From Freshman to Senior Year
It’s that time of year again, where teams are coming together and beginning to find their new identity. The previous year is in the past, what you did and what the team did, doesn’t matter anymore. It’s time to see who will be the surprise newcomer that will make an immediate impact, who will come in the best shape of their lives, who will shock the team by their improvements they made during the offseason? This is an exciting, yet very nerve racking time of year. Being that I’ve been through it, I wanted to share a few tips and secrets for each class and the obstacles you might face.
There are two things that I have learned that can be helpful to all athletes, regardless of age.
This summer was the first time I was away from home playing professionally in Texas. It’s a scary feeling to have a bunch of unknowns, but I realized how much softball was a comfort zone for me.
You have all been playing softball your whole lives, all over the country, on countless different fields. But the game never changes. My biggest piece of advice is to have softball be your comfort zone or your release. Even if you have had the worst day ever, try your best to keep that out of your mind while being on the field. If you keep that as a safe place, somewhere you feel comfortable and confident, you will be that much more excited to go out and play. Keeping school and your personal life separate is important because your mind can only handle so much at one time. Keep softball a place for ball, a place you feel at home.
The second thing that is important regardless of your age is to set yourself up to be able to finish your season/career with no regrets. Only one team each season gets to end up on top, so inevitably most of you are going to deal with the crushing feeling of your season/career being over. Do yourself a favor now and go the extra mile so that when that day does come, you don’t sit and question what more you could have done. Don’t take the game for granted because it’ll be over before you know it and you only have one chance, so don’t miss it.
There is so much uncertainty being a freshman. So many questions run through your head…
- “How am I going to survive away from home?”
- “What is practice going to be like?”
- “What’s going to happen if I don’t pass conditioning testing?”
- “How do I get respect from the upperclassmen?”
- “Do I belong playing at this level?”
All the questions swirling around in your head are normal and you certainly aren’t alone. I want to share a few key concepts that I believe will get you off on the right foot with your career.
First and foremost, your best friends are going to be your eyes and ears. It’s so important to listen to details and watch things closely. The quickest way to impress is to not look like you are lost. This is important in all aspects of softball – on the field and off. There are going to be a lot of things you don’t know or understand, the best thing you can do is find an upperclassmen (particularly one in the same position as you) and follow them around. Watch what they do, listen to what they say, and do your best to emulate them. Understand it’s OK to ask questions, the cliche ‘no question is a bad question’ couldn’t be more true. Speaking as a coach, when explaining a drill if you don’t understand I would rather you ask for clarity than for you to just act like you know and try to do it – resulting in it going poorly for everyone.
In my last blog I spoke a little bit on the importance of my redshirt year and what I was able to learn by just watching. This goes for in practice as well. Even if you aren’t currently in a drill, you need to be watching what your position is doing – so you know what to do when you are thrown out there. By listening and watching EVERYTHING closely, you will not only impress others but you will feel more confident and comfortable in what you are doing.
Being a Freshman is really pretty awesome on the field. You have no expectations. Every time you step on the field you have the opportunity to turn heads. You can play loose and no one is necessarily expecting you to have an All-American type year, if you do, it’s just a bonus. Your opponents don’t know you, they don’t know your strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, you are able to surprise teams with what you bring to the table. Take advantage of this opportunity, because it’s the last year that you get to be unknown, and trust me – it goes fast.
Don’t fall into the dreaded ‘sophomore slump‘. My best advice is to not compare yourself to your previous years success. As I said above, no one knew you and you had no expectations. Well, you definitely can’t say that for sophomore year.
This is a tough year mentally on a lot of players because if they had breakout freshman seasons, they now have expectations. Not only from their coaches, teammates, families, opponents, etc., but also they have expectations of themselves. It’s okay to have expectations- don’t get me wrong, but don’t let it be your focus.
This is a new season, what you did in the past doesn’t matter now, and what you are doing now, doesn’t take away from what you did in the past. As a batter, teams know where to pitch you now. If you sent one 300 ft. over the fence last year on a certain pitch, you probably won’t get that one again. As a pitcher, if you stunned a team with your rise ball, you know their focus the entire week prior to playing you is going to be to lay off that pitch.
The key to sophomore year is to not get caught up in what you ‘should’ be doing and just focus on doing the best you can day in and day out.
Juniors & Seniors
I put the upperclassmen together for this section because I think the keys to success are very similar. As a Junior, you are over the sophomore slump, you know that you need to retool yourself somehow to make yourself a threat in a little different of a way than you attacked teams in the past. The expectations aren’t new to you anymore, it doesn’t sit in the back of your mind because you know that the expectations themselves aren’t going to change your abilities. You focus on playing the game and letting the rest fall into place.
These seasons are about transforming into a leader on and off the field. One of the biggest keys to a team succeeding is having strong leadership. You need people that help motivate the underclassmen. As a freshman you take the words the seniors say to heart and you want to play for them – and now you need to be that influence for the younger girls. You need to change your focus from playing for the upperclassmen to helping the underclassmen have the best careers that they can, just as the older girls did for you. Being a positive influence and leaving an impact on them is the most important part of leading a team.
Another part of being a leader is being okay with people not always being real happy with you. You need to be able to call people out if they aren’t doing what’s best for the team. If there is a disagreement between 2 players or the players vs. coaches, you might need to be the middle man to help find peace. If you don’t have a leader that is fearless, there are going to be too many unresolved issues to succeed in the long run.
As a senior your goal is to go out with a bang. I’ve seen being a senior affect people in many different ways. Sometimes players; are ultra focused on softball because they know that this is their last chance, some start to get distracted by the fact that the real world is right around the corner, some focus too much on all the lasts as they happen and some have reached that point where they are content with being done. This is important in the success of the team, if you aren’t still able to give 100% to the team that is playing so hard for you, you are doing them an injustice. My biggest advice to seniors is to slow it all down, you know by now how fast the years go and you don’t want to blink. Take in every second and don’t look too far in the future. Don’t count down the days/games, take them one game at a time, whatever happens is supposed to happen. Enjoy this season- every second of it, because it’s the last time for many of you that you get to be apart of a team – and unfortunately most people don’t realize just how special that is until it’s gone.