I must say, I struggled for quite a while to come up with an idea for this blog -- I am not a writer and I need a source of inspiration. I thought about discussing my transition from Canada to the UK, baseball and softball in literature, baseball and softball in movies -- they all seemed forced, feeling more like an academic report than a blog and therefore something I was not prepared to put my name to, being the perfectionist I am!
So what changed, what inspired me to write, was a trip home over the holidays to visit my family and my friends and the many questions asked about my journey thus far in the UK (typically unsaid: why would someone give up their engineering career…?).
Just over a year ago, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the NFCA (National Fastpitch Coaches Association) pre-convention coaching courses, the convention itself, and the post-convention coaching courses. During those eight days in Atlanta in late November/early December 2015, to paraphrase my favourite poem, soon “two roads would diverge in a wood….”
The courses were tutored by Hall of Fame coaches: Patrick Murphy, Rhonda Revelle, Cindy Bristow, Gayle Blevins. One of my session mates was arguably one of softball’s greatest players, Dot Richardson. To say I was in awe would be a gross understatement. It was eye-opening for me to sit and discuss with these great softball minds the game we all love, the challenges we faced as athletes, the transition from athlete to coach and the challenges of coaching athletes today. To hear that they have the same struggles with their teams was mind-blowing, as in my eyes they seem to have everything at hand and in control.
The convention was even more inspiring, with the chance it offers to stand amongst giants of the game, athletes and coaches alike. The NFCA ran a special session for first-time participants, with Rhonda Revelle hosting the session ahead of the keynote address. She explained how the convention worked and challenged us to “Fill Our Bucket” – the conference tag line.
Rewind 20 years earlier…. As a young U-16 athlete who had just started playing elite competitive ball that summer and had received some interest from college coaches, my coach suggested I attend a catchers, pitchers and hitting clinic at Ohio State University, who at the time had Gail Davenport as the softball Head Coach. He suggested I attend the camp and then tour the school, as Ohio State had a great engineering program and was one of the schools I had on my college wishlist.
I attended the camp as a catcher, which I was not -- by that time in my career I was a middle infielder. But I was eager to attend any camp where I was afforded an opportunity to learn more about the game and get better (and bridge an experience gap, having started competitive ball four years later than most of my peers).
This camp was run by the Ohio State University coaches and athletes, as well as guest instructors, including the coaches from the University of Nebraska softball team, Lori Sippel (arguably the best Canadian pitcher ever to have played, who would then have been training for the 1996 Olympics) and Rhonda Revelle. I vividly remember to this day sitting in that lecture hall in the Ohio State Field House and Coach Revelle talking about Vision -- Vision as a batter. She mentioned “hard focus” and “soft focus”, two terms that were more than vague to me at the time in relation to hitting, but were apparently very important things if she was mentioning them, so I continued to listen. She asked us questions about the pitchers and the crazy things some of them can do before they deliver their pitch, and then asked: “Where do you focus? And when?”
Soft focus = big picture, entire chest area while the pitcher is receiving the signal from the catcher.
Hard focus = narrow, sniper-like vision when the pitcher comes set and pauses, focus on the release point. But the beauty of fastpitch is that the ball is always released in the same slot, mid-thigh of the pitcher.
Coach Revelle asked how many of us watched the ball? Coach Revelle then asked how many of us only focused on the “hip” as it was termed 20 years ago! I was in the “watch the hip” camp. Next she asked us “hip watchers” when did we focus on the hip? A LIGHT BULB moment for Jo -- I realised then that I watched the pitcher’s “hip” from the moment I stepped into the box; I was hard-focusing for far too long.
I learned many more things at the camp from a technical perspective, both as a catcher (because I wasn’t one!) and with my swing. But the small tweak of soft-focus to hard-focus, and the timing of doing that, made me a much more consistent hitter. See ball, hit ball became a little easier!
After the “newbie” session at the NFCA convention I went up to Coach Revelle, which was and is completely out of character for me, and I told her that she had had a huge impact and was a turning point in my career as a ball player. I told her a story -- the story of me and something she had said to me at that players’ clinic 20 years early, where she was teaching us the difference between soft-focus and hard-focus as a batter, and how that teaching had changed my entire focus and improved my approach and therefore success in the batter’s box. Even today, I am not sure she even remembers that clinic, and certainly does not remember me as a 16-year-old. But I felt compelled on that day to share with her that impact, even though to her it was simply advice to a room full of aspiring ball players. She gave me a Lollipop Moment 20 years before, and I repaid it that day with the simple words of “you had a huge impact”.
Fast forward to an hour later, during the keynote address, which was given by author Jon Gordon. I had not heard of him until earlier in the week, when Pat Murphy mentioned one of his books.
Jon Gordon spoke about purpose, passion, positive energy, building culture. He then told a personal anecdote about how every year he gives himself a “word” -- his purpose/why and his focus for the year – and his 2015 word was “family”. He challenged all of us to come up with our one word that would drive our 2016. He asked us to think about it and by the end of the convention in two days’ time to select a word.
That night I returned to my hotel room to put to pen to paper and did a brain dump of all the information I had acquired that day and to think of my one word.
Fast forward now to February 2016. As I prepared to move my life to the UK, I had dinner with a coaching colleague, mental performance coach and most importantly my friend, and over a farewell dinner on a crisp late February evening, she introduced me to the concept of “Lollipop Moments”.
My friend and I were discussing life – family, my pending move to the UK, coaching philosophies, the team we were working with that winter etc -- and over the course of the discussion she mentioned a Tedx Talk by Drew Dudley entitled “Lollipop Moments”, which was basically the idea that every day we impact people -- as coaches, as teachers, as leaders, as human beings – and that we have the capacity to impact people without ever knowing it. She suggested that I “Google/YouTube it”.
That evening after I returned home, I did Google/YouTube it (I will save everyone the search – the link is here), and at that moment I realised that at the NFCA conference I had given Coach Revelle a Lollipop Moment.
Back to the Jon Gordon’s keynote address at the NFCA conference, a Lollipop Moment courtesy of Jon Gordon. I’m sure he impacted several in the audience that night, but his address, his challenge, provided a catalyst that would, well, bring me to a road that diverged in a wood. I decided that night my 2016 word was going to be “change”.
The word change has many definitions depending on the context:
- To improve.
- To become different (one of my favourite philosophers, Heraclitus, said you never cross the same river twice).
I could also use the word in different contexts:
- I could be an agent of change.
- I needed to open to change.
- I need to accept change.
I had decided that 2016, for me, was going to be the year of “change.” As I said, a Lollipop Moment. Although at that time I didn’t have a term for it, it captured in one word my beliefs as well as my weaknesses.
In a few days’ time, the wheels would be set in motion to that road that diverged in a yellow wood. And being one traveller, I could not take them both, and my word -- change -- would be tested. And for the engineer, I took the road less travelled by….
Following my farewell dinner with my friend, the following week I had one of my last practices before moving to the UK. An athlete I have had the pleasure to watch grow up through softball, from a young U-14 athlete to a Pan American Games Champion, had in 2013, while training for the Canada Summer Games, told me about a small wooden bat I had given her after the completion of a skills camp weekend five years early and the words I had spoken to her, and how impactful they had been in her drive and pursuit of softball excellence. I believe my response to her was “I said that?!?”
Anyway, that last practice we had, where she was now acting as a Team Canada guest instructor, I felt compelled to thank her for that Lollipop Moment….
I have had many since. Players from the club team I was working with last winter have sent cards and emails about small moments, moments as simple as welcoming them to a tryout with a smile that have impacted on them, their self-esteem, their desire to work hard -- and their sticking with softball when they were ready to quit.
As coaches we are leaders, and the smallest of gestures, the most innocuous of statements, have the greatest and most profound impact on an athlete!
As a coach, I sometimes forget what it was like to be an athlete, but when I reach back into my memory bank, I can think of many similar stories from my athletic career. Like … returning from an official visit to a potential US university and one of my coaches, Mr Lyons, sitting me down and asking me how the visit went and then simply said “you don’t have to go”. An email before Provincials thanking me for working hard, and to keep doing what I’m doing. As an athlete those little things were huge things, and as a coach, I sometimes forget that.
As an athlete, as a student, as a young coach, as a human being, I could and should have given back those Lollipop Moments by telling more of my coaches, my teachers, my athletes, my friends, my family about the Lollipops they had given me, to thank them for supporting me, being honest with me, teaching me, pushing me, reassuring me.
Each played a small part, and with every Lollipop Moment received and given, you are faced with two roads diverging in a wood. Take the road less travelled by and create more Lollipop Moments!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post! Like you, I have a strong relationship with the word “change”. Change for me, has been obvious and it has been a little more subtle. It has been thrown at me when my guard was down and I have also actively seeked it out (which I believe you can relate to in many ways). Either way, something excited happens when you choose to look at change trough a positive, experience - shaping lens. Change can synonymous with unfortoable which in turn can be interpretited as being something to avoid. But, alternatively, it can be the vehicle to help you transition from good to great.
In a way, we could say that with great change comes great responsibility (lol). Because change can be powerful. You need to be responsible enough to have perspective along with change in order to foster the change in the right way. You mentioned a brain dump above- and that might be what I just did here- but for that, I thank you. Thanks for getting that thing between my ears going this morning and for encouraging me to spend a little more time deciding how I want to “change” today for the better. Miss you and already looking forward to our next catch-up over ketchup (real Canadian ketchup)...and fries.