Time flies, right? Days fly by, weeks fly by, years fly by. Suddenly you're looking back at your life wondering where did the time go. I wish I would have spent more time studying. I wish I would have spent more time with my kids. I wish I would have visited my grandparents more often. I wish I would have found more time for prayer. I wish I would have pushed myself to be a better player, took more swings. Why do we have all these wishes? Why does our life seem to be dictated by things that we don't necessarily value. It's not a simple question, and there is not a simple answer.
As I think back to when I was little, I don't remember having so many wishes. My priorities were so much clearer. Faith, family and friends. Get my homework done, try not to get grounded, and play with my brother and sisters and friends in the neighborhood.
As I've gotten older, and especially recently, I've found that it's been very easy, inevitable really, to get pulled in different directions. I have a family, a mortgage, bills for cell phones, cable, and groceries, and until recently, a demanding career. My weeks and months have been flying by. The only time I slowed down enough to notice the passing time was when I'd pack up my son's clothes as he grew out of them. Packing up newborn, then 3 month then 6 month outfits, amazed at how fast Will's grown.
The things that are most important to me, spending time with family, focusing on my faith, and being a good friend were definitely on my radar, but amidst many other things. It was time to TAKE BACK THE CLOCK. Rearrange my radar.
I am now a stay home mom, have started a business with my family to give back to kids and help them develop their softball skills, more importantly their life skills, and have focused on finding more time for faith. For myself, these three fundamental things encourage the best version of me.
I know that when I grow older, I'll still look back at my life and wish that I would have done certain things differently. But for now, I am going to focus on spending my minutes carefully and enjoying them slowly and often.
This year I turned 30. A lot of things have changed since I was a "kid". You don't have to stand in the kitchen to make a phone call (usually in front of the whole family), when you want to go on the internet you don't hear a lengthy dial up noise and tie up the household phone line, there were no I-pods and I-pads, and even the thought of chewing gum in school was absurd. Looking back at how far we've "come" I think we sometimes forget the serenity in simple balance. I believe that same balance has left many sport centric households today.
It's not uncommon for an athlete in this day in age to play their favorite sport year round. Let's look at the softball athlete. Starting in March we being our school ball season. Immediately after that concludes summer ball starts full swing. An average summer team schedule will read anywhere from 4-7 tournaments. Practice a few nights a week, and even a weekly league may be in the mix. When we are done with summer ball somewhere early August, fall ball emerges. Kids join leagues and play many times up until November, or snow fall, whatever comes first in Wisconsin. December, January and February fill the calendar with open gyms and speed and agility training. (Attendance taken.) This schedule for many kids starts as early as 8 years old.
When I was that age, there were certainly opportunities for us to participate in softball outside of school ball. These opportunities were carefully scheduled around our basketball, volleyball, track, golf and school events. As a family, we scheduled our summer vacations up north, planned our camping trips, our Great America visits and backfilled our sporting contests from there. We had our weeknights to play street hockey on rollerblades, run through the neighbor's sprinkler, bike to the park for our nightly kickball game with the kids on the block, earn some money babysitting or cutting lawns! We were kids first and athletes second.
Working with youth athletes for over ten years, I've become a bit more sensitive to this topic. Kids come through the doors dragging their bat bags bogged down with brand new bats, shiny helmets, batting gloves and the newest Jennie Finch glove. Emotionlessly going through the motions, practice begins and ends and they wake up to do it all again. Training and playing consumes their days, weeks, summers. Please don't misunderstand this message. I am certainly an advocate of athletes committing to their sport and dedicating their time to get better. I spent countless hours during the week with my hit-around softball rope connected to the basketball pole in the front yard taking my swings. I went to open gyms, played in the summer and in leagues. I loved softball.
Thankfully, my parents monitored my extra-curricular participation and enforced that simple balance. Parents; you will get pressure from coaches and other parents to play just one sport. You will get pressure from them to live in the gym and play 12 months out of the year. You will get pressure from them to skip your family get-a-way for the most important tournament of the summer. THIS WILL NOT GUARANTEE YOUR CHILD'S SPOT ON VARSITY, THE D1 COLLEGE OF THEIR CHOOSING, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY IT WILL NOT GUARANTEE THEIR HAPPINESS!
I played thru high school and then played four years of college softball. I worked after that, got married, bought a house, and now have a child of my own. Looking back at my youth, I can tell you without question that I have some great memories on the diamond. I had a blast with my team and we competed at a very high level. I can also tell you that I never missed church for a game, I learned how to hit a curve ball playing wiffle ball with my brother in the backyard, and my speed and agility training were the weekly games of kick-the-can, tag, and hopscotch. I will be ever grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to be a kid!
We are always being judged. Every day by everyone on everything. I’m not necessarily talking about “judging” people based on the clothes they wear or the cars they drive. I’m talking about "judging" people by assessing their character, work ethic, effort and drive. Any student-athlete can identify with being judged in this respect, as can anyone in the workplace or in their personal lives. Area high school softball teams had tryouts a few weeks ago and the players were judged on their athletic skill – throwing, hitting, fielding, pitching, catching, etc. Tangible, concrete, and measurable. Players will stack up against each other and fall somewhere along this spectrum of talent-levels. You’re constantly being judged by coaches to see who will end up in the starting line-up for next week’s game.
After years of playing softball, I've found that it takes more than just "being good" to get recognized and to be successful at what you do. What does it take to really jump off the page? To get a star penciled in next to your name on coach's notes? To be someone that can't be kept out of the line up? Obviously, it takes a great deal of athletic ability, but there is much more than skill alone that determines what makes someone stand out at whatever it is they do. Work, relationships, sports – just ‘showing up’ and 'being good' will generally get you left behind.
Being an un-recruited walk-on at a Division I program at Wisconsin surrounded by some of the best softball players in the country, I knew I had to do something different. Pure athletic skill alone wasn’t going to get me noticed. And neither was just showing up. Here’s my advice:
1. Be early and stay late. Be the one who shows up first to practice. Get things set up. Hop on a tee. Get your glove work in. Grab a teammate who is struggling and hit groundballs or fly balls to them. There is ALWAYS a way to get yourself and your teammates better. Don’t be the first person to take off your cleats and pack up your bag. Grab a rake. Put things away. Get some more reps in. “I don’t have time,” is the easiest and worst excuse in the book.
2. Get dirty. Dive for balls. Run hard. Slide into bases. Take pride in being gritty and tough. We’ve all played with princesses – don’t be one. A few scrapes and scars never killed anyone and they’re a great topic of conversation when you’re washed up and athletically retired. I’ll never be able to get the permanent “sliding” scar on my knee to go away – and I would never want to.
3. Put others first and be a mentor. It won’t go unnoticed. If you think that you’re on an island and that only your statistics and success matters – you’re being selfish. Spend time with the new girl on the team who is struggling. Help the underclassmen with the hitting/pitching signs. Go out of your way to do something for someone else and you’ll stop focusing so much on your own weaknesses, shortcomings, and insecurities.
4. Radiate confidence. When you make a mistake – own it. When you do something great – own it. Note the difference between arrogance and confidence and be self-aware of how others perceive you. If you do #3, no one will mistake your confidence for arrogance and people will strive to follow your lead. Hold your head high and if you need help, ask for it. The highs aren’t so high and the lows aren’t so low.
5. AIM HIGH. You are capable of so much more than you think.
In Maria’s last blog, Why 360U? she took us on a journey into the different facets of the importance of becoming the best-version-of-you. Let’s explore that concept of mastering the mind.
Slumping, a word that hitters at every level know all too well. I can recall that feeling so distinctly. It all starts with a single at bat. You don’t get a hit. Then it happens again your next at bat. Soon you’ve gone four or five games without a hit. Your coach moves you down in the lineup. The softball that once measured 12” round looks like a pea leaving the pitcher’s hand. You are now 0-18 and decide that your swing is the problem. You go back to the drawing board and work on the same tee work that you’ve done your whole life. The same tee work that has given you so much success in the past. Is this really a fundamental issue?
You are in the batter’s box and the only thing you can think about is NOT failing again. You are carrying a defeated feeling and have already failed yourself as you strangle the grip of the bat. If there was an easy fix to a slump, hitters wouldn’t get in them, it wouldn’t be a universal term in the softball dictionary. There is usually not a mechanical fix, but instead, a mental fix is in order. How do we master our own mind?
“Trust the process.” A famous baseball player once used these three words to simplify the way he works out of slumps. Take the pressure off yourself, and believe in all of the hard work that you’ve put in. You’ve prepared for this at bat. You WILL get a hit. It may not be this at bat, and it may not be next. In fact, as you’re sitting at rock bottom, you’ll probably even fall down a few more notches! When you get to this point, you have nothing left to think. You just play. You trust the process, relax your mind, and swing. This time you line out to the short stop. You walk back to the dugout with a feeling of success. You just found a piece of your confidence. The next at bat, you line out to the gap in right center. You’re close!
Your mind controls your body. Your negative energy starts turning into positive energy. Your negative self-talk begins turning into positive self-talk. Your “I cant’s” become “I wills.” You start visualizing yourself drilling gap shots when you’re in the on deck circle. Your muscles are looser. Your hands gently grip the bat. That pea shooting at you from the pitcher’s mound is starting to seem a lot bigger!
Your next at bat, you single up the middle. Suddenly the slump is over and you’re back! This is not luck, it’s not chance, it’s mind over matter. So next time you find yourself in the inevitable slump - loosen your grip, take a deep breath, and play ball.
Since we've formed our business, we have had many people ask us, "Why 360U?" Let me fill you in a little bit on us and what we do.
In December, I graduated from UW Madison with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and was forced to hang up my cleats and helmet after 10+ years of playing competitive softball. I was searching for some guidance on how to align my talents, needs, and desires to find out what was next for me. I was looking for a fresh start. Luckily, timing worked in my favor as my sister Laura and her husband Scott were at a great point in their lives to take on a new adventure as well. They had been discussing starting a softball business for a few years and were ready to take action.
Softball runs deep in our blood as everyone in my family has played or coached at some point in their lives. Laura and I, being so closely removed from playing, are familiar with the new strategies of the game that are critical to keeping up with the quickly evolving sport. We have faced and overcome the challenges of being student-athletes and have first-hand experience in balancing all that comes with playing a sport at the collegiate level, which is much more than meets the eye. Scott, Head Softball Coach at UW Oshkosh, knows the game of softball as well as anyone. He has coached and played fastpitch which gives him a unique, dual-perspective approach to the game. All of our strengths, skill sets, and passions aligned. We seemed to have all of the bases covered - no pun intended. With the help of a business-minded, entrepreneurial spirited family we decided to give it a shot and start our own business.
After identifying the need for softball instruction in the area, we noticed the need for more than just x’s and o’s skills training. Don’t get me wrong - the mechanics, techniques, and fundamentals are an absolute necessity to grow into a competitive, successful softball player. However, there is a world of additional skills, many of them intangible, that are needed to truly thrive in your sport. Those skills often go unnoticed and aren't given near the attention and training they deserve – mental resilience, confidence building, situational savviness, approach to the game, response to failure, the list goes on and on.
Imagine this. You step up to bat in the 3rd inning with a runner on first base and no outs in a tight game. Your coach gives you the bunt sign. You know the pitcher loves to throw her rise ball that starts on zone and curves up and out when it breaks. “Great,” you think to yourself, definitely not the best pitch to try to bunt. You step into the box with this thought in mind and cautiously watch the first pitch go by for a strike – a straight, belt-high fastball outside. “Shoot,” you think to yourself. Now I lost a strike and need to get the bunt down and move the runner before I get to 2 strikes and lose the sacrifice option. Next pitch. Sure enough, the rise ball. You chase it in fear of letting another strike go by and pop up the bunt to the 3rd basemen, doubling off your teammate at first base. I personally know this feeling all too well…believe me, you and your coach are equally upset. You trot off to centerfield where you carry your frustration. A gap shot is hit your way and your tension and blurred focus causes you to overthrow your cut off target allowing a run to score which extends the inning. The game goes by and you get up to bat again in the bottom of the 7th inning, down by one, with a runner in scoring position…lucky you. What happens next? It all depends on how you deal with the intangibles that ultimately make or break all student-athletes in their respective sports. Mechanics seem a lot less important now, don’t they?
That’s where 360U was derived from. Not 90° “you” or 180° “you”….but the comprehensive, all-encompassing 360° “you”. We want to give athletes the tools to be prepared to deal with those situations, which will ultimately translate to how they deal with adversity and obstacles in their lives outside of athletics. Through instructing, mentoring, and developing softball players into prepared and confident young women, we hope to help them discover the best-version-of-themselves on the field and beyond.
Maria Van Abel