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Coach’s Corner: Stand By Each Other, Like A Goose In A Flock

Photo Courtesy: ragincajuns.com

For any athletic team to be succesful, there needs to be teamwork, and that means standing by each other, in good times, and bad. UL co-head softball coach touches on teamwork, in this week’s edition of “Coache’s Corner: Stand By Each Other, Like A Goose In A Flock.” Read coach Lotief’s blog, below. 

TEAMWORK – STAND BY EACH OTHER, LIKE A GOOSE IN A FLOCK

Last week we talked about Ferns and Bamboos as it relates to the developmental process.  This week’s topic is teamwork and we are going to use the journey of a flock of geese to get our inspiration.

ACHIEVING GOALS TOGETHER is more important than doing it alone: When you see geese flying along in “V” formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way.  As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an  UPLIFT for the bird immediately following.  By flying in “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 PERCENT greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.  (By being a part of the flock, ADDS 71 PERCENT!!!).

TEAMWORK LESSON:  Teams who share common goals (a common direction, a sense of community and togetherness, who care about each other and each other’s successes – UPLIFT) can get where they are going more quickly and easily if they are a part of a team versus trying to go at it alone.  I would estimate that an individual can expect to get a 71 PERCENT improvement by being part of a good team as opposed to just trying to do the task on their own.  When you are on a team (as when you are in a flock), you get the benefit of traveling on the thrust of one another.

WHY DOES TEAMWORK MATTER? When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone — and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are headed the same way we are.

Teamwork Lesson:  We should understand the importance and significance of being a part of a TEAM.  We should be willing to accept others help and understand how beneficial it is to get the advice, experience, guidance and perspective of teammates which will/can expedite our own learning process.  Additionally, once we gain some measure of competence, we should willingly give our assistance and help to any and all of our teammates.

GOOD TEAMS UNDERSTAND COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY:  When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south.

TEAMWORK LESSON:  Each team member has unique skills, capabilities, talents and resources.  Each team member needs to accept the responsibility to lead (steps up, pull his load, next man up if an injury occurs) versus just relying on the head goose or the best player.  In order to achieve the team mission (or the flock mission of flying south), we all must play “our role” and accept our responsibility.

HONK LOUDEST WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGHEST: Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.  What messages do we give when we honk from behind?

TEAMWORK LESSON:  Make sure your honking is true encouragement; be positive and be sincere.  Don’t pout; don’t whine; don’t just worry about what is best for just you.  A true teammate honks loudest when she is furthest behind.

CARING.  STAND BY EACH OTHER:  Finally — and this is important — when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group.  If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

Teamwork Lesson:  The beauty of being on a team is the understanding that if you falter or fail, you will never be alone.  The support structure is always there to love, care, and support you, no matter what the adversity or the circumstance.A favorite story of TEAM is the movie, Miracle.  Herb Brooks, the USA Hockey Coach at the end of the movie (in a voice over) says,  

“Two days later the miracle was made complete. My boys defeated Finland to win the gold medal, coming from behind once again. As I watched them out there, celebrating on the ice, I realized that Patti (Brooks’ wife) had been right. It was a lot more than a hockey game, not only for those who watched it, but for those who played in it. I’ve often been asked in the years since Lake Placid what was the best moment for me. Well, it was here – the sight of 20 young men of such differing backgrounds now standing as ONE. Young men willing to sacrifice so much of themselves, all for an unknown. A few years later, the U.S. began using professional athletes at the Games – “Dream Teams”. I always found that term ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom ever get to dream. But on one weekend, as America and the world watched, a group of remarkable young men gave the nation what it needed most – a chance, for one night, not only to dream, but a chance, once again, to believe”.

 And how did Brooks get those 20 different men of differing backgrounds to stand as one and complete the Miracle?  Part of the process was after a bad performance in an exhibition game where his players showed lack of focus and effort and toughness, he lined them up and made them skate “suicides” back and forth across the rink for over an hour.  After each one, he would ask, “What’s you name son and where are you from? And who do you play for?” And each time, the college hockey players would state his name and his hometown and then answer with his COLLEGE TEAM NAME.  Not satisfied, Coach Brooks would call for the whistle, which required his team to skate back and forth across the rink.  Until finally, the right answer came:  “Mike Eruzione!  Winthrop, Massachusetts.”  “Who do you play for?” asked Brooks, and Eruzione exhausted from skating back and forth from red line to red line, looked up to him and exclaimed, “I play for the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!”  Finally, someone changed their thinking from just ME, and saw themselves as part of a team.  Rather than just seeing himself as an individual, Eruzione realized there was a bigger picture which involved understanding what it meant to be on a TEAM (USA Hockey!).  It is no coincidence that Eruzione was the captain of that team; nor should it surprise any of us, that when it mattered most against the Russians, he scored the game winning goal. 

According to Patrick Lencioni, there are 5 dysfuctions of a team: (1) an absence of trust; (2) teams that fear conflict and thus have an artificial harmony; (3) teams with a lack of commitment/ambiguity in their purpose, (4) a team that avoids accountability and has low standards, and (5) a team that does not focus on the results.

In order to know whether you have a TEAM that is more like the flock of geese or one that is dysfunctional, ponder to what degree you think the following Lencioni questions are relevant in making a team functional and strong:

Are your team members passionate and unguarded in the discussion of issues?

Do team members call out one another’s deficiencies or unproductive behaviors?

Do team members know what their peers are working on and how they contribute to the collective good of the team?

Do team members genuinely apologize to one another when they say or do something inappropriate or possibly damaging to the team?

Are team members willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the team?

Do team members openly admit their weaknesses and mistakes?

Are your team members compelling and thoughtful versus boring?

Do team members leave meetings confident that their peers are completely committed to the decisions that were agreed on, even if there was initial disagreement?

Is morale significantly affected by the failure to achieve team goals?

During team meetings, are the most important and difficult issues put on the table to be discussed and resolved?

Are team members deeply concerned about the prospect of letting down their peers?

Do discussions end with clear and specific resolutions and calls to actions?

Do team members challenge one another about their plans and approaches?

On your team, are team members slow to seek credit for their own contributions, but quick to point out those of others?

TEAMWORK LESSON:  Each team member has unique skills, capabilities, talents and resources.  Each team member needs to accept the responsibility to lead (steps up, pull his load, next man up if an injury occurs) versus just relying on the head goose or the best player.  In order to achieve the team mission (or the flock mission of flying south), we all must play “our role” and accept our responsibility.

A favorite story of TEAM is the movie, Miracle.  Herb Brooks, the USA Hockey Coach at the end of the movie (in a voice over) says,  

 

“Two days later the miracle was made complete. My boys defeated Finland to win the gold medal, coming from behind once again. As I watched them out there, celebrating on the ice, I realized that Patti (Brooks’ wife) had been right. It was a lot more than a hockey game, not only for those who watched it, but for those who played in it. I’ve often been asked in the years since Lake Placid what was the best moment for me. Well, it was here – the sight of 20 young men of such differing backgrounds now standing as ONE. Young men willing to sacrifice so much of themselves, all for an unknown. A few years later, the U.S. began using professional athletes at the Games – “Dream Teams”. I always found that term ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom ever get to dream. But on one weekend, as America and the world watched, a group of remarkable young men gave the nation what it needed most – a chance, for one night, not only to dream, but a chance, once again, to believe”.

Take the lessons of the flock of geese.  In order to be a TEAM, first realize that we can do more together than we can alone.  Take advantage of the uplifting power of being part of the flock/team.  If we HONK and support and empower each other, then we can remain strong when the times get difficult.  And they will get difficult.  Appreciate the opportunity to both give and receive help.  We need our teammates to achieve their own personal potential (to be the BEST they can be) in order to achieve the TEAM’s goals.  Lastly, none of us knows or has a clue what any other person has been through or is going through in life.  We don’t know why he/she has to give up the lead.  On a team, the objective is to empathize with our teammates struggles and find creative ways to accomplish the mission and create an environment where all are motivated to do their very best day by day.  By being part of the team, we understand that every HONK matters, every flap of your wings matters, and whether you are the head goose in the lead or the bringing up the rear, your purpose and effort and attitude matters to the success of the TEAM and the accomplishments of the mission.

PRACTICE/GAME NOTES:  Group dynamics are fascinating to me – how people interact and work together to accomplish their goals.  In athletics, the term “CHEMISTRY” is often used as the reason good teams win and bad teams lose.  This group of girls has chemistry.  Not “artificial harmony” either.  Togetherness created by facing adversity, confronting tough issues, spending time developing meaningful relationships, doing the “suicide” runs, etc.  They work extremely hard.  And they are good kids – good students, high character people, and good athletes.  They are willing to do “whatever” for the good of the team whether it is fly in the front of the flock or honk from behind…..We have had some adversity again this year with injuries and maintaining our roster.  If you remember, last year we endured multiple injuries:  Ashley Brignac had her labrum surgery and she was out for the entire 2010 season, Katie Smith tore her ACL 10 games into the season, Taryn Broussard had emergency appendectomy surgery after the Lead-Off tournament and Britni Soria fractured her wrist.  We were fortunate last year because Brittany Cuevas/SENIOR did a magnificent job in the pitching circle in Ashley’s absence.  Cuevas had an outstanding freshmen year (30 game winner – beat Baylor, Georgia, Arizona St.) then battled injuries and health issues herself; then had limited pitching opportunities her junior season; but nonetheless, continued to work and flap her wings with the flock and support her teammates, and when her opportunity came, she was prepared and performed magnificently.  Cuevas was THE integral part in leading last year’s team to a Super Regional.  She was 22-8, had an ERA of 2.67, recorded 203 strike-outs in 202 innings pitched, and she held opponents to a batting average of just .211; and of course, she got both of the critical wins in the Baton Rouge Regional against Texas A&M.  FYI, Cuevas is engaged to be married November 18th.  Kelly Cormier/SENIOR stepped in at 2nd base and solidified our defense.  I talked to her dad last week and Kelly is doing great – she is in school in New Orleans to be a Doctor of Audiology (hearing); only 10 students per year accepted into that curriculum.  Kelly started 36 of the 63 games last year and she was #2 on the team last year in batting average, hitting .320.   Vallie Gaspard/SENIOR took over in CF and really was the heart and soul of last year’s offense/outfield defense.  Vallie lead the team in batting average, hitting .420 and she was 18-19 in stolen base attempts.  Vallie is still enrolled in classes at UL/expected graduation in December; future line of employment being occupational therapy.  Last season was so special because those kids perservered through adversity…..This season is testing us again.  From the time this team gathered in August to start our journey, we are “down” 6 key players – 1. Britni Soria (quit in the fall; she told the team that she did not have the “desire” to play anymore; she is still enrolled and attending classes at UL), 2. Donna Bourgeois (quit and transferred to Houston in November 2010, after practicing and playing with the team ALL FALL), 3. Courtney Hollier (transferred from LSU in the summer after last year’s season but NOT released to compete this season for us, she is red-shirting), 4.  Taryn Broussard (broke her ankle vs. Jackson State in the 3rd week of this season), 5. Christina Hamilton (emergency appendectomy surgery last Wednesday), 6. Jensen Tydelski (out for the season/personal-family matter).  The adversity this team is facing is MORE significant than last year’s team, (both in terms of  #s and with respect to experienced replacements).  If you noticed, the people who “STEPPED UP” last year were ALL SENIORS – Cuevas, Cormier, Gaspard; this year’s team only has one senior (Gabby).  Hamilton/FRESHMEN “stepped up” after Bourgeois quit.  Paige Cormier/Junior and Natalie Fernandez/FRESHMEN are “stepping up” at 2B where Hollier and Soria were.   Fernandez/FRESHMEN is now the DP in place of Broussard.  Shelbee Rodgers/FRESHMEN and Allie Chenault/FRESHMEN are now “stepping in” for Hamilton.  It is a DIFFERENT challenge.  It’s not “doom & gloom”, but it’s not just a game either; it matters to these kids and they are putting their hearts and souls into this effort.  I am sooooooo proud of this group because of their resolve and their fight and their determination and their positive approach and their courage and their wisdom.  This is a special group of kids and they are smart enough to understand that the adversity is only making US stronger.  KEEP FLAPPING!!!!   KEEP HONKING!!!!  STAY IN FORMATION!!!!

GET TO KNOW:  PLAYER PROFILE (new section/featuring a current player/composed by our SID, Matt Mays):  MEGAN GRANGER – JR/St. Martinville, LA; Teurlings Catholic HS/3B.

Granger prepped at Teurlings Catholic HS from 2004-2007 where she started at 1Base and was part of the 2007 3-A State Championship team.  She spent her freshman season in Ruston at Louisiana Tech, before transferring to UL in 2009 (had to redshirt her first season here b/c LA Tech did not release her).  She has assumed the starting role at third base for the Cajuns in 2011, her junior season.  Her defensive skills at the hot corner are second to none, as Granger has committed just two errors, compared to 29 assists and 15 putouts thus far this season.  She made a “web gem” defensive play for the Cajuns, a diving stop in the hole in the seventh inning of Ashley Brignac’s no-hitter at McNeese State on February 26.  At the plate, Granger has come on strong as of late, boosting her season batting average to .328, with two home runs, 17 runs scored and 12 RBI.  She delivered the second leg of back-to-back home runs against McNeese State at Lamson Park that sent the Cajuns on their way to a victory.  She really shined at the Citrus Classic in early March, hitting .500 in five games, including a double, triple and home run.

Coach Mike on Granger:  “Megan has worked extremely hard.  During her redshirt year and her sophomore year, despite only getting limited playing opportunities, she showed up everyday with great effort and a great attitude.  She has been consistent in her approach and she has been rewarded with steady-eddie self-improvement.  She is a great teammate and cares deeply about those around her.  Her off-the-field personality may be quiet and shy; but she is a fierce competitor between the lines and has a burning passion to be the best.”

According to Megan, her funniest UL softball memory is “beating Alabama” and her finest softball memory is “transferring to UL.”

Megan is the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Renee & Percy Granger; she has a twin sister, Mandy who plays 1B at Nichols; she plans to coach/teach P.E. graduation.

GOOD TIMES:  A LOOK BACK

“In your heart, keep one still, secret spot where dreams may go and sheltered, so may thrive and grow.” 

 In 2003, the Ragin’ Cajuns softball team taught us that dreams do come true and that heart and desire can carry a team to limits that know no end.  The Cajuns advanced to the Women’s College World Series, a dream come true.  “Our appearance in the WCWS should be an inspiration to many little girls who have big dreams” said Stefni Lotief.  “You see, most of our players were not the most highly recruited players out of high school; maybe a foot too short or a step too slow.  But what nobody could measure and everybody underestimated was their HEART and the power of the human spirit.  The real story about 2003 is a core group of girls who believed in themselves and their dreams and each other.  They taught us that dreams indeed do come true.”

UL followed the heart and determination of ace pitcher Brooke Mitchell who had mowed down the opposition in Regionals taking down San Diego State (no hitter), No. 6 Cal State Fullerton (2-hitter) and No. 13 Oklahoma State (1-hitter).  Mitchell’s grittiest performance of the season came in the Cajuns 6-4 win over Oregon in the championship game when she went to the pitcher’s circle with an inflamed bicep but the mindset that “we are going to win this game”.  The WCWS will be best remembered by most who watched for Danyele Gomez’s mammoth home run shot off of Texas’ Cat Osterman in the first inning which ended Osterman’s string of 65 innings without a run allowed.

For senior Becky McMurtry it was the perfect ending: “I wouldn’t want to end it anywhere but here.  8 teams out of the entire country made it here and we were one of them.”  The “PLUGS” of the 2003 WCWS team:  Brittany Bryant, Crystal George, Rachel Reese (DR.), Summer Lapeyrouse, Michelle Bergeaux, Joy Webre, Brooke Mitchell, Tiffany Hebert, Jill Robertson, Leslie Pierce, Danyele Gomez, Michael Parrott, Tiffany Grayson, Becky McMurtry, Ashley Evans, Afton Thoms.

Congratulations to Jessica Clarke (DR. Clarke), who got married last weekend.  Jessica is asst. athletic director in charge of compliance; but many of us remember her as a “softball player” for the Cajuns; others as Homecoming Queen at UL or President of the SGA at UL; whatever your memory, she is a RAGIN’ CAJUN through and through.  

Check out the RAGIN’ CAJUNS SOFTBALL FAN PAGE on facebook; get the game recaps and stories at www.ragincajuns.com, and listen to the coaches show on Mondays at noon on www.espn1420.com.  GEAUX CAJUNS!!!!!

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