We have received several items in response to our request for blog articles and topics. The following is a letter from a player to her coach about what she would say if she could. We are posting this because we feel that it might help other players and their parents if they are faced with the same situation. If this impacts you, please share it via social media using the Facebook and Twitter logos at the end. Thank you!
What I would tell my coach if I could.
It is only two weeks into the travel season and I already want to quit. We both know I can’t quit- that none of our team can quit - because we all have plans to play in college. But if I could, I would. I started softball because it was fun. But you make me hate it. Not only do you make me hate softball but you make me hate myself for not being whatever you expect.
When you tell us over and over how much we “suck” – I believe it. The other girls seem to let the words roll right off their backs- but I can’t. Maybe it is because they have been with you much longer - maybe I will get there too. But right now I am not and because of that I don’t feel part of the team or even that they feel I’m worthy to be a part of their team.
Most games I dread being up to bat- something I used to love. I dread it because I know most likely you will be yelling at me in between each pitch- telling me how bad my decision was to take the pitch or swing at it. I used to have a plan for hitting depending on the pitcher and how many strikes she was throwing or what pitches she seemed to throw. I actually used to be pretty good at making decisions at bat. But not now. Now I question everything. In between pitches when you yell at me to swing or to be more aggressive- that does not help me. It only makes me afraid. Afraid to use my judgment. Afraid that the pitcher is going to take your comments as an open invitation to throw me a ball knowing I will probably swing. Afraid that I will swing and then you will yell at me for swinging at a ball- even though you just told me to be more aggressive. Or afraid that I will swing and miss and be yelled at for that. Or afraid that the hit won’t be good enough – like the ones you said were just “lucky hits”. Please know it is not easy to be successful at bat when you are afraid.
Not only am I afraid to bat, I am afraid to fail in the field. The way you yell at players- both during and after games- for making mistakes is something I have not experienced. The way you have gotten so angry you shake or the way you get right up into our faces. Or the time you threw dirt at one while you were telling her how bad she was playing. That does not help me play loosely and aggressively. It makes me nervous and scared- almost paralyzed because I am afraid of making a bad decision or a mistake-afraid of the consequences. Yes, they are only words- but those words hurt. They hurt my ego and my confidence in my ability and my love of the game. I also hurt for the things you say to my teammates – especially comments like they will never get recruited or they blew any chance they had with a coach, or they should go find something else they are good at. The recruiting process is hard enough – why make it harder and add more stress to it.
I know you are upset because we can all play better than we play sometimes. But contrary to what you think- we get upset too- and we don’t make those mistakes because we aren’t trying, don’t practice and don’t care. I am pretty confident – whether or not everyone will admit it- that when we are not playing our best it is because we are not happy. Instead we are afraid and stressed. Yes, we can still play well enough to win games playing this way and will still even make some great plays. After all, we didn’t get this far because “we suck”. But I am pretty positive that we can play even better if we weren’t so afraid, stressed and we felt like you were on our side and believed in us. And we might even have a good time doing it.
Our Follow up to "Dear Coach"
From the Stay in Softball Board of Directors:
Because of the serious nature of the letter, we wanted to get some advice on how parents can help their athletes who might be faced with a similar situation. Therefore, we contacted Ryan Virtue at the Cleveland Chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance. We asked Ryan what kind of advice he would give athletes and parents in a similar situation.
First off, Ryan said generally it can be very difficult to change a coach- especially one that has coached this way for a long time. However, the first step should be empowering your child (instead of the parent intervening) to approach the coach early on when they start to recognize the coach’s negativity. Having the athlete express to their coach their desire to improve and put in extra work often times develops a better relationship. This way of proactively approaching difficult situations translates into off-field success as well, whether it’s in the classroom approaching a teacher, or in the work place later in life approaching their boss.
However, if approaching the coach does not work, you should also try to seek change from those around the coach and also change your response to the situation. In most situations, the coach is only part of the culture. There is also the team’s or organization’s leadership, the players, the parents, and other coaches.
Therefore, parents can work with these other individuals to try to address the general culture of the organization – if not the specific coach. We will provide some resources below regarding this. If that does not work, a family must decide for themselves what their options are and how much they are willing to jeopardize their child’s love for the game and future in the game by staying in the situation. Ryan indicated that it is important for everyone to remember that ten years from now, players will remember how a team and coach made them feel much more than how many games they won.
We also had a discussion regarding positive versus negative coaching. Ryan relayed how a player’s “emotional tank” fuels their performance. Players whose “emotional tanks” are full perform better and are able to withstand obstacles and difficult times better. A player’s emotional tank can be filled by their coaches, but also their parents and teammates. Therefore, when faced with a “drainer coach” (one who drains a child’s emotional tank) the parents can work with other parents (and players) to try to establish a culture that encourages actions that help fill the players’ emotional tanks – despite the negativity of the coach.
How is that done? In the PCA article (see link below) Filling Emotional Tanks, the author says
“First and foremost, try to avoid some natural human tendencies (frowning, using sarcasm, being
overly critical, etc.) that contribute to emotional tank draining. In fact, research shows that optimal
performance occurs when people receive about 5 pieces of positive feedback (tank fillers) to every 1
criticism (tank drainer). We call this 5:1 the Magic Ratio.”
Ryan also added that it is important to teach players that mistakes are ok. This doesn’t mean that players don’t try to correct them and work hard so they do not make mistakes or are not accountable for their performance and practice time. It just means that players have to be in an environment that lets them play without fear of making a mistake. He noted that “just like any adult in their professional career, making mistakes are one of the fastest ways to learn. Youth sports is not professional sports. It’s intent at the core is to be purely developmental, and not just with on-field performance (little picture) but with the life lessons that are taught through the field of play (big picture).”
The PCA website below has a wealth of positive coaching resources and is a page all players, organizations and coaches should bookmark. We have also listed a few of their articles specifically dealing with this issue.
Thank you to Positive Coaching Alliance and Ryan Virtue for your time and expertise! If you or your organization would like to contact Ryan or have him speak with your organization, you can contact him at: email@example.com.
PCA resources link: https://devzone.positivecoach.org/
Filling Emotional Tanks
The Coach as a Positive Partner
Steve Mariucci: Don't Embarrass Your Athletes
When A Coach Embarrasses Their Athletes, It Makes The Coach's Job Harder
The Importance of a Caring Climate at the Youth and Pro Level
Erin Chastain: Too Much Yelling Has No Place In Youth Sports
Discussion Guide: Whiplash
Here is our interview with LeAnn Sanders (see previous blog post). Even though Heaven’s situation is very unique, LeAnn still has some great advice for all athletes. We also include some pictures of LeAnn and Heaven.
Do you remember what you said to Heaven the first time you met her?
At first it was a lot more tears than words [but] I believe I told her “we got this”.
How were you able to help Heaven through the mental/emotional aspects of her injury and the difficulties she experienced trying to get back into the sport?
To always keep a positive attitude and to never lose confidence. Having a “can do” mentality that you are going to succeed is crucial. Our success has a lot to do with our inner drive.
When you were competing, there must have been times when you got frustrated or angry because of how hard the game was. What did you do to get through those times?
The way I conquered my frustration during a game [is that] I always remained intensely focused on the outcome and not the obstacle. My frustration was a big motivation for me on the softball field. My motivation was always in overdrive. I constantly strived to give 100% even during immediate frustration. By doing that I stayed confident and ready for greater challenges during the game. My challenges are what makes life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life interesting.
Do you help other kids who are amputees?
Yes, I’m very involved with other kids who are amputees especially lawnmower amputees.
Is there anything else you would like to share with other players?
Let your faith, like softball, shine on and off the field. Pitch it, hit it and most of all catch it.
We wanted to start our blog out with an update on Heaven Harris, a player that we met a few years ago when we first started Stay in Softball.
Heaven grew up playing softball in the Alabama Dixie Softball program. Heaven was a very strong right-handed pitcher, first baseman and hitter for the Ponytails X-Play team. Her last game of the 2015 Dixie Softball season was in the Alabama State Tournament and Heaven was the starting pitcher for her team. The game was a pitcher's duel that went into extra innings tied 0-0. While her team did not walk away with the victory, Heaven pitched one of her best games ever.
A few months later, in November of 2015, Heaven lost her right arm in an ATV accident. While some people might have let the accident put an end to their sports career, Heaven did not. Just three months after losing her arm, Heaven returned to the softball field and played first base. Her story from tragedy to triumph is a great one. It is a story of “blood, sweat and tears; of labor and anguish.” It is also a story of kindness, charity and sisterhood.
After her accident, Heaven had to have three surgeries and spent 12 days in the hospital. While she was in the hospital she worried if she would have to give up softball. However, news quickly spread about the accident to LeAnn Sanders Shelton. Like Heaven, LeAnn grew up playing softball in the AL Dixie League. However, from the very start, LeAnn played softball with only one arm; having lost her left arm in a lawn mower accident when she was 4. As soon as LeAnn heard about the accident, she started trying to get in contact with Heaven’s parents. She wanted to do whatever she could to help Heaven through her recovery and also show her that it was possible to play again if she wanted.
Shortly after Heaven came home from the hospital, LeAnn visited her to offer emotional support. The one visit quickly turned into two, three and four visits. Not only did LeAnn provide emotional support and help teach Heaven little tricks for making daily activities easier, but she also helped her get back to playing softball. LeAnn spent many hours teaching Heaven how to play with one arm. Heaven had to re-learn how to do everything - not only with one arm but also the opposite throwing arm. Although it was a hard road, Heaven never gave up and returned to the softball field only months after the accident. She has been playing and improving ever since.
In addition to LeAnn’s help, countless other people helped Heaven along the way. The Dixie softball league started a card writing campaign and Heaven received cards from across the country. Her friends and family set up a fundraising campaign, Pitch it for Heaven, (which is how we learned of Heaven and helped support her) which raised money to help with her medical bills and expenses through the sale of t-shirts and wristbands with her favorite quote “I don’t need easy, I just need possible”. Bownet provided her with a new tee and gear bag and also invited her to NPF week. The University of Alabama also invited her to throw out the first pitch in one of their games against Kentucky. Like so many times before, the softball community stepped up to help one of its own.
Because of her inspiring story and her charitable work, LeAnn was recently recognized as of Tuscaloosa News’ “Six Intriguing People”. The part of the article that stuck with us the most is when LeAnn stated that she always wondered what the purpose of her accident was. She said that she got her answer after she met Heaven. That was a great lesson about trying to find “the good” in your trials and adversities. The article can be read here:
You can also watch LeAnn and Heaven on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/175969275
We recently caught up with LeAnn and Heaven and asked them a few questions about how they are doing. We will post the interview answers from LeAnn in our next blog entry.
If you don't know a lot about Stay in Softball, we are a group of softball players who love softball and are working hard to make sure that every girl who wants to play softball can. We do this by providing girls and teams with free equipment, free clinics, uniform items and other support. Stay in Softball is run by a Player Advisory Board and a Junior Player Advisory Board (to see the players on these boards, go to "About Us" and the Player Advisory Board page will drop down). An adult Board of Directors assists, mentors and oversees the Player Advisory Boards.
Everyone on the Player Advisory Board has played softball for many years- most of us since we were 5 or 6. Over the years, we have all played rec league, high school and travel softball and the majority of us plan to play in college. Because we have all played softball for so many years, between us, we have been through almost everything a softball player can go through: both good and bad. We have also spoken to hundreds of players through our free clinics, social media pages, etc. and have realized that there is always one of us who can relate to the question or issue presented and give our perspective. Even if we don't have all of the answers - who does?? - players usually like hearing about the experiences (experiences-- not bragging) of other players. So, that is the purpose of this blog: to share our experiences and stories. We also hope that other players use it as a place to share their experiences and stories. Finally, we will also use it to keep everyone up to date on what we are doing to help keep girls in the game and share ways that all players can help.
We would love to add articles from other players as well- so if you want to send us something, please use the contact form on the website or e mail it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If we use your article on this main page, we will send you a Stay in Softball t shirt. We hope you enjoy the blog.