Archives For Competition

Holy crap, how could 10 full months have already flashed before my very eyes?

10U Lady Cougars team

Special thanks to Kiki’s Kaptures for taking team and individual photos this year! Visit Kiki online at http://www.kikiskaptures.com.

 

I entered this volunteer “job” with a stellar resume – one year being the assistant coach in a recreational coach-pitch softball league. I’m happy to say I only hit one girl that first summer.

I bet you didn’t know that this vast experience automatically qualified me for being named head coach of a more competitive, yet not overly dominated by adults, youth fast pitch softball team. Neither did I. Yet I was offered and accepted this role back in August 2016.

Girls fast pitch softball divides their levels of play into two-year increments. Therefore, the earliest that girls start competing in games where they or their teammates perform windmill pitching in my home state is 8 and under (keep in mind the “under” can be as young as 7 or, GASP!, 6 years old), which is more commonly referred to as 8U. Once girls age out of 8U, they move on to 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U, and finally 18U. A select few move on to play in college and an even more select few play as professionals or (in those years when the sport of softball is included) as part of the Olympic games.

I think the 10U division best suits my personality type and patience level. There have been many moments in life when I wouldn’t mind being that age again, so hanging out with this particular group of girls turned out to be good for my soul. However, I wasn’t sure how the season would unfold back in those first few months last summer.

softball bruise

We definitely took some bruises early in the year…literally and figuratively.

 

Back when I was asked if we would be doing “bumping” practice (translation: one of my girls wanted to know how to bunt). Back when we devoted several hours at three different practices on leadoff timing, only to watch half the team stand like petrified deer completely upright on top of every base with zero clue of what to do once the ball left the opposing pitcher’s hand. Back when not one, but two players, got hit smack in the face by their throwing partners because neither of the pairs knew what in the hell was going on during warmups. Back when I was more concerned about the team as a collective making any contact with the ball whatsoever at the plate versus raising any single individual’s batting average.

Our saving grace is that we had several pitchers who could throw strikes on a consistent basis. It was as if the softball Gods looked down upon me and said, “We will bless you with good pitchers because we realize you don’t know jack about how to teach that.”

tourney time

Strong in the eye black category.

 

For all of the mental and physical player miscues, there were equal if not greater amounts of coaching blunders on my part. Those times when I had to be reminded of the code to get into the hitting facility or practice field because I failed to save a simple reminder on my phone. The times when I frantically texted parents about my anticipated tardiness to practice when my real job ran late. The time when I not-so-subtly reminded an opposing team’s coaching staff about the age of one of the players I was teaching as they barked out their objections to her leaving the base early while they were annihilating our lesser experienced team. The time when I expressed my opinion to a home plate umpire who got in the way of a throw to cost us a potential out.

Boy was it a learning year for ALL involved. I didn’t always give the game back in the heat of the moment, but I’d like to believe I tried my hardest throughout the year.

And here’s the kicker: This hodgepodge group of girls, the majority of whom I had never met prior to last summer, has made an infallible imprint on my life.

park play

They believed they could do great things together…so they did.

 

I handed out certificates of recognition to each of them. I purposely chose to do that before the end of the season because I’m not always the best with goodbyes. These certificates encapsulated what I felt each girl brought to the team. I promised the parents in the form of a letter that I handed out at the beginning of the season that each girl would know, regardless of her natural talent and coordination levels, she has a vital role to play on this team.

Below is a listing of the descriptions on those certificates of recognition. My hope is that the girls will remember being called out in front of their peers and parents – not for something they fell short on, as unfortunately happens far too often in youth sports, but for something spectacular that they accomplished.

  1. Team Toughness Award
  2. Leaving it ALL on the Field Award
  3. Spark Plug Award
  4. Small but Mighty Award
  5. Powerful and Patient Award
  6. Leadership by Example Award
  7. Maximum Effort Award
  8. Grit and Fit Award
  9. Killer Instinct and Curiosity Award
  10. Smiles for Miles Award
  11. Strength in the Batter’s Box and Giggle Box Award
  12. Persistence and Positivity Award

I am willing to put money on the fact that, even into their early adult years, many of these recognition descriptions will still ring true about their core personalities. I had the privilege of watching so many innate strengths come to life.

To the 2016-2017 Lady Cougar 10U softball team, all I can say is you helped me evolve as a person this year. You proved to me that very small bodies can do very big things when they put their minds to it. I love to watch you play.

Written by Heidi Woodard

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About a year ago, I wrote a piece about how my son was shifting (youth sports) careers as an 11-year old. It was hard to write, not because the words were difficult to articulate, but because it’s a somewhat touchy subject.

Several parents reached out to me following that post to say they had been through the same process (of switching teams) or were on the verge of going through it with their own son or daughter.

I wasn’t able to gaze into a crystal ball back then to see if it would all work out for my son…we just researched what was offered in our area, talked about all of our options, and trusted our gut instincts.

Fast forward one year to now and I can clearly see how great of a decision it’s been for him. But more on that in a sec.

A mom recently contacted me through GiveTheGameBack to say that she was shocked to learn her daughter wanted to quit softball after several successful playing years. The mom was once a softball player herself and gained many valuable life lessons through the sport. She was worried her daughter was already burnt out at a young age before she’d even had the chance to experience her (potentially) best playing days.

I offered several paragraphs of feedback, but here’s the part I really hoped she would contemplate, “My next question is a very important one: How intrinsically motivated to succeed and/or naturally competitive is your daughter? One of the biggest realities I’ve had to accept is that each of my kids, although all ‘formed’ by my own and my husband’s DNA, is unique in how they approach sports.”

Without knowing her daughter’s individual situation, I can’t assume that her daughter has completely lost the love of the game. She could feel burnt out like her mom feared, or want to quit because she thinks she’s inferior, or she might have different priorities in her life as compared to a few years ago, or who knows? I’ve found the only ways for a parent to know how their child feels is to never assume anything and by discussing the child’s goals through open and honest dialogue.

The other piece of advice I added, because I’ve had to grow up along with my kids in my own thinking and behaving is, “If my dad was a Chief Financial Officer and I grew up knowing that he loved math and wanted me to be his prodigy, there’s no amount of pushing in the world that would transform me into someone who loves math.”

Back to my son.

I knew without a shadow of a doubt following last season that he still wanted to play baseball. How did I know? By asking him…many times.

If he would have said he didn’t want to play, I would have pressed to find out what he was intrinsically motivated to do. How would he measure success or growth? How could I help him get there?

My son loves playing baseball (and basketball and football) with friends. He cares if he wins or loses, but his mood and demeanor don’t plummet in the face of adversity. He hates letting people down and loves making people laugh. And I’m not a betting woman, but if I was, I’d wager he has 847 different things on his mind at any given second…and that doesn’t magically shut off with the first pitch.

Knowing all of these things about him, he accepted/filled a spot on a team this summer that brought together a hodgepodge of players, many of whom had played ball for years but also had never competed together before.

His team’s coaches took every game seriously without sacrificing the fun, helped my son and others with their mental approach to the sport, taught them how to recover from setbacks, led by example, and promoted a team culture of mutual respect and reliance upon one another – all of the great life lessons one can garner through athletics.

I have zero doubt my son will remember this summer for years to come…for both what’s taken place on AND off the field.

Through this new team, he has gained a best friend – unexpected icing on the cake! I can’t put into words how amazing it feels to see your kid “click” with a teammate who shares the same quirky interests and who comes from a family very similar to your own.

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My advice to all the parents of youth baseball players this time of year remains the same: Commit to a team that makes sense for your individual child. (No one is giving out scholarships or scouting your 12-year old. This is an age to learn and have fun.)

Don’t get trapped into a fixed mindset or allow fear of the unknown to paralyze you. Adults tend to muddy the waters even with the best of intentions sometimes.

I know I had to learn that the definition of a successful season isn’t always measured in wins and losses. A season lasts a finite number of games. A great friendship has the potential of lasting a lot longer.

Written by Heidi Woodard

I couldn’t think of a better way to follow-up my coaching series (which featured insights from a baseball coach, a soccer coach, a basketball coach, and a volleyball coach) than to share recent and upcoming experiences that are connected to my former softball coach and teammates at Creighton University.

I had the privilege of providing color commentary for the Creighton University vs. DePaul University final regular season conference softball game on Mother’s Day.

It was a memorable experience that I won’t soon forget.

Big East commentary_Woodard and Ryan

Heidi Woodard and Jake Ryan prior to the start of the Creighton vs DePaul softball game on May 8, 2016.

Although my focus was obviously on the game at hand (unfortunately, the Bluejays lost 2-0 to the Big East regular season champion Blue Demons), I couldn’t keep my mind from drifting to the six C.U. seniors, particularly in the bottom half of the seventh inning of that game, who I knew were three outs away from seeing their collegiate playing days come to an end.

I remember what it was like to have to say goodbye to my coach and fellow teammates after they had influenced my life in a way that is indescribable with mere words.

senior day goodbye

Coach and Heidi Geier back in 1999

Brent Vigness

Coach and Heidi Woodard in 2015

There were five of us in the class of 1999 (self-nicknamed the Fab Five) who competed and grew up together for four years. We each entered into college as All-Stars from our respective teams, had our butts collectively handed to us as underclassmen, learned to elevate our game as we matured, and progressively raised our squad’s performance until we left the field as conference champs.

We won, lost, bickered, supported, belly ached, belly laughed, and most importantly believed in each other. As a result, we found a way under Coach Brent Vigness’s leadership, to improve year-after-year before recording our final out against the eventual College World Series Champion UCLA Bruins softball team in the NCAA Regionals.

fab five

Young and fearless: the very best friendships and memories are the ones that last a lifetime

Over the past 17 years, the Fab Five have grown up. We’ve returned to our home cities, married our spouses, started our careers and our families, have celebrated triumphs, and endured losses.

Sadly, the recent loss of a teammate’s mom prompted my reunion with these wonderful women this weekend. Val and her mom, Sandy, are pictured above in the photo of me jumping on my coach. Sandy passed away on April 26, 2016.

Isn’t that how life tends to work? It doesn’t wait around patiently for you to make the time to prioritize people. It slaps you in the face with a wake-up call when you’re least expecting it.

I am counting down the hours before I can see my teammates again and scream out their names in gratitude for the chance to hang out for a few days. I have missed past opportunities to get together…and I know I won’t be able to fly across the county at my every whim in the future…but THIS TIME, well THIS TIME I’m making it work.

Life has moved on with or without our permission. Loss will bring us together again. Love and laughter will remind us how much we mean to one another, even after all these years.

Every athlete will remember the memories made with their teammates over everything else. Crossing the figurative finish line is something to be proud of, but stories are told from one generation to the next about enduring the race itself.

Lastly, before I forget, yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the longest game in NCAA softball history: a 31-inning epic battle between Creighton and Utah. Even crazier than that, both teams turned around after a 20-minute break to play the third longest game in NCAA history – 25 additional innings. These doubleheader games took place in 1991, while I was still an overly confident high school player. 🙂

Thanks for allowing me to take a trip down memory lane.

Creighton Softball Timeline in the late 90s
1999:
Earned an NCAA Regional Appearance; lost to eventual National Champions UCLA Bruins in tournament elimination game
1999:
 11-3  MVC* record. Repeated as Regular-Season Conference Champs and won MVC Conference Tournament (31-28 overall record)
1998: Head Coach Brent Vigness earned MVC Coach of the Year Honors
1998: 16-2 MVC record. Won the first Regular-Season Conference Championship in Program History (33-15 overall record)
1997: 10-4 MVC record (32-30 overall record)
1996: 6-12 MVC record (17-24 overall record)

*Creighton moved from the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) to the Big East Conference in the 2013-2014 season.

Written by Heidi Woodard