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Nov. 18, 2005

I. Expectations

With our new coaching staff I felt that unlimited possibilities had overtaken the future of this program, our current roster, and my individual skills. This crucial change represented a new start built upon fresh instruction, renewed confidence, and the revamping of our approach to softball. What I looked for most from our new coaches was a plan of attack. Obviously we wanted to win, but how? How were we going to use the team’s strengths to beat the opponent? I came into this year open to anything, 100% willing to adopt any part of their system. You could say that I was a buyer looking to invest my money (time and effort) into something profitable – I needed to be sold on something. The investment consisted of the team and myself, but this also meant that everyone needed to work incredibly hard. As a fourth year, this upcoming year represented the last time to become the best softball player I could be. More so, this year represented the last opportunity to be a part of a process where the program finally reached its potential. UVA softball was about to explode, and I wanted to be play a role in the beginning of its explosion.

I did not meet the coaches until our first team meeting, but after hearing about them second hand throughout the summer, I eagerly awaited the time when I could make my own conclusions, and most importantly discover their plan of attack. I will never forget our first team meeting because it was there that the coaches sold me on their plan. For one, they proved to be firm coaches that would not let their desire to be liked by the team interfere with their job. Secondly, they had already established a confidence in the team without ever having seen us play, and this confidence, combined with the confidence they had in themselves as coaches, made me believe that we could actually have a successful season. The prospect of an ACC championship became a reality that could be achieved not just because our talent should allow us to win it, but because the team possessed certain tools that, with some slight fine tuning, could get us precisely what we wanted. Finally, the coaches had a logic or reason behind everything that they articulated effectively to the team. This made it easier for me to accept their plans for the team simply because they made sense. I walked away from that meeting hyped to the highest degree about the possibilities proposed to us, but I mostly felt grateful for this last year of softball, and saw it has my last opportunity to make something happen – I would cherish every minute of it.

II. The Routine

The coaches installed a new practice system that involved small group individual sessions for an hour twice a week, weights three days a week, and conditioning two days a week. Coming from three years of two hour fall practices every day, I wondered exactly how much improvement I could make in only two hours per week. I found the answer in efficiency. The individuals were split into half hour blocks for both defense and offense. I found the biggest change in our hitting practices, where we were taught a new way of hitting, limited to certain drills, and limited to a certain amount of swings. Not being able to take an unlimited amount of swings was frustrating for me, but over time it taught me to focus on hitting five balls well instead of relying on the succeeding reps – I had to produce in those instances or not at all. In all, the individual session enabled me to work on specific skills that are not given attention in total team practices. The smaller groups enabled more one on one instruction, and also made it easier to add structure to our repetitions. Finally the coaches made it clear that our individual sessions were for gradual improvement, and that they analyzed our skill on this facet more than any other.

We only saw the whole team for an hour each day at either weights or conditioning. I believe that this was good for the team dynamic at the time, because rightfully so, everyone came into this year ready to extend themselves and go all out. Our separation helped ease this heightened excitement and competitiveness in areas where the focus needed to be more on one’s personal skill improvement and not what others were doing. However, the healthy inter-squad competitiveness was encouraged and needed in our weight sessions and conditioning workouts. These team practices were designed with a competitive agenda, and many times the coaches challenged us against one another. I liked this balance because it made it easier to initiate a technique change without worrying too much about the results, but our competitive edge was still given an outlet in the team practices.

The main lesson the coaches taught us in the team practices was the need to push ourselves beyond our maximum point. We were to hold nothing back, and constantly push ourselves. This came from their belief in us that we could all do more than we thought.

III. October

October represented the transition of our individual practice routine to team practices. With this came longer hours plus the desire to show other teammates your improvement. Likewise, we wanted to see how others had improved, but more importantly, how each individual improvement reflected upon the team’s performance – bottom line, did we look better together? For me this was a time of refocus in order to put my improvements to use, and to deal with the new challenges of a different practice routine. As the past month had its own challenges, so too would October.

We put in much longer hours. On our scrimmage days, when I came early for additional workouts, I would end up spending four hours on the softball field. On Wednesdays and Fridays I would spend three hours on the softball field with an additional hour spent in the weight room. Without a doubt we were challenged! By the end of the week going out for the weekend was the last thing on my mind, and just in case I did want to go out, we had several 7:00 a.m. practices on Saturday that prevented me from doing so. Softball had become our full time job if it had not already.

What made this transition easier was the fact that by October, the coaches had effectively instilled in us the idea that all our hard work was being stored for use in the upcoming season. To take away from this hard work by not working hard or by acting irresponsibly would not only take away from yourself, but more importantly take away from the team. We all sacrificed several things so as to not take away from the team’s investment. As an interesting twist, coach made this sacrifice our choice by saying that we were free to do whatever we wanted, but if our choices in action did not subscribe to those she was asking for, we could no longer be apart of the system she was trying to create. If it was easy everyone would do it.

Last but not least, October represented game time! Yes, the inter-squad scrimmages were beneficial, but the best way to see our improvement was in a comparison with another team. We played very well against George Mason (I say this with great modesty), and while our double-header against Longwood was cancelled the following weekend, the Alumni Game was a great way to still get some repetitions in the form of a game situation. One of my favorite moments during the fall was the parents’ reactions to the visible physical strength of our bodies. Our softball team has a great support system from the parents, and they all commented on our physical strength in such a way that made me proud of the team. They also remarked on how together we seemed on the field – we looked sharp, and were sharp, and are getting sharper!

IV. Not Done Yet

We are currently in the home stretch of fall practice. November initiated the return to individual practice – a cool down period you could say before finals kick in. However we are not done yet! We have come so far and we do not want to loose this progress. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks cannot be a complete mental and physical rest from softball if we want our progress to carry over into the season, which of course is when it really matters. When we return from break, we will be on the go and never stop, nor will we look back, because we will possess within ourselves everything needed for success.

All I can really say is watch out for us on February 17, 2006 because we are on a mission!

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