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Coach’s Corner: With Michael Lotief

Being the best not only takes talent, but also a willingness to be the best that you can be. In this week’s edition of “Coach’s Corner”, UL co-head softball coach Michael Lotief writes about how you must push yourself, to be the best that you can be, in his “Push Yourself: You Don’t Have To Be #1, To Be #1″ blog, below.

Photo Courtesy: ragincajuns.com

 

PUSH YOURSELF:  YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE #1, TO BE #1

To be #1 you have to push yourself with incredible energy and invisible determination, you have to overcome adversity yet remain positive, and you must allow yourself to be challenged (by the game and others) in order to be the best!

I love March Madness.  The Final 4 is set – UCONN, Kentucky, VCU and Butler.  For the first time since the seeding system started, there are NO NUMBER 1 seeds in the Final Four nor are there any NUMBER 2 seeds.  UConn is a 3 seed, Kentucky a 4 seed, Butler an 8 seed, and VCU an 11 seed.  If you expect to BE #1, without being #1 then you better be prepared to take advantage of any and all opportunities afforded you and you better PUSH YOURSELF with reckless abandon.  How do you motivate a group to achieve at a higher standard than they are expected to?  VCU knocked off #1 Kansas; Butler knocked off #1 Pitt.  How does that happen?  You are competing against teams with players who are stronger and faster than yours.  Those teams have bigger budgets and better equipment and MORE everything (more material things, that is).  It is a stiff challenge.  If your opponent has MORE material (an advantage in talent and money) then you better surely have MORE fight, MORE energy, MORE passion, MORE belief, MORE intensity and MORE PUSH.  How do you get individual players to accept the challenge of daily improvement – pushing forward day by day?  Where does the % of improvement come from?  From pushing yourself to be number 1!

PUSH YOURSELF to be number 1.  You must know what you want to do (clear goals); you must know exactly what you expect to accomplish (clear vision); you must visualize yourself achieving IT (believe in yourself); and you must push yourself everyday to get better and better and closer and closer to your potential.  Pushing yourself means breaking out of your comfort zone.  If you achieve a goal or start to get close to the finish line, then set a higher goal.  Define a new goal.  Chase after a bigger dream.  When you start out on the journey, we all have a bit of self-doubt.  Sometimes after a disappointing performance, we say, “I’ll never be able to accomplish that” or “I’m not good enough to beat that person or team”.  You must stay positive in your approach and eliminate all self-limiting beliefs (the elephant with the rope around his leg).  If you can believe it and visualize it and feel it in your heart, then you can do it.  Sometimes the % of improvement you need to go from a disappointing loss to victory needs to come from working harder; but most times you do not need to work any harder (i.e. put in more hours – quantity); instead your approach can be revised so it is smarter (quality of your work) and more efficient.  Sometimes your goals & expectations need to be set higher.  Sometimes you need to push harder and allow others to push you higher.  You need to surround yourself with a support structure (TEAM) that can provide you with the best instruction and guidance; that will PUSH you and hold you accountable to do your best; that will encourage and challenge you to persevere; and most of all, that will create an environment where you can LEARN and achieve daily.

In law school on the very 1st day of class, I had a professor who proudly boasted – look to your right and look to your left, 2 out of the 3 will NOT make it, 2 out of the 3 will flunk out, 2 out of the 3 will not make the cut.  WOW!  The people sitting in that classroom were the best of the best.  They were SELECTED to be sitting there.  They had to pass entrance exams and rank at the top of their undergraduate classes.  They were over-achievers, who knew how to work hard, who were exceptionally smart and self-motivated.  That certain professor showed up everyday and gave lectures and obviously proved to all of us how smart he was and what command he had over the subject matter.  But beyond being smart and articulate, he did nothing more to HELP any of us reach our potential nor defy the odds of 2 out 3 not making it.  He lectured, gave us the assignments and then graded the exams.  At the end of our 1st year, in fact, 2 out 3 did not make it. 

2 out of 3 flunking out is unacceptable, especially when you are working with the best of the best.  In athletics, I believe that is the coach’s responsibility to PUSH their players to make sure they GET IT.  We have to do more than just stand up and give a great lecture and hope that our students get it.  The ability of any good professor or teacher or coach is to take a complex subject (like hitting or pitching or advanced marketing) and break it down to a level that the player/student can understand and master.  And you have to explain it over and over and over again.  You have to come up with a different example or a different drill or a different analogy each day.  You have to sit down and watch video with the players.  You have to continuously encourage and challenge each one of them to stay at it.  You have to stay after practice and explain it again one on one and watch them do the drill or perform the skill and give them specific feedback on every swing or every pitch.  You can be book smart and throw out all of the big 10 syllable words or you can be an All-American athlete who knows how to perform the skill effortlessly, but if the player does not understand what you are talking about, or if the player is struggling with getting their body to get in the proper position or to feel what you are explaining, then there is no way that their skill level will improve.  They will flunk out.  So, you come up with yet another drill or you watch some more video or you throw more batting practice or you come up with another way to describe the material or do whatever and whenever to PUSH the player to get it. 

Not only are coaches and teachers and professors challenged to PUSH their students and players to master the skills (hitting) or the subject matter (marketing), but there are greater challenges.  How do you make sure the player is PUSHING mentally too?  How do you make sure that the player is properly MOTIVATED?  How do you get the player to get rid of self-limiting beliefs?  How do you get the player to set higher goals and standards for themselves and the team?  Coaching & leadership & teaching is not cheerleading or giving a great pre-game speech.  It is getting ALL of your players/students to play the game at a certain standard.  To do that, you must invest plenty of time and energy into a relationship and into the process.  You have to get that player to perform at their potential, and most times that involves some PUSHING.  You can’t just give the lecture and the ones who get it, get it — and the ones who don’t, flunk.  It’s a four-year journey; and sometimes a 5-year journey.

The following two quotes from George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Buxton give further meaning and perspective to what it means for somebody to PUSH themselves. The first one by Shaw is about ATTITUDE and the next one by Buxton is about EFFORT.  You have to have the right attitude and then put forth the required effort in order to push yourself to be number 1.   

 “The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”    — George Bernard Shaw

It’s all about your attitude and your perspective.  Are you a “force of fortune” or a “clod of ailments”?  Having the opportunity to play college athletics is a “fortune”; a wonderful opportunity.  First of all, it is suppose to be hard.  The hard is what makes it special and the hard is what makes it worthwhile and the hard is what makes it fun and so rewarding.  This generation of college athletes are fortunate to be stronger and faster and smarter and more talented and skilled and more schooled in the nuances of the game.  They have the talents/abilities to succeed at a high level.  Especially in female athletics, this generation is fortunate because more and more resources and exposure and opportunities are available than just a generation ago.  But more important than the material resources, are the fortunes of having a support structure/TEAM in place to catch you when you fall and love you when you fail yet challenge you to push harder and dream bigger and hold you accountable to do your best day after day.  Playing the game and having the “fortune” to push to be your BEST is fun.  Too many people are of the opinion that resources should be devoted to appease the “selfish clod of ailments and grievances”.  If you are trying to be the best THEN no whining; no excuses; no blaming and pointing the finger; no pity parties are allowed.   

“The difference between one person and another, between the weak and the powerful, the great and the insignificant, is energy – invisible determination….This quality will do anything that has to be done in the world, and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities will make you a great person without it.’  — Thomas Buxton

PUSHING YOURSELF to be number one involves an “invisible determination”.  Players who push themselves are absolutely relentless.  They are intrinsically motivated.  They have devotion and discipline.  They pursue excellence.  Everyday they PROGRESS and move forward with a plan to do something that makes them and the team better.  They are determined to practice until they are able to play to the best of their ability. Ordinary effort and energy is mediocrity.  The challenge is to find a way to elevate your environment.  That is not easy.  You must actively pursue the highest possible performance level.  It’s tough to consistently compete at a high level, day in and day out over a number of years.  But if you train at the most INTENSE levels, then and only then will your improvement be remarkable.  Also, being a part of a team (something bigger than just you) should encourage and motivate you to work harder.  The fruits of your labor not only benefit you, but more importantly, it matters to others; the quality of your work directly impacts the success of the team.  Just like the flock of geese, everyone is responsible to do their part.  Teamwork is the most essential ingredient of success.  Being on a team helps you learn how to be held accountable to others as you work towards a common goal.  The combination of pursuing excellence, being a part of a team and being challenged and held accountable and the feelings you feel deep down inside go a long way towards determining how hard you will push.

Along the way, we all have to face some adversity on our journey.  When the adversity arrives, then we have to even PUSH harder than before.  In softball, we have had players who have torn their ACL, torn their labrum, broken their ankle, and had appendectomy surgery.  These kids were performing at a high level athletically and then comes the injury.  The game presents them with a challenge.  Before the injury, they were the fastest or they could pitch the hardest or they could hit the farthest, and then comes the injury and the adversity.  No longer can they rely on just pure athletic talent and ability.  The test is whether these kids can find a way to PUSH themselves.  Even if they are a step slower or lose a couple miles of an hour on their fastball or hit the ball 20 feet less on the line drive — can they make that up in their intensity level or with an A+ attitude or with greater effort or with smarter play and better decisions?  If your edge is not pure talent and ability, then can you still find a way to win? If you are not number 1, then can you still find a way to be your best?   Failure and injuries and losses and disappointment and setbacks and mischance and rough seas are all part of the journey.  Adversity provides   opportunity to PUSH and develop your indomitable will.  It allows you to let your soul shine.  It forces you to become more than just talented; it forces you to become skillful.

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile and I will show you someone who has overcome adversity.”  — Lou Holtz

“The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high heroic temper.”  — Aristotle

 “Strength does not come from physical capacity.  It comes from an indomitable will.”–Mahatma Gandhi

 “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors”  — African proverb

 When the GAME CHALLENGES you or when ADVERSITY rears its head or when the SEAS ARE NO LONGER SMOOTH, you must answer the challenge and overcome the adversity and BECOME A SKILLFUL SAILOR and let the BEAUTY OF YOUR SOUL SHINE.  Players do not have to have the most talent or be the biggest or the strongest nor the fastest, to put every ounce of their energy into getting better.  The player that sees the adversity as a growing experiences and a learning opportunity is the one that is going to PUSH through it.  The player who puts every ounce of their energy into getting better and who embraces the adversity and welcomes the challenges of the game to push even harder, can and will beat the faster, stronger, bigger athlete who refuses to commit to the process of becoming their best and who shies away from the adversity and is content to never be challenged outside of their comfort zone.   Players who are talented but who do not PUSH themselves to improve must understand that they will never reach their potential.  They are doing themselves a huge disservice and are a wasting a valuable opportunity to become of champion.  Furthermore, they need to understand how their actions not only undermine their own talents but they also undermine the potential of the TEAM.   

Lastly, if you have figured out how to PUSH yourself to be the best, then it is your responsibility to help your teammate PUSH too.  It’s not necessarily easy to get players to perform at a desired standard.  It takes COURAGE to constantly provide direction to others.  It takes commitment to continuously communicate and demand that people perform to a standard that is consistent with their talents and abilities.  Most competitors  welcome “any kind” of communication “at any time” that helps them get the job done and that challenges them to be the best.  If the standard is high and the ambition is to be the best and we are all striving to realize our potential, then it is ok to demand excellence of everyone in the organization and to hold each other accountable to that higher standard and to require each other to push themselves daily.  Leadership (truly caring about your teammates) means driving others and pushing them and expecting them to play at the highest level.  Demanding excellence, holding each other accountable and requiring each other to push themselves and by requiring that they get rid of the rope (limiting beliefs) around their ankles are steps to becoming number 1. 

I think too much of our culture wraps success around winning and losing.  In college athletics, there is absolutely no guarantee that 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 we all know, that thing do not always go your way.  Win or lose, the focus is on continuing your development.  How do you get a 20 year old kid who is constantly being told “how good she is”, and the game has rewarded her with a certain amount of success, to realize that she could be better (that she must be better) and that she must keep pushing to be number 1?  Winning is not the goal – it is finding out what your very best is.  Athletics allows you to see yourself more clearly.  If you bring the proper perspective, mindset, and spirit to the game, then the competition will allow you a chance to PUSH YOURSELF to be NUMBER1 even if you are not NUMBER 1! 

PRACTICE/GAME NOTES: 10 days off – YUK….Thanks to the fans for pulling us through in game 1 versus Troy.  You energized us and provided us with the necessary momentum in the 6th inning.  Nerissa Myers backhand double play in the 4th inning of game 1 with Troy runners on 1st and 3rd and we were already down 2 – 0 was huge.  Big triple in the 6th by Sarah Drahiem; and Briana Cherry picked a good time for her first career homerun; and her homerun “JOG” around the bases was faster than most players sprint…Speaking of the development of a player and her progression happening right in the front of our eyes, look at Briana on Saturday.  In game 1 she gets the big 2 run homerun and sprints around the bases.  In game 2, she misses the steal sign and then when she decides to go, she does not sprint and forgets to slide into 2nd base.  It’s not lack of effort or energy; that kid works extremely hard and is super motivated.  It is just a matter of her getting comfortable with the game.  She only has a handful of starts.  She is still having to THINK the game way too much, instead of it just relying on instincts… Ashley Brignac did a great job in game 1 to keep battling and competing until the offense could get going; and what a gutty perfomance going back to back games and throwing a shut-out in game 2 and making sure we held on the momentum.  Shelbee Rodgers did a great job on Sunday too….How about these numbers for the Troy series:  Christi Orgeron – batting average .800, 8 hits in 10 at bats, 2 doubles, 1 triple and 2 HRS for a 1.800 slugging %; Gabby Bridges – batting average .800, on base % .909, 5 walks, 4 hits in 5 at bats; and Briana Cherry – batting average .625, 5 hits in 8 at bats, 1 triple and 1 HR and 1.000 fielding %…..Christina Hamilton and Taryn Broussard both have doctor appointments this week and are getting closer to being released and starting the process of getting back into playing shape….This team continues to work extremely hard and accept the challenges that the game puts in front of them.  We have a lot of players PUSHING….If we can get healthy and find a way to get more people involved in and productive in the offense, then just maybe we will have an opportunity to push and challenge ourselves to reach our potential.  Stay tuned!

GET TO KNOW — PLAYER PROFILE:  KATIE SMITH: Jr/Ruston, LA, Ruston HS

 As a true freshman in 2008, Smith was part of the Cajuns Women’s College World Series team, and in fact started 65 games for that team and led the squad in stolen bases.  She hit .370 that year and was an All-Louisiana selection.

In her sophomore campaign, Smith was third in the Sun Belt with a .393 batting average, including a .515 average in Sun Belt play.  Her efforts helped the Cajuns advance to an NCAA Regional and garnered Smith second team All-Sun Belt honors.

In the Cajuns eighth game of the year in 2010 against Texas, she tore her ACL changing directions as a baserunner returning to 2Base and was out for the season.  It wasn’t all bad news though as she was named an NFCA All-American Scholar Athlete in 2010 thanks to her hard work in the class room.

She received a medical hardship and is back in 2011 looking to rebound.  Thus far, Smith is hitting .302 with a .355 on base percentage.  She currently sits fourth on the squad with 29 runs scored.

Katie is the daughter of Rocky and Veronica Williams and Joey Smith and she has two younger sisters, Kelby and Kendall.  Katie is majoring in Marketing and has been a member of the Sun Belt Academic Honor Roll.

 Coach Mike on Smith:  “I am reminded of Katie’s catch against LSU in the 2008 Regional everyday because that photo was captured by The Advertiser and was used in the article proclaiming that “DREAMS COME TRUE” as we advanced to Super Regionals versus Houston.  To remind everyone, Katie climbed the left field outfield wall and robbed a homerun.  To be a slapper, you have to be fast; moreover, you have to be tough and fearless and courageous to run at a ball coming right at you.  To rehab from an ACL tear, you have to be tough and courageous and you must be willing to PUSH yourself.  To climb the outfield wall to make sure you get to the ball, you have to be fearless.  Katie may seem like a shy and quiet kid, but she is a fierce competitor who wants to be PUSHED to be the best”.

GOOD TIMES – A LOOK BACK

The Ragin’ Cajuns entered the 2004 season with the big question – what to do for an encore after making it to the Women’s College World Series the season before?  Then injury problems arose before the season started (Senior Jill Robertson, tore her ACL and Tiffany Grayson was sidelined from the effects of an offseason shoulder surgery and everybody wondered how Brooke Mitchell would bounce back from her pitching arm injury suffered in the NCAA Regional).  The Cajuns posted a school-record 60 victories and ran the table in Sun Belt play (18 – 0).  Mitchell led the nation in victories with 45 wins, struck out a school-record 524 batters and pitched the team within one game of a return trip to the Women’s College World Series.  The 2004 Ragin’ Cajuns will be forever remembered as the team that ended one of college softball’s incredible streaks of WCWS appearances.  The Cajuns posted a 5 – 0 victory and eliminated the #1 National seed, Arizona Wildcats (who had advanced to the WCWS every year since 1987 and has advanced to the WCWS every year since 2004).  The Ragin’ Cajuns slugged a school record 88 homeruns; they averaged 1.29 homeruns per game which ranked 5th in the nation and in the top 10 all-time.  Also, Mitchell became this program’s career strikeout leader (1,309).  Members of the All-Sun Belt team were; Brooke Mitchell, Tiffany Hebert, Danyele Gomez, Holly Tankersly, Ashley Evans, Lacey Bertucci, Joy Webre, Brittany Bryant, Crystal George.

There are striking similarities between Butler (Basketball team in the NCAA) and the 2004 Ragin’ Cajuns softball team.  Butler played in the Final Four last year.  The 2003 Ragin’ Cajuns played in the Women’s College World Series.  Despite their success of the year before and their success this year, Butler was seeded #8 in their Region (4 regions, so basically the 32nd seed).  In 2004, despite going to the World Series in 2003 and winning 60 games in 2004 and being ranked #9 in the country, we were seeded #5 (8 regions, so basically the 40th seed).  Butler beat the #1 team in their Region (Pitt); Ragin’ Cajuns beat the #1 team in their Region (Arizona).  Go DOGS!!!  GEAUX CAJUNS!!!

I guess I’ll cut my grass on this off weekend.  YUK!!!  And make it over to the Tigue to watch Cajun Baseball.

Babes

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