Attitude is Everything

What we think directly affects how we feel, which directly affects what we do. Said another way: attitude determines our altitude, and it comes from how we think, whether we realize this or not. Wait…does this mean that athletes who are confident and having fun play better than those who are frustrated and timid? Absolutely! So which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I don’t know. But which comes first: successful outcomes or a positive, confident, fun attitude? For many, success does, but for the greatest athletes in the world, the ideal attitude for performance comes first.

 

Attitude is a function of what we think about/focus on. Most people’s attitude goes with the flow, thinking about/focusing on current events, current needs, current fears, current desires, etc. That can be good, but can just as easily be bad if the current is, for example, the Niagara River. It might not even seem dangerous at the moment, but it could be heading towards a great fall! My reminder to athletes: you have extremely little control over what goes on around you, but total control of how you choose to respond to it. It is in these choices that lay your freedom, your growth, your happiness, and your personal power. Choose wisely.

Many people have a less-than-ideal attitude about “failure.” Instead of viewing it as a needed stepping stone for success, they see it as an end in itself — a bad one. If they would remember the wonderful goal of approaching their potential, it would be easy to think like a scientist pursuing the question, “How good can I be?” Always remember that we learn and grow from adversity.

 

Concrete examples:

 

• A mistake by self (or someone else) often leads to negative emotions, which can cause the problem to snowball by creating a poor approach/attitude on the next play.

 

• An athlete or his teammate makes an error and he tries to “make up for it” by trying harder on the next play. Was he not trying hard before? Trying to do too much (pressing) is not the way to win the mental game.

 

• An official blows the call, but it’s just one call. It is almost always the athlete’s response to this that blows the game.

 

• A losing player is so mad that he forgets to learn from the experience.

 

• A winning player is so pleased that he forgets to learn from the experience.

 

• Poor self-talk words such as “gotta” “impossible” and “don’t screw up” lead to a less-than-ideal performance attitude. These words could be replaced with “opportunity” “challenge” and “excited” to create a winning attitude.

 

Suggestion: relentless positivism, emphasizing whatever helps and de-emphasizing whatever doesn’t. Don’t underestimate the “glass half full” attitude’s impact on performance! Mental skills improve with practice just like physical skills do, so don’t wait until game day to practice the skill of having a positive attitude. Consistently bring positive energy, respect, and appreciation to practice. Hold yourself accountable for your attitude and body language, even during conditioning or after making a mistake. If you receive constructive criticism, be grateful, not resentful. Use your brain to overcome your fearful emotions. After all, would you prefer that the coach ignores your mistake, signifying that she’s giving up on your potential?

 

Your perspective on things determines your attitude. Appreciate your opportunities; they are significant. Compare our chances for happiness, satisfaction, and service to others to what they would be if we had been born in a different place or time. Statistically speaking, you and I did better than winning the lottery when we were born.

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And we are off….

Welcome to the start of another college softball season! This is always an exciting time as college teams get to see what they really have and we as fans get to watch the drama unfold. If you are a young softball player looking to play college softball or the parent of one, this is the time to learn about what is out there in the college softball world.

 

When I ask players around the country what they know about the top teams in college softball, I usually hear about the D1 teams who played in the previous College World Series and this is understandable. The ESPN coverage at the softball College World Series is outstanding and usually this is the only college ball young players ever see. But there is so much more out there. Players and their parents need to get educated about the many options for college softball.

 

Great resources

 

A great chat room for college softball with many passionate and knowledgeable people is www.ultimatecollegesoftball.com. Check it out as it is a fun read and you can learn a lot about softball programs from around the country from a unique perspective.

 

If you don’t have the time to look up every Division 1 program on the internet but want to see what is going on check out www.spysoftball.com. Rayburn Hess does a great service to the softball community by posting a collective report on softball happenings.

 

Who is on top?

 

You can also check out the softball polls – they have them for Division 1 and Division 2 and Division 3 as well as Junior College and NAIA. Check out www.NFCA.org website under polls for great information – they also have a TV schedule of upcoming games!

 

There is so much more out in the college softball world then the teams you see in the College World Series. In Division 1 there is such a diversity of funding so you do have a case of the “have” and “have nots”. In general, if a college has big time football then they have big time finances and with Title IX the women’s sports benefit. This means more money for travel, equipment and better facilities. Within Division 1 you see some teams who have to fundraise for trips and even some teams who do not have the full complement of scholarships or even full time coaching staffs. So even though teams are classified as Division 1, it does not mean they are all equal.

 

In addition to Division 1 there is great softball being played at the Division 2 level. I had the pleasure of coaching softball at C.W. Post College on Long Island and it is a great place to go to school and they have great softball.  We would play D1 teams and from a softball perspective were as good if not better. What C.W. Post offered was a different student experience. My players could join a sorority or a club in addition to playing softball. When I coached D1 there was little time for players to do things like that. For example, at C.W. Post I had an outstanding pitcher who could easily have played D1 but she loved horses and our school had a stable on campus and she joined and competed on the equestrian team when not in season for softball. She loved it. The players at D2 have a different experience and for many it is a better fit. As I always tell people – softball is one piece of the college puzzle and how big of a piece depends on the player.

 

In addition to D1 and D2 you have great schools at the D3 level. There are also softball opportunities at the Junior College level and in the NAIA (we will feature these in a later article).

 

Take some time in the next few months to go and see a college softball game at a local college. See different schools in different divisions and build that knowledge base of what is out there. Take the team out to a game – if you call ahead many colleges will work out a team discount on admission and many of the non D1 schools do not even charge.  By going to different types of schools and watching them play and seeing the campus you are helping your young softball players increase their knowledge of what is out there so when the time comes to start looking at colleges for themselves they already have a starting point.

 

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Make Learning Most Important Every Day

By: Dr. Aaron Weintraub   – Performance Consultant

Make your top goal is to be the best you can be at your sport because this will maximize your chances to achieve all your other goals. What does it take to approach potential? It does not require that you perform perfectly today, but don’t get excited that it is easy: it requires that you learn as much as possible today about how to give your best effort in the future.

 

Three questions: Do you perform better with a positive attitude than a negative one? Isn’t adversity inevitable? If yes to both, then isn’t staying positive through adversity going to be a critical skill for you to develop to be the best you can be? Here’s how to do it: make learning most important! Adversity is good because it usually provides information about something that isn’t working. Even when it doesn’t, it provides an opportunity to practice controlling your attitudes and emotions with the positive self-talk that comes from an optimistic explanatory style.

 

When you make learning more important than achievement today, you are able to adopt the scientist’s mindset that there is no such thing as “failure,” only poor outcomes that can be avoided in the future by making effective adjustments. Learn what to repeat from your successes and what to change from your “failures.” But remember, learning doesn’t happen automatically. You have to pay attention, looking for patterns and details. This is too much trouble for most people, but since you are committed to being the best you can be at your sport, it’s certainly not too much for you. You know that to get what most people won’t ever get, you’ll have to do and think things that most people won’t do and think.

 

Consistently ask questions, including:

 

What was I trying to do?

 

What happened?

 

Why?

 

What do I want to try to do the next time that I’m in a similar situation?

 

How do I do that?

 

We are not born with the information needed to formulate the best plan of attack for any situation. We must seek it out if we are going to have a chance to approach our potential, being open to the possibility that our old maps of life that tell us how to get to where we want to go probably have a few mistakes on them. Also, each map is certainly lacking in some of the details and distinctions needed to traverse such a challenging path as yours.

 

Here are two big ‘ifs:’ If you know what you want and if you have both the motivation and courage to go and get it, then you are on your way. That way is learning to be your best, and this process defines your success (most people think it leads to your success). Our ability to get what we want in life is no different from our rate of learning and applying what we learn. Know your job and do your job!

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Bring The Heat First

By: Jennifer Hapanowicz – Founder USA Elite Training LLC & Virtual Softball Academy

 

The fastball is the foundation of the pitcher’s arsenal.  Too often pitchers and their parents overlook the importance of a fastball.  The fastball mechanics must be developed correctly into proper muscle memory.   And that means a lot of work, maybe 8000-10,000 proper repetitions to create.  Over the past 18 years of coaching softball pitchers, my favorite comment from a parent during an evaluation of a new pitching student, who I must add was only 11, “my daughter throws a curve, drop curve, curve rise, screwball, drop, rise in, and three change-ups.”  In my experience, no advanced level pitcher would have enough time to properly command this many pitches.   Also, there is no way any pitcher under the age of 13 could have enough physical strength to use the proper mechanics of these pitches.

 

Pitching is a skill, which requires time to develop.  The learning process and development of correct muscle memory for the fastball and change-up could take two to three years depending on the age of the athlete.  Based on my coaching experience, the pitcher who has focused on the mechanics and developing the speed of their fastball, change-up, and hitting their locations at the start of the their career has experienced more success.  In addition, a player who has learned and developed the proper fastball mechanics has experienced less injury and can sustain a longer pitching career.

 

Players all want to learn the movement pitches.  Players and parents need to understand that the fastball mechanics are the foundation that all of your movement pitches will be built off of.   It is not uncommon to see a pitcher loose their fastball mechanics as they learn movement pitches, especially if they don’t’ continue to spend time working on their fastball.   At USA Elite Training, a pitcher’s first goal is to command their fastball and change-up.

 

The first benchmark that we use to ensure that a pitcher is commanding the fastball is we test their speed.  The pitcher needs to be consistently throwing the fastball at 50mph to the four quadrants (inside low, inside high, outside low , outside high) 8 out of 10 times.  In addition, they need to have a change-up that can be thrown to low locations at a speed 10- 12mph slower, but not lower than 15mph, than their fastball speed.  Once these goals have been achieved the pitcher has developed a solid foundation and are now prepared to learn a movement pitch.  Notice I said, “a movement pitch”.   Just like fastballs and change-ups, learning the movement pitches will also take time to throw it properly and build the muscle memory necessary to throw it consistently and with command.  Because of that we focus on learning and commanding one new movement pitch per year.

 

The fastball can be used very successful at all levels to set up pitches.  In addition, after throwing a change-up, the speed differential will make the fastball inside look 3-4 mph faster.   For those players who think they will never throw a fastball at the collegiate level, you are incorrect.  Our college pitchers, including pitchers playing for top 25-college programs in the country still work their fastball in the bullpen everyday.  At the college level, many coaches do use the fastball, especially if their pitcher is throwing above 60mph.  So for those players who think the fastball will not be used at the higher levels they are mistaken.

 

The fastball is the foundation of your pitching house.  If your mechanics are off in one of your movement pitches, then there is often a mechanical issue in your fastball.  Therefore, no matter what your pitching level is, part of your daily-pitching- routine should include drills that will reinforce and maintain proper fastball mechanics.  If you would like to see our top foundation drill taught at USA Elite Training LLC down load our Virtual Softball Academy Silver iPhone app which contains our foundation pitching series.  If you don’t have an iPhone you can down load a copy to your computer from our web site www.virutalsoftballacdemy.com

If you have any questions, I can be reached via email at jen@usaelitetraining.com

 

 

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The Corp, the Corp, the Corp

 

By: Frank Quido – Owner, BreakOut Athlete

 

The Corp, the Corp, the Corp. I’m borrowing a phrase used by our U.S. Marines and changing it slightly to the core, the core, the core. The translation is to emphasize that you cannot overstate the importance of the core when it comes to softball and athletics more generally.

 

Importantly, the core is more than just our abdominal muscles. The core is a large group of muscles that provide stability and support to the body. Because the core plays such a significant role in generating rotational power necessary for hitting, throwing and pitching it becomes evident that the stronger an athlete’s core is the more power they can produce.

 

The key to throwing hard is getting elastic energy to transfer from each player’s legs, through their hips, into the trunk, and finally out through the arm.

Hitting power isn’t much different.  If the upper body is dominant in a swing, only 25-30% of power potential is being used. When you teach your lower body and core to dominant your swing and work in conjunction with your upper body, the ball will fly off your bat like never before.

 

The body’s core is the powerhouse. Though, crunches and leg raises will help strengthen certain muscles in the core you shouldn’t rely solely on those two movements. Some excellent exercise include “V” ups – lying on a flat service with legs straight out and arms stretched out behind your head, raise your legs and shoulders off the ground having your hands and feet meet at the midway point. When returning to the starting position do not let your feet hit the ground. Repeat for about 6-8 reps and gradually increase that number as your core strengthens. Another great move – Russian Twists – sitting on a flat surface with your back angled at about 45 degrees and knees bent – rotate your shoulders from side to side. To further challenge yourself, add a medicine ball. For more advanced athletes perform with a medicine ball and feet off the ground.

 

Additionally, when you are working through your hitting routine, focus on using your core in your swing.  When you begin to recognize the energy your core generates, especially in your swing, you can work it out simply while hitting off a tee and soft toss.  This will also ensure that your entire body, upper and lower, is engaged in the swing to create a more powerful swing.  Your core is the connection between your upper body and lower body.  As your core strengthens and you become more aware of how it generates energy and power in your swing, you will also find there are “swing” specific exercises you can do for your core.

 

Ultimately, there are many exercises that can be done to develop the core strength needed to improve your softball throwing and hitting.  Remember, though, if you are not currently integrating core work in your training, take it slow and gradually build in more complex moves as you get stronger.  We want you to get stronger without any set back from preventable injuries.

 

Remember, it’s all about the CORE!

 

Frank is owner of BreakOut Athlete – which has been called CT’s Sports Performance Training Facility. Clients include D1 College players, High School Player of the year nominees and numerous All-State selections in various sports. Frank is SCC and YFT certified. Coaches High School Football, Basketball and AAU Baseball. Frank was formally the CIO of the Response Insurance Companies. Frank is married to Lori and has three children, Ashley, Felicia and Jason.

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The “safety school” – no college wants to be it, but all college bound players should have one.

By: Kim Gwydir – Founder FPOS and former D1 coach

 

Recently I was counseling a high school junior. She is a very good pitcher with great grades in school. She has been working on the college recruiting process and selecting her 20 schools to correspond with on a regular basis. I asked her “What is your safety school?” and I got a blank look back. I then explained that a safety school is a school you can clearly afford, can expect to be admitted to and you would be socially OK with going to. The safety school is not the dream school but it is a fallback position where you can get a degree and not go in the poor house.

 

All too often the “tail wags the dog” in the recruiting process. We think softball first and then academics and finances after. I am not saying a player should not dream and consider schools that are a reach for them financially, academically or athletically. What I am saying, though, is that there should be a balance in your list.

 

What is an example of a dream school? Often in the northeast players dream of going down south to Florida and playing in warm weather but the reality is if their travel team never goes to that area. The result is college coaches from the south will never get a chance to see them play and therefore the chance of getting recruited by those schools is minimal. If you want to play in a different area than you live then you need to get to recruiting opportunities in the area you want to go to school in – plain and simple.

 

The dream schools on your list need to be balanced with “safety” type schools. An example of a safety school could be a state school in your area where there is tuition breaks for in state students or special academic assistance programs, maybe a school you would consider walking on at. In Florida, parents have the opportunity to get “Florida prepaid” tuition for their children and pay into a college fund whereby tuition is extremely affordable by the time their children are ready to go. State schools in Florida are great safety schools for state residents. Other examples of safety schools can be Junior Colleges. I have written about considering Junior Colleges as an option for the first two years in past newsletter articles. The truth is committing to a Junior College does not preclude you from taking an award to a four year school if one comes available. That is one of the many difficulties facing JC coaches – they have a commitment from a good player but lose them when a four year school snaps them up late.

 

When I said “no college wants to be a safety school” I meant that most college coaches don’t want to think you settled for them. Coaches are competitive and have egos and don’t want to be considered your second choice but from the player perspective you need these fall back positions. Dream BIG and have your “reach” colleges on your list. Make every effort to make them happen financially, academically and athletically but when decision time comes that dream school may not fit your family financially or maybe they are not interested athletically. The old saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is very true in this case. Have options and make the best decision academically, athletically, financially and socially for your future.

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What are you doing to get better?

This time of year is the “off-season” for softball or at least it should be.  Being from Florida, it seems like there is never an off season for softball. There is a “Snowball Tournament” (great name for a tournament in Florida by the way) and in the Northeast I see players in indoor leagues and tournaments in domes.  While playing is good – are softball games the only thing or the best thing to be doing this time of year?

The reality is; you cannot be at your peak all year long. There needs to be a time of year when players can work on their game without the pressure of having to be at their peak. When learning a new skill or changing an existing muscle memory, there is a transition phase and the player can feel very uncomfortable during this period and therefore not confident. I find that players are sometimes reluctant to change how they do things because they are afraid of “looking bad”.

Players need time to work on their game and be OK with being a little uncomfortable. This time of year is really the only practical time to do it. I am also a proponent of playing other sports in the off season. Young players (younger than high school juniors) can especially benefit from cross training in other sports. Basketball is a great sport to help players learn to be explosive with their lower body. High school players can also benefit from doing some serious weight training with a trained professional. A stronger player is a better player and less likely to get hurt.

Parents and players need to keep things in perspective – playing game after game after game is not the way to get better. Players need time to hone their skills and get stronger. Take the “off-season” to really work on your game. Give players a break! I am not saying, “Don’t play in the winter”, but ask yourself what you are expecting or trying to get out of it. I have seen some great winter hitting leagues where the emphasis is on getting players a lot of at bats in a minimum time. Not only are the players getting a chance to take swings, but it is a little different, and I think this keeps it interesting for the players.

You hear about and worry about “burn-out” with players. I think burn out comes from playing game after game and not getting any better. Find a good instructor and go into the off season with a plan to improve your skills or find a good trainer and spend the winter getting stronger. How do you know if you have a good instructor? I tell parents there are two tests:  Do their players get better? Do they produce consistently good players?  Parents and coaches need to keep off season games and leagues in perspective.  Have a plan and remember that a little down time is not necessarily a bad thing.

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