this is done through calling a timeout and talking about it on the mound. It may also be talked about in the dugout between innings.

However, sometimes it can be done on the field through signs.

For example, a catcher may tap their chest protector a certain number of times to change the active pitch signal or the pitcher may tap their glove to change pitch location.

Communication is the underlying key to building a good pitcher catcher relationship. Pitchers and catchers must to be able to talk and trust that they only want the best for each other, and the team.

Communication is a two way street so they need to be open to giving and receiving information from one another, and doing so without getting offended. It's important that pitchers and catchers talk "with" one another, not "at" because ultimately you're both working towards the same goal: getting batters out and winning the game.

The pitcher-catcher duo isn't referred to as the "battery" for nothing.

After all, they are the ones that provide the firepower, the energy for the rest of the team to feed off.

In that sense, the success of a team often rides the pitchers performance and which can be directly related to hard the catcher works for them.

If trust and communication between the "battery" is lacking, the fuel for the team is insufficient and the chances of team success declines.

03 / 14 / 2014

The Art Of Practice: Cat Osterman

A common theme has developed recently.  Coaches are quick to claim “kids just aren’t the same these days” or even “this generation is different.”  I’m quick to blame the technology era. Cell phones, video games, and the like have replaced the days of wall ball, kick ball and home run derby. Even in these silly little games, as kids, we got something out of it. Believe it or not, even though I don’t hit, I learned more about hitting playing home run derby with the boys than anywhere else at a really young age.

Now days, the art of practicing, formal or informal, is becoming lost. When a child lacks entertainment, rarely do you see them out shooting hoops or hitting off a tee in the backyard. You don’t see buddies out playing catch in the street. I can remember seeing the boys on my street playing catch with each other, whether it was a football or baseball. At least 3 of us had basketball hoops, so often you could find us in a driveway playing 3 on 3 or Horse. It really just isn’t the same.

Many times a parent or instructor will make the comment “you wouldn’t understand, I bet you were always really good.” I can’t talk for 100% of my peers, but I would bet most of us weren’t amazing softball players out of the womb. I know I wasn’t, so when someone tries to credit our status as elite athletes to something that “always was” they are far from the truth. If you ask me to recall my memories, I can recall more about practices growing up than I can games. Why? Practices had a purpose, and they were frequent.

As a college coach, all too often we see teams that just play. You have to play to be seen, so week in and week out they play tournament after tournament. My guess is they get one practice in between tournaments, and if they are lucky all the girls are there. How do you improve as a team if you can’t practice what goes wrong in a game? This is where it differs from when I was growing up. We didn’t play EVERY weekend, we had mid week practices and weekend practices. You have to practice more than once a week for improvement or change.

I truly believe the art of good practices and productive practices both on a team and individual basis is becoming lost. Athletes have to practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect. Those last three sentences are the words of the best softball coach in the country, Mike Candrea.

We’re in a day and age of instant gratification, but sports doesn’t evolve that way. The fun part about sports, the blood sweat and tears that produce improvement, aren’t going to speed up. It seems, in this age, the amount of blood, sweat and tears are decreasing for video games, texting and facebook. I challenge any parent reading this to assess how much time your athlete puts in to improving. Don’t count just going out and swinging 10 times to say she hit. How often do they practice with the purpose to improve at something?

I’m not saying this applies to every young athlete out there, because I have witnessed those die hards who would sleep on the field, only to wake up and start practicing again. Unfortunately, athletes like that are becoming the minorities.

To be good at your sport, you have to put the time. If you ask any of us that have made it to a higher level, we will preach on about our practices both with our team and at home. Lessons are great, but if you don’t practice in between them, what good do they do? No level of success comes without hard work, dedication, and an expectation of excellence. Another quote from Coach Candrea that has stuck with me is, “We strive for perfection in order to reach excellence.”

Practices are the fun part of our life now as professionals. There’s passion and energy to improve and learn from others. It was the same way when we were younger. Practice is where you are tested. Where expectations are set and you start your progression to meet them. Expectations aren’t pressure; they’re a way to measure you’re improvement.

As a coach, I hear more parents complain about too high of expectations or how the pressure of expectations is getting to their child. Question for you: do you face expectation at work or in real life? Do you think your child learning to deal with it early on might be a benefit?  Ask any coach, our concern is not only to make your athletes better players in their respective sport, it’s to make them better people and equip them with things that will roll over to real grown up life!

Coddling of athletes in practice doesn’t help anyone, individual or the team. Practice is where we are pushed to our limits. Why? Because then in a game it seems easy. If you keep a high level of expectations (goals) you have something to CONSTANTLY work towards. Something to ALWAYS be practicing for. Something to compete with yourself and others daily to reach.

I challenge all coaches, parents and athletes alike to take a step back and look to see if you or your little athlete is practicing enough. Is their a purpose behind the practice or is it just going through the motions? What’s your expectation for the day, week, month, year, and eventually you’re career.

And lastly, parents don’t enable your kids’ laziness or accept excuses. In the long run, it doesn’t help them in sports or life. Make them be accountable and responsible for their practice. Help them set goals, push them to achieve them, but enable them to work towards it independently.

I can say from experience, my dad had his ideas of what he thought my career could be, he never voiced those. He just made sure if I were using his time throwing I would be giving 100%, and if I didn’t practice in between lessons, we wouldn’t go to the next one. Simple things like that fumed my work ethic, dedication and love for what I do. While my dad is my number one fan, at the right time, he was also my number one critic. Not because he was angry or upset with me, but because he wanted me to learn and realize what we needed to PRACTICE next. No one is the next best thing without practice.

03 / 01 / 2013

Interview with a Champion: Keilani Ricketts

From college to the pros in a matter of days, Keilani Ricketts won a National Championship with the University of Oklahoma and then National Pro Fastpitch Championship within a few months.Sure, you have heard quotes and insights into the mind of a Champion, but earning two championships in one year is not something that most athletes could ever dream, and Keilani has mastered the art.

So, what is it about Keilani? What did she do to get where she is, and how does she handle the pressure? Well, let's ask her…

QMost folks may not know that all four kids in your family played a Division I sport, including Stephanie racking up two sports in her career at Hawaii (softball and basketball). What was different for you all growing up that turned you all into such phenomenal athletes?

A Keilani: It was amazing being a part of such an athletic family! My parents always had us involved in multiple sports growing up all the way through high school, and I really believe we had a slight advantage being so agile in our sports because we did not limit ourselves to just one.

Q Put aside your modesty for us, what has been the difference in you that gives you a little edge above your competition?

A Keilani: One thing that really helps me compete in the circle is feeding off my teammates around me. Seeing them make great plays and having clutch hits gives me more confidence and more motivation to pitch and try to put my team in the best position for success as they do for me.

Q How would you sum up the mind of a Champion? What are you thinking when you're on the mound and the pressure is on, or you're at the plate in a crucial situation? Are there thoughts, or do you have a clear mind?

A Keilani: The mind of a champion keeps a clear mind and keeps it simple. A champion has complete confidence that their pitch in that moment will beat the batter or that they will see the ball and hit it because they have put in all the hard work to make themselves successful. If you have the confidence that you will strike out the batter or you will get a hit off the pitcher then there's no reason to force anything and think too much out there. All you have to do is stay determined that you are going to come out on top!

QLast question, and I want this to be the best advice you have ever given… more importantly than in the mind of a champion, what's in the heart?

A Keilani: Passion, of course. If you truly love what you're doing then you will do whatever it takes to be successful and help your team be successful. Champions play with passion and will work harder to get better when no one is looking because they LOVE what they're doing and want to keep getting better and better. Passion brings a different type of determination that is untouchable!

What's interesting to note are keywords that Keilani repeatedly mentions: teammates, passion and determination. We would venture to say those three words sum up the essence of a Champion: someone who knows how to win and someone who understands they cannot do it all on their own.

Keep in touch with Keilani and the release of her Worth Signature Series by following  facebook.com/worthfastpitch or following @WorthFastpitch.

01 / 07 / 2014

What is Beautiful Fastpitch?

By Amanda Scarborough

Beautiful- 1) having beauty; possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about ; 2) of a very high standard; excellent.

Fastpitch players are beautiful. There...I said it. It's true. "Beautiful" is a big word. It's used limitedly because of the standard we have tied to it in our culture, and we know that something must be of upmost quality for us to tag that word on it. Because of its limited use, it is put on a pedestal and rarely pulled out of Webster's to describe something or someone. But what if we used to describe the way a young girl played softball? The word "beautiful" is not a daily softball adjective used out on the field or at lessons like "attack" or "swing hard" or even "aggressive." It's a word people shy away from using because of the grandeur of the word and thinking that it only goes with a sunset in the afternoon or a model during a photo shoot. But "beautiful", is a word that can be used to describe softball players and the standard our sport should hold.

Playing softball beautifully has nothing to do with physical looks (ie. eye color, weight, hair color). No - playing softball beautifully means playing it with poise, playing it with passion, playing it with positivity and calmness. It means slowing the game down in your mind, taking your time in your at bat, playing defense out on the field with head held high and excitement of anticipation for the ball to come to you. It's being able to control your emotions during the game so that you have that ability to slow down in your mind the ground ball coming to you or how fast your at bat is going.

Softball has a fast pace to the game as it is. When you're a player, the game speeds up 10x in your mind and everything seems faster than it really is. Ask anybody who has played - when you are out on the field, the game seems even faster because your mind is racing; there are a lot of unsure players, which makes the game go by faster and faster until before you know it, the game is over. A player who is focusing on playing beautifully slows her breathing down, slows her mind down and ultimately, the pace of the game slows down, thus, no matter what kind of mechanics you have, will yield more results because you can actually focus one pitch at a time, one step at a time.

Does playing softball beautifully mean that you're always going to get a hit and never going to make an error? Not a chance. That's our game. Our game was designed for you to fail, and if we didn't fail, there would be no fun in it. However, it's really when you fail, that your true beauty can actually be seen the most.

So how do we get our players to think this, feel this, believe this? It lies in our coaching and providing the information for them. Teaching them at a young age that they were made to play beautifully and having an understanding of what that looks like and what it feels like.

Can a hit be beautiful? Absolutely. Is a pitch with a lot of movement on it beautiful? You betcha. But those are things we cannot always control when we are playing. As a player, I can control my attitude during the game, my respect for my teammates and my approach at the plate during my at bat. I can control how fast thoughts are going through my head. THOSE are the real things that add beauty to this game. Taking pride in your uniform, taking pride in being a good teammate, and taking the responsibility to make adjustments at the plate or in the circle. Those are things of REAL beauty. Unfortunately, those are the things that don't go I the scorebook or the news paper article, they aren't the things of our game that gets all the hype.

Playing beautifully is something (like anything) that needs to be practiced. It will not just show up magically in the game. By being aware of what we look like on the field in between pitches when we are up to bat or on the field, we have a better understanding of what impressions we are giving off. I go around and watch a lot of softball through college and travel ball. The players who are fidgety, always messing with their uniforms, always touching their hair, having fast/quick movements up at the plate or on deck, those are the players I know will not remember the game and it will pass them by very fast. Those are the players, to me, who will actually end up beating themselves. The players who are playing beautifully have calm, slow movements. They are slowing down the game in their mind with these movements, and thus, slowing down the game for their team.

As coaches, we get so caught up in mechanics and fundamentals (which believe me, are very important and need to be practiced), but the idea of playing fastpitch beautifully needs to be discussed. For mechanics, every coach is going to coach something different - where to hold your hands, how to use your lower half, how to throw a rise ball. But with playing beautifully, I think there is a general consensus of what this looks like and what it should feel like to the players.

Most of you, I'm sure, have watched the Women's College World Series and know who Lauren Chamberlain is. She is, in my opinion, the greatest hitter in our game right now, and maybe when she is done with her 4 years at Oklahoma, one of the greatest hitters to have ever play our game. When you watch her play, look at her approach and her confidence in between pitches. She has a routine in between pitches in her at bat. She's calm, she is not constantly fidgeting, she is not constantly looking back at her coach and messing with her uniform. All of her movements have purpose and I guarantee she remembers everything about her at bat. She is letting the game come to her. Does Lauren Chamberlain have great hitting mechanics? Yes- without a doubt. But without her approach, poise, and routine at the plate, she would not be able to use those mechanics to their fullest potential. Chamberlain would be a good hitter without her calm approach, but WITH the calm approach, she becomes one of the best.

Playing beautifully takes your game to YOUR next level. It's going to be different for everyone, and you can't compare yourself and your results to the person sitting next to you. This idea of being a beautiful player comes with time, it comes with practice and it comes with experience - all of which the idea of "beautiful" is at the forefront of your mind. Act it. Feel it. Know it.

Beautiful - Don't be scared to use the word, don't be scared to try to be the word, and definitely don't be scared to coach the word. All players have that beauty inside, it just needs to be brought out of each one in order for players across the country to play at their very highest ability. Through sports and coaching, lessons are learned - competitiveness, work ethic, determination. These are lessons that when softball is over, allows softball to still stay apart of you. Just like softball is a medium for life lessons, softball should be a medium to make girls feel good about themselves, to feel beautiful. The more beautiful you feel, the more confident you are, the more motivated you are to go out and achieve your dreams and think the sky is the limit. It all starts with an at bat or throwing a pitch, and noticing a different way of moving and holding yourself to resemble being the most beautiful player that you can be.

And that is beautiful fastptich.

DREAM BIG. DREAM OFTEN.

TRAIN HARD. TRAIN OFTEN.

FEEL BEAUTIFUL . PLAY BEAUTIFUL.

Amanda Scarborough

www.amanda9.com

Private Pitching Instructor / Softball Clinician

ESPN & Longhorn Network Softball Analyst

01 / 06 / 2014

What is Your Personal Brand Saying About You Through Social Media?

By Amanda Scarborough

Definition: Personal branding is the process of developing a "mark" that is created around your personal name or your career. You use this "mark" to express and communicate your skills, personality and values. The end goal is that the personal brand that you develop will build your reputation and help you to grow your network in a way that interests others. They will then seek you out for your knowledge and expertise.

Personal brands affect each and every one of us daily. Few players realize that they are building their personal brands NOW, at age 12 or at age 17. This no longer applies to just famous celebrity adult athletes out in the "real world." Social media, in my eyes, is affecting personal branding the most with young players. Every tweet, every picture, every post is defining how you want the world to view you and how you are making your own unique "mark" on the world. Young players are unaware that the image they are portraying now, even at as preteen, could be affecting where their career is headed when it comes to playing in college and also in post college careers past softball. Personal branding affects a player trying to play softball in college just as much as it affects the current college softball standout.

Why is this important when it comes to softball? A softball player's brand is not simply built on batting average, ERA, or wins and losses. Though that is PART of a player's brand, it truly is much more and deeper than just statistics and swag on the field. Every second of the day it's either getting stronger or getting weaker. A player is not the only person who has a personal brand in our game - coaches and parents also have their personal brand which is being defined with every game, every win, every loss and every taught skill along the way....but a coaches and parents brand discussion will have to be discussed on a different date.

What players are putting out on social media is writing their personal brand through words and pictures that will live forever -- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, etc. This is something that 10-15 years ago, players like myself did not have to worry about as much, as the concept of Personal Branding really started to come around in the late 90's. It is through technology and apps that define your brand and really what you are all about on the inside. As I've watched and monitored over our own team's tweets and posts, I've noticed some common themes along the way that need to be redirected and given better, more positive energy than some of the negativity I read.

Think of these things as you build YOUR brand before you post anything on any of your apps:

  1. What is your vision and purpose?
  2. What are your values and passions?
  3. What are your goals? Long term and short term?
  4. What makes you happy?

I've explained to our own Firecracker team before that Twitter should not be a medium to release any and all personal problems that vary between how you're playing on the field to relationship problems to family problems. I totally understand 100% that players feel like these forms of social media is a way to express themselves...but there are some things that should be left to be expressed to your coach, friends or family in a one on one CONVERSATION, not a public conversation on the Internet. Remember that there are other ways to be heard and people who care about what you are feeling who are actually close to you - your friends and family.

If you're not playing well on the field...why would you tweet about it? Do you want your competition to know that you're not seeing the ball well or your change up is struggling? Instead of tweeting about it, go practice. Take that energy and use it towards something good. If you have time to tweet about it, usually you have time to go out and practice or get better at whatever it is you're complaining about. The more your thoughts are negative, the longer you will struggle. Along those same lines, are your tweets helping your team or hurting your team? Handle team problems off the field not through social media.

When you're tweeting, think about the language you are using. No curse words or putting other people down or bullying. Anything negative only brings other people down who are reading it and makes YOU look worse.

When you're posting pictures, before you post, think about if that exact picture was on the front of USA Today, would you be ok with it? What would your parents think if they saw it on the front of the paper?

Don't complain about relationship and friendship problems via social media. These problems fall under that personal umbrella that should not be shared with the world. Now don't get me wrong, I know that there will be problems, we all have them. However, there is a place to talk about them, and it's not over a social media medium. The negativity and complaining take away from your personal brand.

When you are tweeting and posting, think about posting things that shape YOU in the light that you want to be seen in and the characteristics that you want put next to your name. If you're having a bad day, where you maybe can't think of anything nice or positive to post, then just go ahead and don't put anything that day. Putting nothing is better than putting something negative or sad. Nobody else defines you, YOU define you. Do you want to be seen as pessimistic, critical, a bad teammate, depressed and someone who has self pity? Or do you want to be seen as charismatic, happy, motivated, inspired, passionate? When you put yourself in a college coach's shoes, which characteristics do you want your players to have and be around every day? What kind of energy are you giving off to the public with your posts?

Have an effect on others that is positive. Before you post, think is this helping or hurting my brand? It's so important to realize that every day your image can be seen in a negative or positive light, which will have an effect on not only YOU but college coaches, tournament team coaches, opposing players and also your career once softball is finished. Right now, what kind of brand are you creating and what kind of "mark" are you leaving on the world? The brand you are creating on a daily basis now has an impact on your life years and years down the road. Make the most of it NOW, don't start later.

Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands.The personal-branding concept suggests that success comes from self-packaging. Personal branding also involves creating an asset by defining an individual's appearance and areas of knowledge in a way leading to a uniquely distinguishable, and ideally memorable, impression.

DREAM BIG. DREAM OFTEN.

TRAIN HARD. TRAIN OFTEN.

FEEL BEAUTIFUL . PLAY BEAUTIFUL.

Amanda Scarborough

www.amanda9.com

Private Pitching Instructor / Softball Clinician

ESPN & Longhorn Network Softball Analyst

11 / 13 / 2013

The Status of Softball

QWhat is the status of softball now that the Olympic decision is over?

A The IOC decision to keep wrestling in the Olympics was a heartbreaking blow to baseball and softball. Unfortunately, our great sport will not be on display in Rio.
With Tokyo earning the host city bid for the 2020 Olympics, there is a small chance the organizing committee will add baseball and softball to the program. The Japanese are huge fans and an Olympic Games held in their country would not feel complete without them on the program.

QHow does the Olympic decision affect Softball in the US?

A Softball in the USA remains very strong, from the youth level all the way up to the increased competition in NCAA collegiate softball. Young athletes are increasingly specializing in one sport, with hopes to play for their favorite college team or their parent's alma mater. The increase in summer/travel ball teams and tournaments means athletes are playing year-round. These are all positive steps for our sport.
The negative effect of softball being removed from the Olympic program is the decrease in national team funding from the national governing body, which will greatly impact countries that are without collegiate or professional teams.

QWhat will happen to softball around the world?

A This question is a huge concern given how many countries fund and support the sport. Many countries finance a performance institute to develop junior athletes into future Olympic athletes. With softball not an Olympic sport, those funds will likely be allocated to other sports. Even more than before, it's imperative that, as the worldwide leader, USA Softball continues to travel globally to spread our sport by engaging new players while instructing in the proper techniques and strategies.

QHow do I make myself visible and get noticed so I can get a scholarship?

A Getting a college scholarship is very competitive as more athletes enter the sport. More of the impetus is on the player, to proactively reach out to coaches and let them know you are interested in their programs. Don't wait for them to find you. Participating in off-season camps and clinics are critical activities.
It's also important to be well-rounded, with a passionate work ethic, strong grades and a positive attitude! Being coachable and a great teammate are traits all coaches seek.

QWhat's the most important pitch I can learn?

A Once a pitcher has the ability to hit corners and work zones off the plate with a fastball, I advise young pitchers to learn the change-up, followed by the drop pitch. It's easy to get caught up in wanting to learn four or five different pitches, but that will only slow your progress. Change-up first, drop second and then depending on your natural pitching style, a curve or rise. Be very careful when young pitchers are learning the screwball, as the mechanics of this pitch can damage the elbow if thrown incorrectly.

QWhat's the most important thing I can do off the field in order to become a better softball player?

A Working hard is important but expected. Working smart will make you better, and at a faster rate. Dedicate yourself to an off-field conditioning and strength training program – making it a priority just like 'on the field' practices. Everyone on the field should be able to run a 5k without any issues, while pitchers should also do sprints and work on recovery. Pitchers need to have very strong legs, a strong core and back in order to take care of their shoulder.

MICHELE SMITH EXPOSURE AND DEVELOPMENTAL HOLIDAY CAMP!

Dec. 28-30, 2013 | Clearwater, FL

Prepare for the 2014 softball season at this 3-day instructional camp in sunny Clearwater, Florida! Learn skills and drills from some of the best college coaches and players in women's fastpitch softball, plus gain exposure to university coaches and recruiters!

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