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In The Circle – Leadership and Injury

(Article written by Softball Factory Player Development Coordinator, Jane LukasFrom an early age, my athletic career was centered around my role as a leader. I played a multitude of different sports, whether I was on the track, on the field, or on the court, I was able to lead by example. My approach was very simple; if I work hard, I will see the results I want.

That mentality gave me the ability to play consistently well, and this consistency is what allowed me to be successful. I carried this mindset through with me until college, where I played Division I Volleyball at Loyola University Maryland. I knew I was going to be voted captain my junior year and I didn’t plan on changing anything in terms of the way I played or talked to my teammates. However, an athlete’s performance on the court is only one small aspect of what it takes to be an effective captain. I learned this through experience during that junior season, after I injured my knee three days into pre-season.

I have played sports since I was in 3rd grade and went 12 years without an injury. Not a missed season, or even a week off. But, in my junior year, when I’m in the best shape of my life, playing the best volleyball I have ever played, I find out I’m going to miss most of the season.

Sitting in the doctor’s office after a month of unsuccessful rehab, learning I was going to need surgery and would miss another six weeks, was the most discouraging moment of my college career. I felt like I had lost any value that I added to the program. If I couldn’t provide them with results on the court, what could I do? And how could I expect anyone to listen to what I had to say if I wasn’t out there playing?

To my surprise, my team still voted me captain, and for the first time, I didn’t think that I was going to be able to provide them the leadership that they needed.

I was extremely pessimistic about the situation. Without knowing it, I was allowing my attitude to negatively effect my team. I had a one-on-one meeting with my coach who basically said “Jane, they voted you captain knowing you were going to be out for a while. Even though you aren’t playing, they still need you to do your job.”

There were some tears, and some more words exchanged, but I walked out knowing that I needed to change my attitude. From then on, I did everything I could to make myself an asset to my team. I completely embraced any role or responsibility I had. I took stats on the sidelines and I made sure that if you weren’t on the court you were cheering. I realized how important the bench is. The girls on the court need them to create energy and I genuinely felt like I was making a difference.

I worked with the other outside hitters on things that I noticed and gave them as much feedback as I could. I even made sure everyone had water, their cups were full, and people had what they needed so they could be their best. The more I embraced these small tasks the more value I gave myself, and my team needed me again. Injuries, adversity, or any setbacks can be extremely discouraging, but it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. There are so many ways that you can help your team improve, being on the court or field during games is just one part.

I took my rehab very seriously and was playing again by the end of the season. Now that I am a couple years removed, I’m grateful that this is something I went through. It made me a better leader, it showed me how important having a positive mindset is, and it allows me to relate better to the athletes I work with today.

It also showed me that throughout life, no matter what you’re doing, you create your own value. It all comes down to attitude. If you do your absolute best at whatever task you decide to embrace, you’ll walk away feeling satisfied of your results.

Adversity is common and getting discouraged is easy. There are a lot of aspects within sports that are out of your control. One area that is completely determined by you is your attitude and mindset. Choosing to influence your teammates positively and finding ways to relate positively to your environment is something leaders do every day.

In The Circle-Overcoming Adversity

The sport of softball teaches you many life lessons not only on the field but off the field. One of the biggest lessons happened to me when I was eight years old. I learned at an early age how to overcome adversity, how to be a good teammate, and I realized that sometimes things just don’t happen the way you want them to.

I started pitching when I was seven years old. I pitched almost every day growing up; I absolutely loved it. I did everything I could to become better. I played on an 8 and Under Rec Ball team in our local softball league and was primarily our #1 pitcher. The biggest goal I had that year was to make the “A” All Star team. The A team would be the best 12-to-13 girls from the league and they would play all summer in different tournaments.

This would be my first year making All-Stars, and I couldn’t wait to play the whole summer and get better. There were many people throughout the rec ball season that said I was going to make the team, and I couldn’t wait for my parents to get that call.

Our rec ball season came and went, and it was time for coaches to pick the All-Star team. The way the voting goes for the All-Star team is that each manager selects girls that they feel should make the team. They are supposed to select the best girls on the A team, and then the second tier girls would make the B team. It turned out that all the managers that were voting had daughters that were pitchers, and all of those girls ended up on the A team.

Unfortunately, my family got the call that I was going to be on the “B” team. I remember being sad, shocked, and confused. I worked incredibly hard all year, I was the best pitcher in the league, and I was on the B team? How did this happen? This is when I learned that politics, as much as we don’t want them to be, play a role in sports.

I remember having a conversation with my dad about the situation. He said, “J, you can either not play on the B team and not play All-Stars because you are upset, OR you can play on the team and be the best pitcher that you can be and show them that they made a mistake.”

Even though I was extremely disappointed, I decided to play on the B team that year. Playing on that team was hands down one of the best things I ever did. I got to pitch all the time, received incredible coaching, and learned some amazing life lessons. Our team was one of the best B team’s that our organization had ever seen with our team finishing with an 18-4 record.

One of the greatest things that came from the situation was in the second tournament our team ended up playing our A team. We beat them 4-2, which to this day is the only time a B team has beaten an A team from our All-Star program.

My dad received a call after our second tournament from the coaches of the A team. They realized that they made a mistake and they wanted me on their team. Again, I talked with my parents about switching to the A team, but in the end I stayed on the B team. The B team didn’t have any other pitchers, and I did not want to let them down. I had made a commitment to my team and I wanted to stay. I already had a great relationship with my teammates and coaches, and I knew that being loyal was extremely important.

It is crazy to think that I learned some of my most valuable life lessons as an eight year old. I learned that even if you feel you deserve something, sometimes things just don’t go your way and to work even harder. Politics are a part of the sport, but never let them get in the way of you and your goal. Adversity in sports happens, but it is how you bounce back from that adversity.

I could have given up, not played on the team, or had a terrible attitude throughout the whole All-Star season. However, I was able to turn this negative situation into a positive and learn from it. In life, it is how you bounce back from these situations that can not only make you a better ball player, but more importantly a better person.

In the Circle- My Love For The Game

Ever since I was five years old, the only thing I ever wanted to do was play Division I Softball. Softball was my life.

At the age of seven, I started pitching and never looked back. I loved the game more than anything. The goal I set for myself as a five year old to play Division I ball was achieved. On top of that, the past four and a half years I have been fortunate enough to stay involved in the sport of Softball by working at the Softball Factory. This sport has given me so many opportunities and the many people I have met in the game has been amazing.

In the Circle will give you a look into the many different parts of Softball and how much this sport impacts you not only on the field but more importantly off the field. Enjoy!

Girls…make sure to always thank your parents. I know you hear this all the time, but I want to make the first “In The Circle” blog about this topic. It is extremely important and something that many people take for granted. I know that growing up I did this at times, however, there is no way I would be where I am today without them.

My dad and I at seven years old on my 8 and Under Rec ball team.

As I mentioned, from a very early age I wanted to play College Softball. I remember when I was seven, I told my dad I wanted to start pitching because I was bored playing other positions. He asked if I would take it seriously because he didn’t want to spend the money on lessons if I didn’t want to practice or care about it. I said I wanted to, and from then on, I was set.

When I started taking pitching lessons, my dad became my catcher. He caught me every single time I needed to pitch. Looking back, those are some of the best times I had with my dad. On certain occasions, we would pitch at 6AM and find a field with lights on, because I knew that we couldn’t pitch later on in the day. Or we would pitch at 10PM before bed because I knew I needed to get a bullpen in. He never ever complained, whether the weather was freezing cold, or extremely hot, or if I wasn’t in the…best mood that day, he was a trooper and was always there for me.

I had been pitching for about a year, when I found out that my dad was diagnosed with Leukemia. As an eight year old, you don’t really understand what that means. In reality, it meant my dad would be in the hospital for 6-to-8 months and it would take close to a year for him to become 100% healthy. This also meant that the catcher I was used to having, wasn’t able to be there. Thinking of my dad not surviving never crossed my mind. Thankfully he beat cancer, and today is as healthy as ever. He actually just celebrated his 20th anniversary of being cancer free this past May.

Reflecting back, there is no way I would be where I am without him and the sacrifices he made. When I was in college and came home for holidays and the summer, my dad would wear full catching gear any time he caught me. It may have looked a bit funny to people walking by, but his response was always “Do you want to try to catch her?” I will cherish the moments and memories I had with my dad forever because they are some of the best times of my life.

When my dad was sick, my mom attempted to catch me. She caught me maybe….three times and then said I was throwing too hard. However, she was my biggest fan, biggest supporter, and knew more about what I was doing incorrectly pitching wise then sometimes I did. She came to all of my games (even if we had Nationals in the hottest places, or had seven games in a day, or had the 8AM game and we had to get up at 5 AM, etc…) She was a trooper through it all.

My parents and I at Mercer. I don’t know where I would be without them.

When I was 12 years old, my family got the news that my mom had Breast Cancer. That was a big shock and a hit to everyone in my family especially after everything my dad went through. This news was difficult since I was in seventh grade, and this time I fully understood what was going on. My mom like my dad is a fighter and has been cancer free for the last 15 years.

Through all of her treatments, she did whatever she could to make sure she was at my games. She tried to go to as many pitching lessons as she could, and tried to stay as involved as possible. I am her #1 fan and she is not only my mom, but my best friend.

Looking back on my career, I don’t know where I would be without the love and support of my parents. Not only are they my heroes, but they always supported my goals and dreams to play softball. They drove me everywhere I needed to go, never complained about not having a “real family vacation,” spent money on new equipment, travel team fees, pitching/hitting lessons, hotels, etc. You name it, they did whatever they could to support me.

I played softball at two different colleges, 5,000 miles away from home, and they supported me through all the ups and the downs. I realized how much I missed having my parents at my games in college when I wasn’t able to see them every weekend. There is no way that I would be the type of player and person that I am today without them.

I want to end this with what I said in the beginning: Always say thank you to your parents, and never take them for granted. Understand that they make sacrifices for you every single day. There are probably times that they would rather not be at the fields from 6AM-10 PM every single weekend, but they do it because they love you. They do it because they want you to succeed and be the best softball player you can be. Always appreciate them, because they do more for you than you will ever know.