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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

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

Sharing Wisdom Series4

If you’d like to read the first three installments of this series, you can find those herehere, and here.

For my fourth and final installment, allow me to introduce you to Drake University‘s Head Women’s Volleyball Coach, Darrin McBroom.

Darrin McBroom

Darrin McBroom, Head Women’s Volleyball Coach at Drake University

 

Darrin is unlike any other coach I’ve featured, in that, he was nominated by a former player. She thought he deserved to be recognized for the profound effect he had on her and her love of the game. There’s something to be said about a coach who impacts his team so much that his legacy endures long after the individual athlete’s playing days are done.

Here’s what Darrin’s former player, Erin, had to say about him.

Message: I played volleyball in high school and was a decent player but I definitely did not love the sport. I didn’t want to rack up student loans so I looked into playing in college. I committed to Iowa Western and played for Darrin McBroom. He made me fall in love with the sport and helped me go on to play for an NCAA Division I program. I played many sports growing up and had many coaches, but he is by far the best coach I have ever had. He always had motivational stories to tell that related to parts of the game and always respected his players. He now coaches at Drake University and I thought he’d be a great coach for you to interview.

I believe it’s important for coaches to know that the time, effort, and personal sacrifice they put into developing their players – everything they do day in and day out – does make a difference. Not only does the approach and dedication Darrin applies to coaching result in winning programs; more notably, he’s left lasting impressions on the athletes who have played for him over the years.

Below are three questions I asked Darrin to answer and his corresponding responses.

Q1: You are the first coach to be nominated for inclusion in this series. Your ex-player who nominated you credits you for helping her fall in love with the sport of volleyball. How do you manage coaching different players who each possess not only different skill sets but also different levels of engagement with the game?

Darrin’s Response: Well, the one commonality that all of my players have had is a love for volleyball and for competition. While at Iowa Western, I coached players from China, Brazil, Puerto Rica, Russia, Ukraine, Dominica, Canada, and the U.S. The one thing they all had in common is that they loved to play the game.

For myself, I walked away from a full-time teaching career…giving up summers off, tenure, and higher pay…to become a full-time coach at Iowa Western because I loved the game and I loved being a part of these teams and the lives of these kids.

I always wanted each season to be one of the greatest experiences that they had ever had playing volleyball and I knew if they were having a great experience, then they would give the best they had to me and the program. Integral to that experience was striving for great achievement on the court (individually and as a team), developing life-long friendships, and creating life-long memories. These teams were always like a family to me and I encouraged that kind relationship among them.

Q2: What’s something that’s kept you up at night over the last two decades coaching volleyball (meaning, is there something you try to control but seems to be uncontrollable)?

Darrin’s Response: Although people talk about the challenges of working with young people, that is all I have ever done and all I know. While I certainly have agonized over some of the poor choices some of my athletes have made in their personal lives and academically, it is not the athletes that have kept me up at night.

More often than not, it is the adults whom I work with who have created the most challenges over the years. The young people have not really changed that much; it is the adults who have changed.

Q3: Do you or members of your coaching staff keep an eye on the social media accounts of both existing and potential student-athletes? If so, what advice would you give to young adults about their digital profiles?

Darrin’s Response: As a general rule, I and my staff do not specifically monitor our athletes’ online profiles or those of incoming athletes. However, we have from time to time become aware of postings or statements that they make.

We take the time to make sure that these young women understand that what they put out on the internet is a representation of more than just themselves, but also the University, our program, and certainly all of their teammates. Therefore we advise them to be very judicious about what they put out there, especially since it cannot be taken back.

I would recommend that all young people be very careful and deliberate about the creation of their of their digital profiles as I do not think they realize the impact that one inadvertent comment or photo can have on their future.

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Darrin is entering his fourth season at the helm of the NCAA Division I Drake Bulldog volleyball program, which competes in the Missouri Valley Conference. Prior to joining Drake, he spent eight seasons in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) where he compiled an overall record of 322-58, earning a winning percentage of 85 percent, to rank him among top 10 active coaches nationally across all NJCAA divisions. Read his complete coaching bio here.

The Sharing Wisdom: A Series of Coaching Perspectives is written by Heidi Woodard.