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Coach’s Corner: With Michael Lotief

Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajun softball program has certainly had it’s share of excellence. The program has been to the Women’s College World Series five times, and has been to an NCAA Regional every year, since 1990, with the exception of one year. On this week’s edition of “Coach’s Corner”, UL co-head coach Michael Lotief talks about excellence, and what that term requires. View this week’s edition of “Coach’s Corner” below.

Photo Courtesy: ragincajuns.com

“Coach’s Corner”—with Michael Lotief 

 

EXCELLENCE:  WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

 

“The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work.  The world tips its hat to those who devote more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%”.  – Andrew Carnegie

 

The softball team has a saying, “Have only one agenda:  EXCELLENCE”.  Coach Hudspeth in his introductory press conference talked about “requiring excellence” of not just the coaches and the players, but the guy who cuts the grass or the person who orders the uniforms and the band, cheerleaders and dance team too; iow, “all of us”. 

 

What is “excellence”?  How do you create a “culture” where excellence is the goal of ALL?  How do you get a group of people to all devote 100%, to put in the hours or “go the extra mile” or  “pay the price” or to “keep punching the clock” or keep “grinding”?  First, let’s make an attempt to define excellence.

 

Excellence is accomplished through deliberate actions, ordinary in themselves, which are performed consistently and meticulously, which are made into habits, when compounded together, add up over time.

 

So here is the challenge:

 

n      the things players do in training, developing their skill and in getting fit must be deliberate – planned and thought out;

n      the actions are ordinary and everyone is doing them; there are no real secrets;

n      repetition, OVER AND OVER, done on a regular basis;

n      carefully, eliminating mistakes and missteps;

n       making sure your standards are that of a champion;

n       your focus must be supreme;

n      your habits and your routine become your roadmap to excellence; coached into your technical, tactical, psychological and physical fabric;

n      it’s a journey that adds up over time, done on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis; referred to as discipline.

 

90% of the things we do are habitual.  NINETY PERCENT!  There are hundreds of  things we do the same way everyday.  Excellence is a matter of understanding and religiously practicing specific simple routines over and over, day by day, the RIGHT WAY.  When a player is developing her skills, another key factor is perseverance and discipline.  Sometimes the repetitive work is NOT fun; it can be outright lonely and boring.  BUT, it is what makes you exceptional.  SKILL development and fitness are areas of the game in which EXCELLENCE is completely in the player’s control.  But it is more than just hard work.  It is not just PRACTICE that makes PERFECT; her work must be scientific; it cannot be haphazard.  It must be structured properly; you have to know the right things to do; it should be properly organized.  You can do too much and you can do not enough.

We talk about transcending ordinary effort.  Ordinary effort is when you are comfortable — that’s working at 25 – 50% of your capacity that Carnegie refers to.  That’s mediocrity.  A lot of athletes work within their comfort zone.  But if you train within your comfort zone, you are not preparing yourself for competition nor are you chasing excellence.  The challenge is to find ways to elevate your environment.  You have to set your own STANDARDS of practice performance.  This is what sets the truly great players apart.  Every single swing is bases loaded at the WCWS or every pitch is with the game on the line. 

It is excellence that forces us to “get up” one more time, after we’ve been knocked down.  It is excellence that gives us the ability to strive for our best despite the pain and the hurt and the struggle.  It is excellence that allows us to rebound from failures and setbacks that life sends our way.   

Defining excellence is the easy part.  How do you know if you have achieved excellence?  Everybody can tell what is and is NOT excellence on both extremes.  Recreational ball is not about competitive excellence; it’s about just playing.  On the other extreme are the MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIPS: the Super Bowl, March Madness, and the Women’s College World Series. 

But Vince Lombardi gave, what I believe, is the best measure of whether excellence is achieved, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” 

In college athletics, does the school with a $60 million dollar athletic budget get judged by the same standard as the school with a $15 million dollar budget?  According to Lombardi, it seems as though the challenge is to reach for your potential.  There is NOT  an “even” playing field in college athletics.  Some schools are able to commit substantial financial sums to athletics and have such an obvious advantage in terms of budgets, facilities, support staff, etc.  There is no draft in college where the worst team gets an opportunity to pick the best athletes.  There are no financial caps that limit the amounts of money spent.

That’s why I always pull for the underdog.  My heroes are people/teams who overcome tremendous odds to reach their goals and achieve excellence because of their hard work and belief in one another and fighting day by day, not because of some inequity or loophole that gives them an obvious competitive advantage.  I much prefer the teams that work to attain their goals and have to earn it the “old fashioned” way, as opposed to trying to “buy” a championship.  NC State, 1983 NCAA Basketball Champions beating Houston/Phi Slama Jama 54-52; the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team (“Miracle on Ice”) who won the Gold Medal with amateur college players and beat the “professional” Russian team 4-3; the New Orleans Saints winning the 2010 Super Bowl behind Drew Brees who was “too short”, “not a strong enough arm” and thrown out of town by the Chargers after his shoulder injury; Rocky; Hoosiers; UL Baseball in the CWS in 2000 after beating South Carolina in Super Regionals and then beating Clemson in the World Series; Seabiscuit beating War Admiral; Harry Truman winning the 1948 presidential election.  Of course, my favorite softball victories are: the Ragin Cajuns Softball team beating the #1 National Seed, Arizona Wildcats in the 2004 Regional in Tucson, Arizona; and the Ragin Cajuns Softball team beating the #1 National Seed, Florida Gators in the 2008 Women’s College World Series. 

 New addition/current events:  Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 this week!

 To me, these are instances where teams/people were able to maximize their accomplishments based on the resources they had available to them.  These underdogs had the power to hold on in spite of being “outmatched”; they endured by being told that their defeat was inevitable but never gave up or stopped believing; they pushed on in the face of difficulty knowing that victory would eventually be theirs; they inspired a new generation to believe in their dreams and to pursue excellence no matter what the “naysayers” said or thought. 

If Lombardi was right and the test is “WHAT WE DO WITH WHAT WE HAVE”, then excellence is not only just about championships; it’s about how you compete and whether you are committed to a process, a way of life that prepares you to perform at your very best; it’s about whether you devote 100% of your capacity. 

Ultimately, EACH TEAM and EACH PLAYER must decide their level of excellence.  They are the ones who truly know “WHAT WE DID WITH WHAT WE HAD”.  They know their commitment level.  They know what they did or did not do on those cold, winter mornings at 6 a.m. when nobody was around.  They know how many swings they took on a hot, summer day in June.  They know their intensity level in the weight room in the off-season and whether they faithfully attended day after day after day, no matter what.  Who else knows?  If we just tune in on Sunday and watch the game and then proclaim: that team is the best/excellent because of the score; IMO, that does a grave injustice to the process and sends the wrong message to our kids.  Were the Buffalo Bills an excellent football team during their 4 Super Bowls despite never winning?  Jim Kelly – excellent or not?  Trent Dilfer, excellent just because he got the ring and Dan Marino, not.  Tampa Bay Buccaners – excellent or an elite franchise?  Duke excellent, but Butler not?   I need more information before I can say one way or the other.  My test to measure excellence is the Lombardi test: what we do with what we have.

Lastly, what is the reward of achieving excellence – is it the trophy?  Is it being recognized in an article or receiving an award or being inducted into a society?  Is it simply the journey or the process?  Is it the self-satisfaction that you did your best day by day, week by week, year by year? To me, all the trophy does is validate what YOU intrinsically already know.  The reward is the journey.  It’s waking up every morning and knowing that your habits are that of a champion.  It is knowing that your ambition is to be the best.  It is the self-discipline to know that you are in control of your skill development and fitness.  It is the confidence of knowing that you will get up when knocked down and overcome when faced with struggle and fight when the odds are blatantly against you.

People who understand winning know that there are so many elements that make it fragile, especially in college athletics.  There is absolutely no guarantee that even if you work yourself to death, and do everything right, that you will win.  Everyone wants to create a formula for success that says if you work incredibly hard, things will always go your way.  But they don’t.  You still are going to lose.  You still are going to have to face adversity.  You still are going to struggle.  That is part of the journey.  That’s why I tell our players that our defining quality is our high standard and our ambition to be the best.  It is our commitment to EXCELLENCE, both on and off of the field. 

PRACTICE/GAME NOTES:  “FEAR THE FRAMES”, Christina Hamilton (FR/pitcher from Rosepine HS) and her lens free glasses continues to impress – 3-0 record, 17 innings pitched, 25 Ks, 2 BB, 0 runs, opponents BA .074; so does 5’1”, 100 lbs of Shelby Rodgers (FR/Central HS)– 3-0 record, 12.2 innings, 17 Ks, 1 BB, 0 runs, opponents BA .075; and Ashley Brignac is just back to her old self- record 4-0, 23.1 innings, 32 Ks, 6 BB, 1 earned run, ERA .30…….How many of you have ever stepped in the box against a live pitcher?  Then you know, that is the ultimate “mono on mono”.  In hitting, if you are 10/100 of a second early or late that is the difference between success and failure.  If you fire 10 of the 430 muscles out of sequence (IOW, if you do 420 right and only 10 wrong), you fail.  The feeling is HERE TODAY yet GONE TOMORROW.   I am so proud of our girls/players.  They are great athletes and committed students.  They work extremely hard and strive for excellence day by day, practice by practice.  They understand “MODERATION” – never getting too high after success nor too low after defeat.  They are committed to the process.  To hit a 65 m.p.h. riseball from 43 feet away allows them about 4/10th of a second to react AND execute the swing.  And if they so happen to be successful during one at bat or one series or one weekend, they are thankful, yet they remain HUMBLE.  They understand in OUR GAME that failure occurs more often than success…..Whether successful or not, the true competitor shows up the next day, focused and ready to improve and get better…The intrasquad scrimmages where our pitchers “get after” our hitters and vice-versa, have been “great competition”….One of our goals is NOT to go undefeated.  “Outsiders” see only OUTCOMES and “WE” remain focused on PROCESS….Arkansas beat UCLA last weekend; the same 2 pitchers who pitched against us when we played Arkansas opening weekend in a 14-1 victory (McGuirt, Jones) pitched the win vs. the #1 ranked Bruins (4-3).  Softball is a game where anybody can beat anybody else on any given day; it is a “tough” game and the real opponent are the challenges within the game; some days “you got it” and some days “you don’t”.  Remember, it is a LONG season….The CAJUNDOME is rocking for men’s basketball, reminds me of the good ole days in Blackham when I was at USL – what a great venue for college basketball and our guys are playing hard; let’s get over 10,000 people there for our seniors and our team!

GOOD TIMES – A LOOK BACK

This program has maintained a standard of excellence for a long time.  I saw Tiffany Whittall Harris sitting in the stands and it got me thinking.  Whittall was heralded as the best catcher in USL history; she was a 1995 All-American; her greatest obstacle to overcome is that she is married to Robert Harris; they have a son, Hogan, who has his mother’s athletic genetics.  Tiffany played from 1992 – 1995.  She appeared in TWO WOMEN’S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES (1993 & 1995).   In 1995, Cheryl Longeway pitched a no-hitter in the opening game of the World Series for a 5-0 win over Michigan.  To advance to the World Series, USL won an NCAA regional at home for the first time in 5 tries.  The Cajuns were the top-seed in the South Region and beat Nicholls State (5-1) in the first game of the regional before defeating Washington twice (7-6), (3-1). The 1995 All-Region team members were Lynn Britton, Stephanie DeFeo, Lana Jimenez (married to Brandon Stokley), Kathy Morton and Tiffany Whittall.  This group set a high standard of excellence for all that came after in Ragin’ Cajuns Softball.

I saw another “old timer” at the game, Susan Williams Chambliss, who played SS for the Cajuns from 1987-1990; she married former Ragin Cajun football player, Stuart Chambliss and they too have a very athletic son too, Christopher.  She epitomized “getting the most out of what you have”; at 5’0”, Susan was as “tough” (physically and mentally) as they come; evidenced by being one of the leaders all-time in hit-by-pitch (15); she is in the top for assists in a career with 357; she is also in the top for sacrifice hits in a career with 40.  She would do whatever it took to help her team win.  The 1990 team was a Ragin Cajuns team of firsts.  This team finished one run short of an invitation to the College World Series.  A 10-inning, 2-1 war with Florida State in the regional championship was not a fitting end for this team.  They achieved its highest ranking ever (#7).  Members of the All-Region team were Janine Johnson,

Michelle Mazac, Cathy Sconzo, Dorsey Steamer, Stefni Whitton and Lisa Wood.  This team set a foundation of “excellence” for all teams that followed.  And, they did it without the glamorous uniforms or luxurious locker room or million dollar stadium.  They did it for the “love of the game”.  If “what you do with what you have” is the standard of excellence, this team was truly EXCELLENT!

Congratulations to Summer Lapeyrouse (former Lafayette High and Ragin Cajun – 2000 – 2003) who recently married Stuart Childress.  More on that “group of characters” later!

Reminder: check out the RAGIN’ CAJUNS SOFTBALL FAN PAGE on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Ragin-Cajuns-Softball-Fan-Page/141642419230558; great photographs and great stories.  Go to www.ragincajuns.com for game recaps.  Join us here on www.espn1420.com  every week for Coach’s Corner!  GEAUX CAJUNS!

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