Softball & God

A few Sundays back, we posted a fan question on the our Facebook page about a family new to travel softball, struggling with the concept of playing on Sundays. Many fans weighed in with ideas and thoughts and different ways for this family (and many others) to incorporate their worship onto the field. Some tournament directors playing Sundays, schedule time out of the schedule for prayer, while some don’t – (of course to be politically correct in a world that is extremely fearful of OMgosh offending anyone.) Some teams and coaches and parents quite simply just pray on their own. Some don’t. To each his or her own.

Recently, talking to a parent about his 12-year-old daughter who wanted to play travel, I was further perplexed by the fact that his reason for not playing was “I am not willing to give up God on Wednesdays or Sundays to play softball.”

Give up God? Who said anyone gave up God? We play softball on some Sundays – and have never once felt like we deserted or gave up  God.  We know plenty of girls who play on Sundays, and none of them have given up God.

In fact, sometimes it seems that God and softball go hand in hand. Sometimes, it seems that faith, religion, spirituality and God are more prevalent at the softball complex than anywhere else.

The reality is that the more competitive you or your team gets, the more time (including Sundays and Wednesdays) that you will have to hand over to the sport. But handing over this ‘time’ doesn’t, by any means, equate to handing over your spirituality. You may have to change your routine, your perspective and choose to see the availability of God a little differently - but not what you believe in. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the coaches, parents, or tournament directors asking you to come out and play or practice on Sundays are faithless creatures who are putting money or sport above belief.

See, We, at SIFG believe that Softball and God go together. That they walk hand in hand. That they are intertwined, and that faith and belief walk alongside the sport we love and the people who play. And we certainly don’t believe that God only wants us to show up on Sundays, or Wednesdays  – only in a church - and that what He really wants is for us to live a life that is inline with our spiritual beliefs. And for so many of us, this life includes softball.

We, have personally witnessed, as much faith, prayer, devotion, kindness, compassion, love, testimony, God, on the softball field as we have in any brick and mortar church. So, instead of pews – you sit on bleachers. Instead of youth ministries – you have the dugout. Instead of a pastor or priest (or whatever your faith defines) you have coaches, moms and dads, umpires and other leaders that teach valuable life lessons and mentor and minister the youth.

We have witnessed children who have never gone to church with their families, learn the Lords Prayer for the first time with their teammates during a pregame ritual. We hear young girls cheering on their teammates, sometimes praying. We see teams take knees for one another and stand together after games in a circle, holding hands – devoting their time to spirit/God/faith. Often times this is done without any intervention from the adults, but simply by the children, urged to give thanks from their own Godly consciousness and provide testimony to something that they believe in and feel strongly about. We see girls learning the value of team, and sportsmanship, and realizing that the world is not just about them.

Ecclesiastes 3:13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.

We see parents in the stands clasping their hands together and looking up to the Heavens, praying that their daughter puts the bat on the ball, that they make the play, that the team comes full circle. We see these same parents and coaches holding so much faith and belief and love in a cute little team of girls that it has to be divinely placed. We have overheard parents praying for safety and strength for their children and the children of other people, some that they know and others that they don’t. We have also sent out prayer requests on our Facebook page for players or softball families from all over the country that have reached nearly a million people, all praying for, pulling for and sending their faith to a perfect stranger who shares the same passion as they do. Softball connects people!

Instead of Sunday clothes, sure, the girls wear uniforms that affirm their faith in one another, in their ability, in their God-given talents and skills and HARD work. We see teams of girls who show up with Bible verses marked on their arms, not for some photogenic gain on Instagram, but because they are pledging and sharing their faith. We have witnessed girls taking their place in the batters box with a quick nod above, and girls who carry crosses silently in their back pockets.

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves

We are constantly amazed by the beauty of this world, that we see through the experience of softball tournaments. Amazing sunrises and sunsets, cool breezes and raging storms, warm temperatures, and dirt (which somehow never seems filthy at the ball field) The smell of fresh-cut grass, the beautiful relief a single grey cloud or wind can bring during the hottest part of the day, the amazing strength of a blaring sunbeam, the gentle cleansing of a summer shower on the hottest day that cools the heart and soul. A rainbow peaking over a field. We are constantly at the mercy of Mother Nature, and often saddled with extreme gratitude and sheer awe for the simplicity of the things that God created for us on this Earth.

If you sit still for a moment and listen, you will also notice that the ball field is one of the happiest places on earth. Laughter, cheers, clear face to face conversations, stories told, memories made, childhoods built, self-confidence increased, smiles abound. Sheer, unbridled pure and innocent happiness is evident in nearly every corner of any park. Families spending precious time together, strangers getting to know one another, people helping one another out, bonds being shared that seem to far outreach the brick-dust and chalk lines.

We see children growing up, and morality being learned, and life lessons being taught, and consequences for actions taking place. We see kids learning critical work ethic. We see kids accepting one another, and working out differences, and learning how to trust and love and care for and be compassionate towards others. We see parents parenting and investing in their children. We see young girls investing in themselves.

We see so many people DEVOTED to empowering and encouraging todays young women, and often using a beautiful sport as a vehicle to reach them spiritually and otherwise. Making a HUGE difference!

The list could go on and on. Each time we go to the ballpark, we stand in witness to so many fruitful, wholesome things. While it may not be church – often the lessons are very much the same. And who after all is responsible for placing this passion in our daughters hearts?

But Mostly, we SEE LOVE and fellowship and so much darn LIGHT in a world that can be so dark, that we are 100% certain God lives - THRIVES at the softball field.

We would NEVER suggest that anyone give up church for softball. We all have a personal journey with our family and have to do what is right for us and what we feel led to do. Each of us has our own belief system in place and we all have to do what is right and best for us. To follow our own hearts, and our own lead. And while we would never speak for God, we do believe that as long as we are living our lives, and praying, and showing fellowship, it doesn’t matter if we are in a closet, in church, or on a softball field on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon.

Our point, is that we believe God is everywhere. And especially that God is at the softball field with us, at all times – even on Sundays! Softball and God go together like a pitcher and a catcher.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.

And HE is with us at the ballfield!

And with that, we introduce our Sunday Shirt! Available for teams, in various colors, so you can be sure that any day, every day – God’s being recognized at the ball field. (Available at www.store.softballisforgirls.com)

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My Daughter is a Pitcher

My daughter is a pitcher, and I couldn’t be more proud of her!

pitcher

I have watched the hours and hours that she has put in outside of practice. Out in the yard, hacking it out with a pitching rubber while her dad sat on a bucket. At lessons, being tweaked and challenged, and learning and re-learning weeks at a time. The daily workout that she does to make her legs and core stronger, in order to stay in shape and keep on improving. Pitching is not something you do well, on a whim. When other teammates get a day off, a pitcher is still pitching – trying to perfect and improve her game.

I have sat behind the fence and watched games where she pitched with poise and composure, like nothing less than a champion. On those days, being the mom of a pitcher is easy – and seeing her hard work pay off is satisfying beyond belief.

I have also sat behind the fence and literally ENDURED games where it seems my daughters emotions got the best of her. During those games – the ones dripping with emotion, where nothing seems to be working, it takes a great deal of restraint to keep me from running on the field and saving her. Shielding her from the wilted shoulders on the sidelines, the jeers from the opposing team, the lowered eyes of her coaches and teammates when she walks in a run. It takes a tremendous effort to not bum-rush the umpires for not ‘giving’ her a strike, for missing the fact that she painted the black with her curve ball, to not be angry that they are trying to force my daughter to throw straight down the middle of the plate – tossing a ‘can of corn,’ that will no doubt be taken deep by a batter.

I want to scream to everyone around me collectively sighing and losing faith in the little girl that I love - everyone that seems so obviously disappointed when my daughter is struggling (whose daughters do NOT pitch),

“Do you have any idea how hard she works, how much time she puts in, how much she strives to be good, how HARD this pitching gig really is?” “Could YOUR daughter do it?” “Do you not realize that she is just a young girl trying her best out there?”

But mostly, I just want to save my daughter. To protect her. And yet, all I know that I can do – is be the person back there who still believes in her no matter what.

Maybe you can’t see it, but when things aren’t going well in the circle, I see the pain in her eyes. I see the tears she is holding back. I recognize the twitches of discomfort, embarrassment and frustration. I feel the thoughts in her head that are thinking maybe she isn’t good enough, maybe all the hours she has put in were for nothing. I recognize her disappointment, see her searching for one soft place to land her eyes. It’s a painful thing to sit back and simply watch your daughter in pain or distress. And yet, it is part of the gig when your daughter is a pitcher.

When my daughter pitches, I watch her feet. I notice her release point. I pay attention to her shoulders, her stride, her snap. I try to shout out the bits of advice that her pitching coach gives her, the little things that seem to be able to tie the larger picture of pitching altogether. Every tournament day, I toss away fearful thoughts about her being it with a line drive, look up to the sky and give a little prayer for her safety. And another prayer that her pitches work, and that she is able to somehow fool or upset the timing of the offense she is about to face. It is my job to sit there and just let it all happen!

Since my daughter and the catcher are the two that ACTUALLY TOUCH the ball more than anyone else on the field – their mistakes seem so much more evident than the ground ball the short stop let go between her legs. Trust me, I hear the sighs. On bad days, I hear other parents whispering, “WHEN are they going to pull her?” Or the fans who say, “Oh my god – another walk!”

And, on good days, I hear the crowd cheering her on, shouting ‘good pitch,’ and woo-hooing loudly when she strikes people out, or fools them with her change-up. I sense the feelings of pride and accomplishment that she feels, the gratification that her hard work is paying off.

As her mother, I am acutely aware that so many eyes are upon her. And I wonder inwardly – how in the world she withstands that kind of pressure. It makes my heart well up with pride, to see my little girl – handling so much pressure so well. While just yesterday she was holding my hand to steady her feet when she walked – today she is standing in the middle of a softball field, prepared to show hundreds of people what it is she does on her ‘off days.’ Putting herself out there, risking it all for the sake of a game she loves, and teammates that she wants to do well for.

My daughter is a pitcher, and I couldn’t be more proud of her!




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Softball Parents & Anger

Spend enough Saturdays at the ballpark, and you are sure to experience the raw gamut of emotions that come from watching your children play ball. Between the parents on the sidelines, the coaches, the officials, the girls in the dugouts, spectators and moms chasing their sticky toddlers around, the ball-field offers a full-sized smorgasbord of human feelings. From elation and glee filled with giddy laughter and tears, to disgust and frustration. From the highest highs imaginable, to something that feels like the lowest of lows.

You see people at their very best – and people at their VERY WORST!

At SIFG, we truly try to capitalize on the good stuff as much as possible. The cheering, the hundreds of small wins that range from a girl breaking through a hitting slump, to a pitcher getting her first few strikeouts, to a coach seeing the small steps of growth add up to something substantial.

And yet, we would be lying, and somewhat superficial if we were to say anyone who felt anything but the good things was an evil-spirited person who didn’t remember that this was a kids game, played by kids – and that they were nothing but fun-sucking selfish adults. It’s easy to sit back in judgment and talk about the ‘should bes.’ Harder when you are sitting there at the park watching your team fall apart, or taking bad calls personally, or irritated with coaching etc.

Admission time. Last weekend, we watched our 14U team get hammered by 9 runs in the first inning of a game because we seemingly forgot how to catch outfield pop flies. Even worse, each and every ball hit the glove of a player. One by one, the balls fell to the grass. And, then in perfect harmony, the infield followed suit making goofy throws and letting balls go between their legs. It didn’t help that this happened during a game with a team that we had a perceived ’rivalry’ with.

As parents, we held our hands over our faces. Some got up and walked away. Others started bleacher coaching with furrowed brows. What was happening? And then, I felt it. The frustration had led to anger. The anger was swelling up inside my throat. In that first awful inning, it was easy to forget all the good the team had done in the previous 5 games. Easy to forget that the outfield had been stellar all day long. Absolutely, I pondered filling my styrofoam cup with copious amounts of alcohol. Felt embarrassed, could I scratch the name off of my t-shirt so I could make it to the bathroom unscathed?

Everything I thought about saying to the girls was laced with anger as I sat there shaking my head in disbelief that we fell apart so fast.

Then it hit me. This was one inning. Or one game. Sure, the team was capable of better. But perhaps them most important thing was that I had nothing to be angry about. I was simply a spectator. I didn’t make the errors. This team is the one who succeeds or fails together. It wasn’t the coaches fault. Sure, I thought he should start moving some players – but what would that teach anyone? Did it frustrate me that he left those girls out there to try to rummage three outs in what seemed like an impossible and never-ending first inning? Yes! But the truth is, that was the best thing TO DO!  And eventually, they did it.

The girls had to find the want within themselves. This was their lesson as ball players to learn! This was THEIR GAME, not mine. Why was I so mad?

Hear this closely….their performance had NOTHING TO DO WITH ME or MY SELF WORTH, OR SUCCESS.

Why are we so attached to our children’s performance on the softball field?Isn’t that selfish and egotistical. Aren’t our children individuals?

The kids had to figure out a way to come back, work through this together, and on their own. No one on the sidelines could do it for them, and anger from those around them certainly wasn’t going to help.

Bottom line, these girls know what to do, what they should be doing – how things are supposed to go. If anyone had a right to be angry, it was the girls on the field. Angry with themselves, angry with what happened. The pitcher should have been angry that her team didn’t play behind her.

When they finally got off the field, the coach didn’t say a word. It was just time to hit, time to start over. Disgruntled parents started walking up to the dugout, all irritated and angry. I was still angry and chose not to make eye contact with my daughter. It was not my right to be angry.

Why would I take on anger that didn’t belong to me? Sure, we are invested as parents, but at some point – we have to allow the girls to OWN THE GAME!

And not once, have I ever seen a parents anger help a team. Plus, what example does that set?

Finally, I came to the conclusion that I would just sit back and watch it pan out. This was their lesson, their growing experience as a team to endure, THEIR experience not mine. My anger had no place, so I shushed it away. (Certainly I have to admit, this was easier to do since the girls found a way to put the first inning behind them and regained their ability to play ball)

At the end of the day, we don’t want our kids to remember that we were angry. We are there to watch them play, win or lose – succeed or fail. We can’t put conditions on, or attach strings to our role as parents of softball players. (If we do, WE LOSE OUT)  Sure, some days are better than others – but part of the game is taking it all in strides. And the kids gain a lot more when we allow THEM to take ownership of their personal performance, their team, and their losses and WINS!

 




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9 Tips for Choosing a Great Softball Private Instructor

Guest post by Ken Krause,

Life in the Fastpitch Lane

So, you’ve decided your softball player could use a little extra help to reach her goals, and have decided to bring her to a private instructor. That’s the good news. Now comes the hard part – choosing the right one.

You’re about to make a significant investment of time and money. You want to make sure that it’s time and money well-spent, which means you want her to learn the best way to do things for the long term rather than techniques that may work for a while rather than ending up in a dead end. But how do you know what’s best, especially when different instructors are telling you different or conflicting things?

As a private instructor with more than 15 years of experience teaching pitching, hitting and catching, and nearly 20 years as a softball coach, I know how difficult this decision can be. Following are a few tips to help you make the right choice

1. Before you start talking to instructors, learn as much as you can. You don’t have to become an expert, but try to find out at least some basics about the skill you want to hire the instructor to teach. Take pitching for example. A popular instruction for teaching pitching is to tell the pitcher to snap her hand up and touch her shoulder when she throws the pitch. Another is to finish with her elbow pointed at the catcher (aka the Hello Elbow). Neither of those are what elite pitchers do, and neither will help your daughter become all she can be. But how will you know that unless you do your homework? Do your best to discover the latest thinking about the skill and compare that to what the instructor teaches. If the two don’t match, that instructor isn’t the right choice.

2. Ask to observe a lesson. Observing a lesson serves two purposes. It allows you to see what the instructor is teaching, and it serves as a “chemistry test” to see how the instructor interacts with his/her students. The second part is just as important as the first. You know your daughter best, and know how she responds to different stimuli. A coach may be the most knowledgeable person in the world, but if he/she is harsh and your daughter doesn’t respond well to a harsh style of coaching, lesson time could end up being a miserable experience. On the other hand, if the instructor is “soft” and your daughter responds best to a strong personality, it’s probably not going to work either. Look for a good match between your daughter and the instructor.

3. Compare what’s being taught to what the best players in the world do. This point goes along with the first two. While you’re talking to or observing an instructor, pay attention to what’s being taught. Then go out to the Internet and compare that instruction to video of what the best players in the world do to see if it matches. For example, if your daughter is going to take hitting instruction, compare what the instructor says to top college hitters, pro softball players, and Major League Baseball hitters. Let’s say she’s being told to swing down on the ball to get backspin so it “carries out of the park.” Then look to see if that’s what good hitters really do (it’s not). Again, if the instruction doesn’t match what you see, it’s time to find another instructor before you spend too much time going down the wrong path. This is something you should do on a continuing basis, by the way. Some instructors are good about the basics, but may not know the more advanced techniques as well.

4. Look for enthusiasm. Is the instructor energetic and interacting actively with his/her students, or just going through the motions for the money? According to the book

The Talent Code, one of the key factors in a player becoming a high achiever is a coach/teacher who lights a spark in the student. That’s hard to do if the instructor seems only vaguely present. You want your daughter to love what she’s doing. It starts with an instructor who loves what he/she is doing.

5. Don’t get fooled by how good the instructor was as a player. This is an easy mistake to make. Just because someone was a great player doesn’t mean he/she will be an even adequate instructor. Not everyone can teach. You’re not hiring that instructor to play for your team. You’re hiring him/her to teach your daughter. Some great former players have no idea what they did as players – they just repeat whatever they might have been told when they were younger – instructions they may have actually overcome in their career. Others may not know how to break down instruction. It came easily to them, so they don’t know how to help a student who is having trouble learning. You want a knowledgeable teacher first. If he/she happens to have been a great player too so much the better. But remember it doesn’t matter how much the instructor knows – only how much of it he/she can teach.

6. Don’t get fooled by the success of an instructor’s marquee students. It’s easy to go on a website, see the instructor has helped X number of students get scholarships to top schools, or has a couple of “name” students, and assume that means it transfers to everyone. It doesn’t. I have had outstanding students who have gone far, and I have had students who didn’t do particularly well even locally. This despite the fact that I teach the same things to every student. The reality is success is 90 percent the student, how hard she works, how much she listens, and how genetically predisposed to athletic excellence she is. The instructor merely points the way. There are no miracle coaches out there who can turn anyone into a sought-after college prospect. The coach is more like a fishing guiding. He/she can take you to the right spot on the lake, but you still have to drop your line in the water and reel the fish in. Try to look at a larger sample of the instructor’s students, and pay special attention to the kids who don’t look like stud athletes. If those students are performing at a higher level than their general athleticism suggests, the instructor will likely have more of an impact on your daughter, no matter what her core abilities are.

7. See who the top performers are in your area and ask who they go to. This might seem obvious but parents often forget this step. Most players and parents will happily share who their daughter’s instructor is because they’re happy with the results. They’ll also give you an insider’s perspective of what working with the instructor is like.

8. Look for who’s gotten better on your own team. Let’s say your daughter is playing on a travel team, and somehow between fall and spring one of her teammates has gotten considerably better. That probably didn’t happen organically; it’s likely someone helped her. If you’re impressed by the improvement, find out who helped her get there. He/she can probably do the same for your daughter.

9. Avoid long-term contracts. Any reputable instructor will let you sign up for lessons without having to make a long-term commitment. Anyone who doesn’t is probably more interested in your money than teaching your daughter. They may have packages that allow you to purchase several lessons at once for less than a per-lesson cost, but it shouldn’t be a requirement.

Remember that getting good at anything takes time – and effort.

I always say that if I could just touch a player on the head and make her a great pitcher, hitter, etc. that lessons would cost $1,000 each and there would be a line a mile long to get in. But it doesn’t work that way. Just like learning to play the guitar or dance the mambo, or to read for that matter, it generally takes a long series of little gains. That can be difficult for players and their parents to accept in our instant coffee, microwave popcorn world. But it’s the truth. You’re in it for the long haul. But if your daughter works diligently at it, the success will come. Good luck, and remember to have fun!




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Softball Fundraising – Part II

Last week, we started Money Mondays – in the hopes of sharing fundraising ideas with other softball families. No doubt, softball is an expensive sport and with so many of us searching for sponsorships and scrambling to raise money (and with BASEBALL to compete with) – girls softball teams often get left with the bread crumbs.

If you missed Softball Fundraising Part I, here is the link.

Remember, one of the simplest ways to raise money is to ask for it straight up. Even $25 donations from individual families, extended families and local businesses can add up.

One of the more enjoyable ways to fundraise involves doing things that are softball related, like hosting a home run derby!

The first step is to secure a LARGE field and do some in advance advertising. Invite both softball and baseball players of all ages and get the word out for the event a few weeks using softball forums in your area, Facebook, Instagram and flyers. You can make money in several ways. You can charge an entry fee, or you can have participants pay for the balls that they hit. For instance, 5 balls for $10, or an entry fee of $10-$20 per person for a set amount of hits.

Obviously, you will have to have prizes, which can either be cash prizes, t-shirts, or something that would be enticing to get folks to participate. One good idea is to give away softball equipment, such as a high end bat.  Divide the participants by age group, and then go for it. The fairest way to do a home run derby is to utilize a pitching machine, although many use an adult throwing an arch style pitch.  After the initial rounds, you will end up with the top 3 hitters (by furthest ball hit) and can go for the finale. Here is a link to a basic set of rules that apply during a home run derby, and they can modified specifically for your event.  Also, participants from the team hosting the derby can get people to pledge a certain amount of money per feet hit. For instance, 25 cents per feet, and then collect the money based on their longest ball hit.

Keep in mind, that some tournament directors will allow you to host a home run derby during tournament day by setting aside an hour or so during the tournament or during an intermission of the event. Another good time to do a home run derby is after all bracket play and before (or during) the championship game, which gives the teams and players not playing for the trophy a way to elongate the fun of tournament day. The reality is that you can host and carry out the home-run derby any way that you feel is best. The key is marketing event and making sure it is visible.

A more difficult, but extremely effective fundraising idea is to host a 5K run. Hosting a 5K takes a bit of organization, and you will need to get sponsors on board, as well as communicate with the local officials where you intend to host the event. Many hospitals and health related organizations are often happy to donate t-shirts for the events, and companies like Wal-Mart or a local grocery store will likely donate waters. Your job is to market the event by posting on running boards and athletic departments as well as schools and hospitals and even convenient stores.  On average people pay $20 – $35 dollars to participate in a 5K run. One of the good things about a 5K run, is that they don’t last very long, and you can do them early in the morning and be done by noon.

Additionally, to make a 5K fundraiser WORK ALL MEMBERS OF YOUR TEAM – both children and parents, will need to set aside the time to help man the event.  This link provides you with a great blueprint for hosting a 5K .

Both the 5K and a home run derby may take a little work – but when done well (and right) you can make several thousand dollars for your team in a minimal amount of time, and be doing something that gives back to the community.

If you have an older team, older 14U or above, one great way to raise money is to employ the kids to do a little giving back. Try to connect with a local rec department, and organize a softball camp for young players. 6U, 8U and 10U girls ADORE their older sisters in uniform. Each of the girls on your team can run stations with the help of an adult, dress up in their uniform, and share what they know with the younger generation of athletes. You can either do a sign up for the camp, or advertise for several weeks and charge per participant per day. As the spring Recreation leagues are gearing up RIGHT NOW is the perfect time offer instruction and guidance to the little ones who will be following in your teams footsteps. We love this idea for many reasons. Not only will your team raise money, but your players will be giving back to their community. Remember, often times the least important thing we teach the girls on the field is softball!!!

Remember, effective fundraising works because it offers people something that they would buy anyway. When you host events such as the ones listed, you are offering something of value/entertainment to others and are in return making money for your team. They may take a little organization and effort, but the thousands of dollars that you can make will take your team further than cookie dough sales.




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What Happened to My Softball Player?

Just last week, we received a fan question on our “Ask the Coach,” forum.

And it was a good one. One, that each of us as parents of athletes have asked ourselves from time to time. For years, (or months) our daughter was amazing, and then suddenly – one day, she seems more like a middle of the pack player. Did her talent fizzle out? Has she lost interest?  Is there something that she needs that she is not getting from her coaches, team, or from us as parents. After all, the parent is the #1 coach. Parents set the tone for sports in their children’s lives and THEIR dedication and commitment is passed down to their child. It’s only natural to question whether we are doing something wrong when it comes to preparing her for competition.

The question came in as follows:

I have an 11 year old who has played Softball since age 5. She loves the game
and each year we have seen her progress and get better. This
year something has changed, her pitching speed and accuracy is not
coming along like the other pitchers on our team and she is just a
little slower. She went from being one of our better players to more
of a “middle of the pack” girl. She is still excited and happy to go
to practice and we have not slacked off on lessons, etc.. Do you think
I should mention to her what we are seeing?

So, in a nutshell  what has happened to my daughter? Seems like just yesterday, she was a superstar. Today…not so much.

One of the most obvious things, that is often overlooked – is that between the ages of 10 – 13 (on average) girls hit puberty. (Yes, its fun to remain in denial that this can happen so young)

But, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this pubescent growth spurt is just as dramatic as those that occur in the first year of life. And for girls, who hit the growth spurt at the onset of puberty, often growing 3 – 5 inches in a year, the result can be clumsiness, lack of ability.

Science proves that as the bones become heavier and larger, and the physiological changes of puberty (even pre-puberty) brain functions, and motor skills can drop off dramatically. Add a new and ferocious mix of hormones and physiological changes to the brain to the equation, and it is perfectly normal for girls between the ages of 10 – 13 to be a little off-kilter.

After all, their bodies are going through a heck of a lot of changes – on the inside and out, that consume most of their energy. (This can also explain the need for MORE sleep, and an increase in appetite.) This also explains why it is so important for parents of athletes to make sure that their child gets enough sleep, and eats a well rounded, balanced diet. The good news is that as puberty comes full circle, your daughter will likely start excelling in her sport again. Or, she may just find that her body is more suited for a different position on the field.

Another reason that performance dwindles, especially in specialized positions such as pitching or catching – is because the muscles become deadened. According to Livestrong, developing children need to increase their muscle mass and overall strength to continue improving in their sport to coincide with their growth.  Sometimes, changing up the basic routine of softball pitching and batting lessons and fastpitch practice by adding agility and conditioning training can help to boost their performance MORE than the general pitching lessons can. Sometimes, the body just NEEDS other, new things in order to continue to excel and step off the plateau.

It’s also important to consider this. And this one is tough. When children start a sport so young, and seem to be the superstars at 6,7, and 8 – it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will STILL be the best at 13. Oftentimes, it is those girls who seemed lacking the most at 6, 7 or 8 years old,  who come out of the woodwork during puberty and truly blossom into athleticism. A lot of changes occur quickly in adolescence.

And for pitchers especially, there are TONS AND TONS of girls who could pitch 10U, and even 12U – whose skills seem pale in comparison to others when they get to 14U and 16U.  And there are tons of amazing pitchers out there, who are not able to reach the bar to play collegiately. This by no means indicates that the girl should stop playing, but is just evidence on how important it is to round out our softball players during their young careers!

Should you say something to your child? 

If your daughter seems to be more of a middle of the pack kinda girl, BUT STILL ENJOYS the sports, goes to practice willingly and puts forth 110% effort – the answer is no. Chances are they are doing their best, and by questioning it, you will only lead your daughter to believe that they aren’t good enough. Innuendos that lead to such things are very hard to be erased once they are put out there. Maybe it is you (US as the parents) who need to reevaluate our thinking, and find different ways for our daughter to be on top. Or, accept them exactly as they are. Especially if they seem to be enjoying fastpitch softball, and practicing hard.

The real key, is that if she still gets enjoyment from the game, chances are she will continue to play. And anything we can do as parents to promote longevity in athletics of any kind is important. So smile, tell her you love to watch her play – and continue to support her.

On the other hand, if your daughters does not seem as interested, is goofing off at practice or doesn’t want to go – then maybe a short break is in order. Sometimes, there is nothing quite as a little break to disrupt the monotony and get a child to have a renewed interest in their sport of choice. You can also introduce her to other sports in the meantime. And by all means, take parental inventory and make sure that you are not pushing too hard, or causing her to suffer from burnout.

Just be patient! Our daughters are constantly changing and growing. What was yesterday, may never be again. But tomorrow, may be even better. Accepting them along the journey is one of the most important things we can do to help our daughters self-esteem and confidence.

Got a question you want us to write about?  Hit us up on anonymously on our website at the ASK THE COACH tab!

 




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Tips for Coaching YOUNG Softball TEAMS

It won’t be long, and the cool chilly mornings will give way to lovely, breezy afternoons. As Rec departments and travel leagues across the country look forward to the upcoming thaw, there are tons of NEW coaches, and NEW players looking to tackle the brick-dust for the first time.

Most often, a coach is born out of a parent volunteer. They follow their daughters passion – and realize how addictive and amazing and wonderful and fun the game of softball  is. Long filed away memories of smelly leather gloves, and dirty stained knees come rushing back and both parent and child are hooked.

The thing is that coaching young softball teams, and young girls requires quite a different mindset than coaching older teams. A bunch of 6 or 7 year olds do not need (and will not benefit) from a hard-nosed daddy ball coach wearing turf shoes and an embroidered travel ball wind-breaker who makes them do push-ups or run laps because they missed a ball.

Today, we give tips and tricks for coaching these very young girls (between the ages of 4 and 10) many of whom are playing for the first time in their lives. 

1. The most important thing to remember is not to expect too much too fast! Especially in recreation leagues where most kids start out, you are certain to find many different talent levels. Some 6 year olds can catch a ball, others cannot. Before you take the field, you must arm yourself with patience and LOTS OF IT!

At this age, the victories are small, and should be rewarded constantly. As any kindergarten teacher will tell you, these girls get distracted quickly, and many quite frankly – don’t have the motor skills mastered to be aces at softball. Plan on going to practices and games to HAVE FUN, keep the girls interested and busy, and make sure that they don’t feel pressure. One bad year in t-ball or coaches pitch can literally make a girl decide she never wants to play softball again. The goal is LONGEVITY! The goal is to provide an atmosphere that will make girls look back and say they LOVE softball and want to continue playing the next year.

2. FUNDAMENTALS!!!! Young girls are fully capable of learning plays, and figuring out where to go with the ball at some point. But what they really need is the constant reinforcement of FUNDAMENTALS! The fundamentals of catching, fielding, throwing, batting. Find creative ways to make the FUNDAMENTALS FUN! You know you’re doing a good job coaching when all the girls start showing signs that they get the fundamental skills needed to play the larger the game. There are tons of drills, and learning tools you can use at this age to help them with coordination. The fundamentals taught early will stay with them for a long time. While some shrug the importance of qualified coach in the early years, the truth is they REALLY REALLY NEED SOMEONE who can teach them proper mechanics and technique.

3. Get lots of help. Yes, YOU are the coach and you want the girls to listen to you, not mommy and daddy in the bleachers. The ‘no parents on the field during games or practice thing’ is necessary at a certain age and at certain times. But still remain open to parents that want to help. Twelve 6-year-olds on the field need to be kept busy, and put in small groups to get the most out of practice, so having several ‘coaches’ or adult helpers is critical!!!!

4.  Don’t play your “Best 10″ play THEM ALL! Its laughable, and sort of disgusting to see t-ball and coaches pitch coaches NOT rotating their positions and spending hours over line-ups for a bunch of little girls who may still be getting their butts wiped by their mom.

Your job, your goal is to make sure that every girl on the team grows as a little girl and a player. As mentioned above, the talent level will vary greatly. But these are just little girls. Play them all! Play them everywhere. Play them anywhere. Sorry to disappoint, but at 5, 6, and 7 and even 8 years old – you aren’t preparing for a college career – and the wins and losses of your team mean nothing compared to the wins and losses in the hearts of these little girls. Get over yourself, and play them all. When they mess up (which they will often) laugh, smile, give them high-five and have fun. Correct them by being positive. Don’t take things too seriously at this age.

5. No yelling, kicking dirt, throwing your hat on the ground, pouting, making the girls run laps.  You get it. Leave your ego at home. This is about them, not you.  You are teaching them how to play a game, and win or lose, you are also showing them how to win and lose. With dignity. Stay positive. Laugh at the girls (and yourself) make sure they feel proud of themselves. HAVE FUN! Have fun. HAVE FUN!

6.  Most of all – think in terms of long term always.  Is what you are doing right now going to motivate these young girls to play in a few years from now? Will they look back on these formidable years fondly, and remember YOU?  When they adorn high school fields with their friends, will they think back to when they were 6 and remember something that YOU, taught them?  We want these girls to play ball – play SPORTS for as long as possible.




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SIFG and ALLTEAMZ – Helping Players and Teams Connect

Every Sunday, we do a Sunday shuffle post, offering players looking for teams and teams looking for players and opportunity to connect with one another. One of the most common questions we get via private message and email asks us for help to connect players and teams.  It is a firm belief of ours that the RIGHT team dynamic and atmosphere exists for EVERY player. When this relationship is found, beautiful things can happen.
SIFG has a nationwide reach, and while we wish we could connect every player with the RIGHT TEAM, we realize that our resources are limited.
In an effort to help you, today, we are announcing our NOT FOR PROFIT partnership with www.allteamz.com.
Today, we ask that every coach take just a few minutes to register their team with ALLTEAMZ. It is simple and easy and won’t take very long and gives you an excellent opportunity to share your team vision so that you can connect with like-minded players and their families.
You can read more about ALL TEAMZ below. As always at SIFG, we hope to empower the coaches, parents, players and fans of fastpitch and we realize from experience that finding the RIGHT team – the RIGHT fit, is paramount in making your fastpitch softball endeavors successful.
For parents of young athletes, finding the ideal local sports league or team for their child to join can be an adventure. For leagues and teams, it’s just as difficult to attract new players.  With no formal system in place, many parents depend on word of mouth and community billboards to learn about leagues and teams in their area.  “We were frustrated parents ourselves,” said Ryan Taylor, co-founder of Allteamz.  ”Word of mouth takes too much time and leagues often lack the money to create any sort of advertising campaign.   We think Allteamz is a user-friendly and free solution for both parents and leagues.”  Allteamz is a new website designed to streamline the process of finding local youth sports teams. 
 
When players and their parents click to Allteamz, the site automatically detects their location and shows local results. These results can be refined by selecting one or several options. Users can sort by age group, sport, gender, travel range, game and practice frequency, season, distance and cost.  Allteamz is especially useful for families who are new to an area and lack the social contacts to “ask around” and learn about local sports teams. The win for local sports organizations is the opportunity to create profiles on Allteamz. From there, profiles can be filled with as much information as the league/team feels it needs, including cost, age groups, contact information, team philosophy and coach biographies.  ”Put your league or team on Allteamz and more players will flat out find you,” says Ryan.  Leagues and teams can also create “listings,” announcements of upcoming important events. Open tryouts? Create a listing.  New Season? Create a listing.  There are virtually no limits to how often leagues can reach out to their prospective player base.  The best part?  It’s always free. 
 
Allteamz understands that sports are a great way to teach kids about life.  Hopefully Allteamz.com will help make the connection between the two a little easier.  There are more than 35 million children playing youth sports today. Unfortunately, the technology to support that growth is lagging far behind. Allteamz was designed to connect children and their parents with local sports teams and leagues, as well as giving those leagues a chance to increase their visibility. 
 




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It’s Softball, It’s NOT Personal

Today, fast-pitch travel softball has reached far and wide. Millions of girls play, there are millions of teams, coaches, parents, fans, umpires, organizations and venues that cater to this sport we all know and love. It has become very competitive, which is a GOOD thing for our daughters. With better competition – they are enabled to become better players.

The more the merrier – the more, the MORE opportunity there is for ALL of our daughters.

And sadly, with all this growth and advancement and knowledge and interest – there is also a lot of whining and pleas for a watered down fastpitch program that caters to every player.  

Cries from parents and players that say, “This is not fair!”

Assertions that one team or another has squashed a child’s self-confidence, or pushed a girl who loves the game away – all in the interest of winning. Young girls getting cut off teams, not making teams, not getting enough playing time, yada yada yada. So many people that stomp and pout and spew anger and insults around because they didn’t get their way, feel their daughter was slighted, are irritated about the politics, disagree with coaches, etc. have been born out of the sheer growth of this sport.

But. Here is the thing!  This is fastpitch softball.  It’s not personal. And if it is personal, and awful – then why stick around!?!

Most of the time teams start-up with one plan, and end up pursuing another. They realize in the great big bad world of competitive fastpitch softball where their lacks are and what they need to work on, and past the honeymoon period, teams start realizing that every successful team dynamic is different. Suddenly, they require something more than they have.

And in this ONGOING process, people – kids, sometimes get hurt. They might be benched or replaced. They might be cut. They might not make a team. Sometimes, it’s the parents that ruin things for the kids and mom and dads behavior that becomes the problem.

Sometimes, one or two or even three girls aren’t playing to the same level as the rest of the team. It doesn’t mean that these players are BAD players. It’s not an insult. It doesn’t mean that the coach doesn’t like them. It doesn’t mean that everyone thinks these girls stink and aren’t talented. And it certainly doesn’t mean that people are trying to purposely hurt kids or are out to ‘get’ these girls. Trust us, coaches and team personnel WANT EVERY KID TO BE AWESOME! It’s not personal.  

This is softball after all not the mafia. Seriously, being cut, or moving teams, or realizing after two blissful, happy years that you need to shake up and make changes AS A PLAYER or AS A COACH, is not the end of the world. Sure, it stings a little – but this sting can and OFTEN IS the thing that helps your daughter the MOST!

And as much as you want to say that softball is not about winning or losing, there is a scoreboard there for a reason!!!! Don’t kid yourself. Yes, we all want to empower the girls, and build them up, and give them confidence, and teach them all the things about life that they can learn from playing softball. It is said that the “least important thing we teach them on the field is softball.” Sometimes, disappointment, and the fact that life seems unfair at times – is ONE of those lessons. But the reality is that once you enter the world of COMPETITIVE, TRAVEL, TOURNAMENT ball – you are there to succeed.

Ask yourself. Ask YOUR daughter! Are YOU and YOUR DAUGHTER helping a team succeed or not? Or if you as an adult,  are constantly starting problems - do others HAVE to buy into it, just because you’ve been there since day one? Is it fair as a PARENT OR PLAYER to think that their daughter should ride the coattails of success without doing the work?

Seriously,  IT IS NOT PERSONAL! Some of the BEST players in the sport today have been cut from one team. Choose to see these momentary setbacks as OPPORTUNITY! Move on peacefully.

At a certain age, and when big money is being spent, and lots of time is being invested – THE KIDS BECOME ACCOUNTABLE! There is a consequence for non-performance, or bad attitude, or parents that stir the mish mash drama pot on the sidelines by constantly playing the victim.

The reality is that better competition tends to reveal weaker and stronger players. Spending lots of time at tournaments with a team (players, coaches and parents) ALSO tends to reveal a lot of personality differences and nuances that you might not pick up on during regular league, drafted play. Sometimes, girls and parents become so complacent, that being cut from a team is exactly what they need. Instead of turning to Facebook, and talking to parents trying to spread drama like a cancer onto others – wouldn’t it be best to lead by example, show our daughters that we can pick up our stuff and carry on like a warrior?

Can’t we, SHOULDNT we teach our girls to use disappointments and the NO’s and the things we don’t think are fair in life as REASONS to motivate them? Catapults to personal success?

These break-ups of sorts don’t have to be friendship ending endeavors.

After all, this is about softball – and 9/10 times, it really is not personal. We should be grown ups, and as coaches and parents – be upfront and honest and respectful of one another. When something isn’t working, we should talk to one another to avoid hard feelings. As parents we can’t blame a coach or a team for “breaking our daughters hearts,” and suddenly become inflicted, angry, resentful and spiteful toward people we called teammates just yesterday. That’s immature, and MOSTLY that only perpetuates entitlement and a bad attitude downward to our daughters. Our daughters are kids – we cannot expect them to be mature about things, ESPECIALLY if the parents or coaches aren’t being mature.

Seriously. Let’s all take a moment and put things in perspective. 90% of the time, the things that occur outside of the foul lines ARE NOT PERSONAL ATTACKS. Why anyone would choose (or want) to take it that way, is foolish. There is always another team, another opportunity, another chance, and another place that will provide a good fit for your family, that is one of the beautiful things about the expanse of this sport. 

And you know what else. If it IS personal – if there is a personality clash – then why pray-tell would we WANT to stay?  You spend a lot of time with your fastpitch family, and every team dynamic is different! It has to be at the very least, enjoyable.

Most of the time, things work out for the best in the long run – for all involved.

Our advice. Stay in the sunlight. Don’t waste your energy on anger, frustration, or trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Let it go. Look ahead. If you are not ‘wanted’ or your daughters skill set are not valuable to one team, they will be to another. Every step we take in life offers us a chance to learn. If we simply resort to anger, we will only continue to learn the same lesson over and over again, until we GET it.

And by all means. The big world, does not revolve around you and your daughter, or me and my daughters. Everything is not personal. People are not going out of their way to plot and plan ways to hurt us. It’s sort of egotistical to think that ‘everyone’ is out to get us, and wants us to suffer. Shouldn’t we get over ourselves just a little?

Yes, change, can be uncomfortable at first, but in the long run – it can be the BEST thing for personal growth.




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“WE” versus “HER” – Softball Parenting

We got perhaps the BEST fan question ever last week.

A fan question, that each of us as adults, and parents HAS to at least ask ourselves from time to time.

When it comes to softball, and softball parents and players – most of us identify the it as a “WE” relationship.  But is it REALLY a WE?

Certainly, a parent must be committed to their daughters desire to play the sport both with time and money – and when our kids are very young we are still pretty much in charge of, and responsible for everything that they do.

But once they get older – say 6th grade, 12U,  (When participation awards lose their charm,  the act of entitlement has to be broken if our daughters are to grow up as healthy, responsible and even happy individuals) the child HAS TO BECOME RESPONSIBLE. They have to start DOING THEIR PART.

After all, playing is a privilege offered by parents and guardians, but it is not just a given.

We, as parents may be guiding the ship – but we cannot do it, or accept responsibility for where it goes all by ourselves. If we do, if we try – we don’t do our most important job as parents. Raising self confident, secure, able-bodied, young women who are willing and able to accept responsibility and consequences for themselves.

The question posted on our Facebook page was this:

What is your advice for separating your own self-worth from your child’s performance in sports.  I am too majorly invested in how my daughter does with pitching and I have just worked all of the “fun” out of it for her.  I have backed off a lot and it is better, but I know I have to figure out that her performance isn’t who I am.  I know to type it, it is a duh statement.  But  every time I talk about her pitching it is “we this and we that” it has to be her, her, her.  Any advice besides the obvious?”
This parent, brave enough to air this question has already taken the first step. Recognizing that the pitching is really about her daughter. Her question about tying self worth to our children is an old age one. As parents, of course we want our kids to succeed, as we feel like when they do, it means we are doing our jobs right. When THEY fail, we automatically think WE FAILED. And that’s not a truth – that is just something that we have to BUY into.
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Even so, if you think back to your own life, it is the failures that have likely taught you the most. In softball, kids have two choices. They can either rise up to the challenge, or cower to it. If a parent is the ONLY motivator, constantly there nagging, pushing, wanting what is not theirs to want – the child will react in the most natural manner. By defying, or resenting which eventually leads to quitting BECAUSE THE DESIRE WAS NOT THEIR OWN.
Kids are pretty smart And they, like anyone else in this world, know WHAT THEY EARN and what they didn’t. They know how they feel, know their hearts. If they are only doing something to please mom or dad – or to earn parental approval, or because they have to – they won’t feel good about their successes. They also know when their parents are partaking in over-indulgent parenting, and making constant excuses for them, and allowing them to be mediocre by being too invested in their successes and failures.
Of course, we want to see our kids do well in softball, and in life.  That’s only natural. Yet clinging to tightly and trying to have too much control, only stymies our children in a most monumental way.
In the moment, we think about how much time and money and effort WE, (as parents) have put in and we want to see results. But the reality is that we cannot DO for our children with strings attached. They have to WANT to see the results themselves.  Remember, we only HELP steer the ship.( One of my favorite pieces of writing about letting go and parenting is right here. )
Plus, there will that one coach (that you probably won’t be able to stand) or that one teacher, or that one person in your daughters life that will come along and who will push and push and push them. Who won’t cut them slack. Who will give them a hard time. Not to be mean, but because they see the greatness in your daughter and want to bring it out. Your daughter may hate him or her, but in the end – it is THIS person who shows your daughter what SHE is capable of.
At the end of the day, it comes to letting go. Knowing when to step in, and when to allow your daughter to be in charge. You have to watch your daughter strike out, just like you watch her hit a home run. And as the parent, it is simply your job – to love her anyway and regardless of whether she succeeds or fails. What she does, and what she thinks and feels – are NOT something that you are allowed to really know, or feel, or think. Your daughter is her own person, and she wants you to trust her and respect her and allow her to be an individual. On and off the ball field.
I think Kahlil Gibran says it best in his poem about our children.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.  
       For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.  
      You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. 
        The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.  
      Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;  
      For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable!
We are to act as the stable bow. To have faith in the daughters that we are raising. And to realize that being overly attached to their success or failure, as if it is our own- is perhaps the worst thing we can do to our daughters. We have to allow our daughters to OWN, and OWN UP, to their success or failures.




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