Coach’s Corner: with Michael Lotief
A key element to being successful is being mentally tough. In this week's edition of "Coach's Corner", UL co-head softball coach Michael Lotief talks about how going through tough times can make a team, or individual, better, in the long run. View coach Lotief's "Happlily Ever After Blog", below.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly self-disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it character in action.
The true hero never surrenders…He is distinguished from the others by the constancy with which he repeats himself, the patience with which he suffers and reacts, the pride with which he hides his sufferings and flings them back in the face of the one who has ordered them. Not resigning himself a victim, not showing others his sadness or despair.
Oriana Fallaci, “A Man”
Lucy to Linus in the Peanuts Comic Strip by Charles Schulz that appeared just this week: “You think you’re happy just because you’re happy all the time…”
“Well, happiness isn’t being happy all the time…Happiness is being sad, too!”
“If you’re sad sometimes, then you’re happy all the time!”
“AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!”
How do you become TOUGH without going through tough times? In order to find toughness, it seems that you must experience and deal with tough circumstances? In order to live happily ever after, you must endure some sadness too? In order to be a hero, you must suffer? In order to be a champion, you must have character in action?
There are softball series and competitions where the circumstances and environment you are facing are extremely difficult: the umpires obviously are interpreting the rules in a strange manner; every call goes in the favor of your opponent; you are not physically healthy because of an injury; your are not executing the game the way you know you can; the fans and the crowd are jeering and condescending of you and your team; and your opponent is worthy. What is your perspective? Do you still play the game as hard and as “right” and to the “very best” you are capable? Are you unyielding – to the scoreboard, to the unfair official or the cruel fans? Are you able to transcend the negative emotions you are likely feeling? ARE YOU TOUGH ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH TOUGH CIRCUMSTANCES? When acting out your dreams and goals, you must be a mentally tough athlete. There will be times when everything and everybody is against you. At those moments, you must not resign and you must not yield and your will must refuse to give in!
Fans love to ask the simple question, ‘What happened’? In order to compete in sport at the highest level (college softball is the highest level of competition of our sport), it takes courage and toughness. This ain’t easy stuff. It’s not like taking your morning walk around the neighborhood. Most times, the outside world only sees the final score – but to me, the true measure is the state of mind and the character and the will of the competitors. I love a team that is able to CONFRONT CONFRONTATION AND HOSTILITY. Good teams are aggressive and relentless versus passive and always the victim. Being mentally tough requires players who are responsible for their behavior and willing to do what the situation requires. A mentally tough athlete finds a way to make the necessary adjustments and has the ability to cope effectively with adversity. If you are mentally tough then you can compete with pain and/or injury. Bottom line: if you are mentally tough then you find a way to “do what needs to be done” regardless of how you feel or where you are.
Most games turn on one or two pitches at this level. And when the ADVERSITY you are faced with is: you are wrongly losing pitches by getting denied to go to 1st base when you get hit by a pitch but your opponent gets awarded 1base when hit by the pitch. Or you lose a pitch and a baserunner when you steal 2base and the defender blocks the bag you are called out but when the opponent steals 2base and gets thrown out, they get to stay at 2base. You have to be MORE MENTALLY TOUGH because you have more to overcome. You have to be sharper. You have to be stronger. You need more people on the rope and you need more people pulling harder. This ain’t for the feint hearted.
Before you can become mentally tougher, IMO by definition you have to be tested by hard times (an illness, a death, a loss, a new experience that you are uncomfortable with). Coach Robichaux says that “tough times do not last but tough people do”. I say, we all NEED tough times in order to become tough people. I ask, how do you become tough without going through tough times. The best analogy I have ever heard of is a fairy tale. In a fairy tale, there is NO such thing as “AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER” without some sort of heartbreak or tough times or adversity or something BAD happening or some unhappiness.
I think of how tough my dad was and the challenges that faced his generation: his parents immigrated at a young age from a foreign country, then they faced financial hardships and war: the Depression, Pearl Harbor and WWII, the assassinations of JFK, RFK & MLK, the struggle to be accepted and treated fairly, the fight for civil rights and equal rights, Vietnam, the Iranian hostage crisis. Tough times call for tough people. Tough times forge toughness.
Mental toughness is about an attitude – a perspective – about a way of thinking and living life – about welcoming challenges and adversity. Here are a couple of my favorite poems; the first is entitled “Attitude” and the author is anonymous.
We cannot choose how many years we will live, but we can choose how much life those years will have.
We cannot control the beauty of our face (except Stevie P), but we can control the expressions on it.
We cannot control life’s difficult moments, but we can choose to make life less difficult.
We cannot control the negative atmosphere of the world, but we can control the atmosphere of our minds.
Too often, we try to choose to control things we cannot.
Too seldom, we choose to control what we can…our attitude.
The next is entitled “Thinking” and the author is anonymous; this poem has been a part of my life for 27 years and was presented to me on a plaque that was given to me by a friend when I was diagnosed with throat cancer:
If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win but think you can’t,
It’s almost certain you won’t.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later, the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.
Attitude does not run on automatic. We are all responsible for our attitudes. If you have a great attitude then it takes work to maintain it. If your thoughts are more negative than positive, then you have some “WEEDING” to do. When we take total responsibility for our attitudes, then we are closer to being a mentally tough athlete and/or person. We choose our attitude and mindset in all given set of circumstances. That’s what we control – our thoughts, our minds, our will, our attitude. And on a team, the goal is to have one heartbeat, one mindset – and hopefully, the one’s with great attitudes are able to influence and rub off on others who struggle and can help them “tend to their garden”. And like the flock of geese, each member of the team should be able to take a turn in the lead (having a strong will and a unwavering focus) and each teammate should at all times be honking (encouraging each other, and coming up with affirmations). It is too much of a burden to expect the same people to always lead and honk. There is that collective responsibility. That shared sense of obligation. Great teams and great leaders are able to collectively find answers to questions, solutions to problems, turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones, refuse to hold common excuses for failures, and choose not to focus on what happens to them but rather what is happening within them. Great teams are composed of individuals who perceive obstacles as conditions of success and roadblocks as tests of their perseverance and will. It’s not good enough to have one or two team members who are mentally tough. You need a whole “flock” of members who are committed to that way of thinking.
Sometimes we need to all remember that in competition that attitude and confidence is dynamic – it’s ever changing – it’s not a pill you take – it’s not tangible or measurable – it’s not like hair color. You can be confident one day and not the next. It’s not like you wake up one day and say, “I’m confident for the next 10 years”. It’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s a life challenge.
And another flawed assumption is that the best players are the most confident. Consider this quote by art critic Robert Hughes, “The greater the artist the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is most likely granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” Fans again are unrealistic in their expectations of the best players to always perform at the highest level. I’ve seen A-Rod drop an infield pop-up; I’ve seen Albert Pujols strike out with bases loaded; I saw Rivera blow a save two night ago; I saw Lebron James miss a game winning 6 foot jump shot; in fact every night on ESPN you can watch the best players in the world fill TV time with bloopers and miscues and failure. If a softball player says that I am going to be confident only when I hit a homerun or go 4 for 4, then confidence would only happen occasionally. You have to find things in the game that you have more control over. EFFORT and ATTITUDE. (This team has great effort and this team has great attitude). Every game brings about different challenges. Every game and every series is different. Every game is unique unto itself and presents itself with its own character and challenges and different circumstances. Make sure you are ready regardless of the circumstances, or the ump, or the fans, or your physical health. This game is hard and tough and sometimes cruel. It takes tough-minded people to excel at it. There are days where you have monumental success (hit 3 homeruns or strike out 20) and then there are days when you will struggle (cannot catch a simple pop-up or groundball or strike out every time). No matter what the outcomes, we should all resolve to be mentally tougher; and sometimes, in our defeat those lessons are most valuably learned.
And when we become mentally tougher by overcoming a tough circumstance and our lives continue to be full of rich, learning experiences wherein we took an appropriate risk, then we can…all live happily ever after.
GOOD TIMES – A LOOK BACK:
A lot of focus and attention has been given to the DYNAMIC DUO of Gabby Bridges and Christi Orgeron. Gabby has 21 homeruns and Christi has 20. So I decided to look back at the dynamic duos or combinations of power hitters that complimented each other and challenged each other to be the best. During my 11 years, here are some of the combinations that bring back good memories. Each group challenged each other during the season they played together, and just as important, they set the standards and helped the next year group’s learning progression and motivation to continue the legacy.
2001: Jana Mower – Alana Addison – Missy Martin
2002: Alana Addison – Becky McMurtry – Missy Martin
2003: Danyele Gomez – Becky McMurtry – Tiffany Grayson
2004: Danyele Gomez – Ashley Evans -- Lacey Bertucci – Holly Tankersly
2005: Danyele Gomez – Lacey Bertucci – Ashley Evans – Jill Robertson – Joy Webre
2006: Brittany Bryant – Danyele Gomez – Lacey Bertucci – Ashley Evans – Holly Tankersly
2007: Lacey Bertucci –Holly Tankersly – Codi Runyan – Desi Chatman
2008: Vanessa Soto – Holly Tankersly – Melissa Verde – Lana Bowers
2009/10: Gabby Bridges – Melissa Verde – Lana Bowers – Christi Orgeron.
I know the slappers are jealous now and want some love too; so next week we can itemize the SPEED DUOS.
Good luck to all the UL students on their final exams. Study hard. Remember these athletes are great students too who take their studies very seriously and who excel in the classroom 1st! It is not just about softball and homeruns and strike-outs – there is GPA and degrees and credit hours too. It takes a champion to excel in athletics and in academics; we got a bunch of champions! GEAUX CAJUNS!