As Beverly Smith heads into her 11th season at the helm as head coach of the South Carolina softball program, who better to deal with change and the often-heard phrase “new normal.” She has dealt with change since she took over the program in 2010. That change resulted in the Gamecocks going to NCAA postseason play 7 of the 10 years. Those changes saw her become only the 2nd softball coach in South Carolina history to get over 300 career wins.
That experience in dealing with adjustments and the ability to stay on top of the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 world that we all work to adjust to, could be the difference in how the season plays out for the Gamecocks.
At the helm of one of the winningest and most tradition rich programs in the country NFCA Hall of Famer Jo Evans looks to lead her Aggies back to OKC. The maroon and white saw success in 2017 going 47-13 and ending their season at the WCWS. Evans, one of the winningest active Division 1 coaches in the game today, with over 1,200 wins, will face one of her biggest challenges yet, coaching during a global pandemic. Along with coaching during Covid-19 the Aggies face away SEC series at LSU, Alabama, and Florida.
Facing a fall like never before the Aggies had to adjust just as every other NCAA team has. Finding themself limited to only intrasquad games Coach Evans had to get creative. “The silver lining about Covid was weren’t allowed to play outside opponents and so with this huge roster of 27 people everyone got lots of reps and lots of playing time,” Evans said. They decided to run their games based on a point system similar to that of the new professional league Athletes Unlimited This system rewards players based on in game performance, meaning each inning is with 10 points and each game is worth 50 points. Evans wanted to run games like AU to put an emphasis on the importance of each at bat, pitch and inning.
The Aurburn Tigers have burst on the scene the past several years, making trip to the WCWS in 2015 and 2016, and in his fourth season at Auburn Mickey Dean has his tigers eyes set on returning back to Oklahoma City. They were on their way in the 2019-20 season as they started the season 16-11with wins over Notre Dame, #25 Northwestern and #18 Minnesota. That was until COVID-19 halted and ultimately ended the season. Dean recalls getting the call during the middle of a mid-week home game informing him the NCAA was shutting things down and ultimately sending all students home. Dean tried to use this a teaching moment to his student athletes, about life and that things are unexpected while encouraging them play every game as their last.
The organization has been competing at a national level for several years and finally broke through in the summer of 2019, as Nate Eaton’s 14u team won the Triple Crown/USA Nationals championship in Georgia.
Eaton’s team finished in third at nationals the year prior but triumphed by beating the Texas Bombers to cap off a 9-0 run through the tournament.
Eaton’s group, which now competes at the 16u level, is one of over 20 teams in the Team NC program, but its story is one that epitomizes what the fastpitch organization is all about.
When you finally get to southern California to play softball, you will quickly learn that he is also the head of the Explosion Softball organization that has some talented teams on the west coast in California, Arizona, and Utah.
“It always starts with the coaching. Look for coaches that are in this game for the right reasons,” says Denio. “I always do research and make sure these coaches are in it for the right reasons and are not there for financial gain.”
“She fit right into our group,” said Boteler, who has worked with Lorenz for a few years even before Lorenz joined her team. “She has a lot of potential and she doesn’t even know yet how good she is. She’s pretty humble.”
As a young athlete I never understood why my parents spent majority of the innings I spent competing on the travel and high school softball circuit behind the outfield fence. I accused them of being anti-social and rude. Other parents hung out, had cook outs together, and seemingly more fun on the countless number of out of town weekend softball tournament trips. My parents wanted nothing to do with anything other than watching me compete. They would not engage in what has become sideline madness that plagues the youth sports scene.
Twenty plus years later, and with many years of competing, coaching, and instructing under my belt, I finally understand. Parents are crazy. They are sucking the fun and the many valuable lessons right out of the whole experience for their kids.
Who are these parents?
Red flag #1: They make excuses. If their kid does not play, it is always due to the fault of others. You will hear every excuse in the book. Kids not playing due to politics, mixed messages on instruction and what they have learned from different coaches, so and so’s parents are members of the booster club, the coach hates my kid, blah, blah, blah. The list goes on and on. There is zero accountability or responsibility placed on their kid for potential reasons they are not seeing game time.
Red flag #2: They rip apart other kids. They are quick to point out the flaws of other kids who see more playing time. They compare their kid to others and typically have well prepared arguments highlighting why their darling daughter is a better athlete and more deserving of playing time. An athlete’s teammates are very likely their friends as well. When a parent tries to make her daughter feel better by saying “I don’t know why Jenny always gets to play more innings than you, she makes a ton of errors ”, it is very uncomfortable for her child. You are talking behind the back of their friend and you are destroying the critical trust that teammates need in each other and their coach. Keep your thoughts to yourself.
Red flag #3: Sense of entitlement. These parents will e-mail, text, call, and corner coaches after games questioning playing time. They believe with every ounce of their being that little Susie should be in the game, specifically with a starting role. The rose colored glasses may as well be a blindfold. They do not care or often consider the humiliation they cause for their kid by approaching a coach in this way. Imagine your significant other contacting your boss when you have not received the raise or promotion they think you deserve. There is only one person who looks out for the team in its entirety. The coach. Parents only look out for their child. When parents question coaching decisions, player positions, playing time, tactics, and more, they undermine a coach’s authority, and the players respect for that coach. You teach your kids to question everything a coach tells them, and this makes them indecisive come game time. It also takes their focus off things they can control, like their attitude, their effort, and their focus, and turns it towards uncontrollable like coaching decisions. Yes, your child might have a coach that sees things differently than you do, but so what? If you really know that much more than the coach, you should coach. If you do not have the time or energy to do so, then be thankful someone does and support that person.
Red flag #4: They think dropping money on the sport through private lessons, sports conditioning and specialized training should guarantee playing time. Achieving a high level in sports is not an experience that can be bought. The aforementioned avenues can assist a player in skill development, but consistent results in game situations is the only currency most coaches use when drafting a lineup.
Red flag #5: They believe their kid has more talent or game knowledge than reality proves. Everyone else can see it, but they cannot. Often times these parents expect their kid to compete at a level that is not appropriate for their age or for the amount of time they have been playing the game. There is nothing wrong in owning the fact that your kid is a work in progress.
Red flag #6: They are more invested in the sport than the kid. They believe wholeheartedly that their darling daughter wants to be the best she can be in the sport yet she rarely shows interest in seeking opportunities to practice and improve without prompting from her parents. When kids love something, they will lead the charge. All kids need occasional prompting, but it is the exception to the rule, not the norm.
Red flag #7: They live vicariously through their kid, in a bad way. When the kid plays great, life is good. When they have a bad game, life is bad. These parents outwardly show disgust when their kid does not play well as if it is some sort of reflection on them. They shame their own kid by not talking to them after poor performances, or they will go through a play by play of every mistake during the dreaded car ride home, questioning her actions throughout the game. For the kid, it is a nightmare. Many kids come to believe love, support, and approval from their parents is conditional based on how they perform in a silly game. Parents, please let the conversation on ride home be dictated by your kids, and unless they bring it up, not be about the game.
Red flag #8: They expect instant results. Much of these expectations can be blamed on our culture. We live in a fast food world where true hard work is becoming obsolete. Becoming proficient in any skill requires thousands upon thousands of repetitions. Applying acquired skills in a game situation is another matter entirely. Learning to do both in harmony is an acquired skill that takes years of game experience, practice, and hard work. We expect twelve and under players to handle game pressure the same way we see college players handle it on television.
Red flag #9: They do not understand the reason their kid plays ball. Kids play sports for a multitude of reasons. Some play because they want to be the best. Others play simply to be a part of something and to have a certain identity within their peer group. Sadly, some play to please their parents. No matter what the motivation to start in the first place, the game becomes difficult when it is no longer fun. When kids worry about their parents opinion of them based on game performance, I can assure you that the game becomes more of a chore than a leisure activity. In my experience, when kids stop having fun, their level of success on the field decreases drastically.
Red flag #10: They claim they will never be “that parent”. If a parent says this phrase out loud, they have likely already arrived.
When done right, there are countless life lessons to be garnered through sports. One of the most vital lessons being stripped from youth sports is autonomy. Parents are micro-managing the lives of their children unnecessarily, destroying any opportunity for them to learn how to handle themselves on their own. Instead of mentoring kids how to approach a coach about playing time, parents attempt to negotiate for them. We miss opportunities to teach kids how to ask for constructive criticism, develop a plan of action, and set realistic goals to achieve new heights. We blame coaches who are often volunteers, instead of educating ourselves in the game. With the explosion of social media, there are a countless number of ways to learn new drills and position play. There are thousands of videos that can be viewed over and over again if the thirst for knowledge truly exists. Instead of complaining in the face of adversity, teach kids how to help themselves. They will be better in the game of softball but more importantly, in the game of life.
Parents are supposed to be champions for their kids. Kids look to parents for guidance, support, approval, and love. They also learn how to behave from their parents. Complaining is the easiest and most unproductive thing to do in the face of adversity. Choose to model positive behaviors. Encourage risk taking and find joy in the effort. Celebrate the competitor above the winner. Foster independence by allowing your athlete to take ownership. Be the fan your kid needs you to be.