Now that we have crowned a 2021 Women’s College World Series (WCWS) Champion, I wanted to give you my “4 Other Take-Aways of Championship Teams.”
Why call them the “other” take-aways, and what are they exactly? Read on to discover what makes softball teams win, other than the obvious.
OK, let’s state this right off the bat – great pitching and timely hitting win championships. Of course, nobody ever wins with lousy pitching and spotty hitting. But after watching almost every inning of every game in the Regionals, Super Regionals & WCWS I’ve come up with a more detailed list of 4 “Other” Take-Aways that make up championship teams.
These 4 things, on their own might seem OK, but none are so remarkable that they’ll make you think “wow, because of that they’re going to win it all!” And yet collectively, each of these have a cumulative power that creates a force of its own.
The playoffs showcased these 4 things, which allowed an unseeded James Madison team to beat #1 ranked Oklahoma, and become the darlings of the WCWS. They allowed #10 Florida State to win 4 games in a row at the WCWS, and make it to the Championship Series. And an unseeded Virginia Tech team flying cross country and taking #2 UCLA to the limit behind ACC Pitcher of the Year Keely Rochard. And, it’s why Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State survived in their incredibly tough Supers, and why Oklahoma won the 2021 National Championship!
Sure, every team in OKC had extremely tough pitching and great hitting. But those are obvious. Those things are easy to point out and then dismiss as why they’re different than you, or why your team can’t play like that. But for every great pitcher who helped her team get to Oklahoma City, there’s another one who might still be crying from disappointment at not making it there. We can always work on our hitting and pitching, but in the meantime, here are 4 “other” things that you can focus on that will REALLY help improve your team:
- Incredible Defense – True, the pitcher is technically part of your defense, but go deeper than that, and assume the ball is going to be hit, often and hard. Now how good are you? All of these teams had incredible play from their defense. They had outfielders diving for balls, both fair and foul. They had infielders making throws on the run, diving stops, diving stop tosses and they made double plays look routine. Think about how good every pitcher was in the WCWS and yet balls were being rocked all over the ballpark! So no matter how strong, or weak your pitching is, become obsessed with improving your defensive play.
Defensive play takes time, it takes planning, it takes commitment and it takes emphasis. You can’t hit easy groundballs to your infield every practice for 3 months and then expect them to layout and make the play of their life with your season on the line. Those kind of plays come with diligence and belief – your diligence in constantly stretching their defensive skills and their increased belief in those skills. Oregon might have beaten Washington in the bottom of the 7th in Game 3 of the WCWS if Ali Aguilar doesn’t dive up the middle, make an incredible stop, and an even more incredible glove toss to force the runner out at 2nd base. And while the pitch was incredible at 69 mph, the defense was even more incredible!
- Tremendous Baserunning – How many 1 run games were there between all the Regionals, Super Regionals and WCWS games? 60 feet between moving on and elimination, or staying in the winner’s bracket and dropping down into something only 2 teams have managed to fight back from in 30 years! Tremendous baserunning doesn’t require great speed, but it does demand you know where the ball is at all times, that you take the fastest route, and that you’re always expecting to keep going. And while coaches can determine whether a runner stops at 3rd or keeps going home to try and score, it’s the baserunner herself that determines whether she was able to get to 3rd or not. Teach your runners to be their own base coach. To know what to look for, to see the signs that they can take the next base, and then give them the freedom & courage to take it!
- Heads Up Plays – Heads up means awareness of the next play,or of the entire field, of the unexpected. Heads up plays are usually boiled down to this – extreme awareness. Not assuming a running will just stop at a base because most of them do, but instead, being ready in case this runner decides to break to the next base. Noticing that your starting pitcher is slowly wearing down so you’re already out warming up before the coach tells you to do so. Anybody on the team at any time can have “extreme awareness” and either help put their team back in the ball game, or else help propel them to victory!
- Calm & Constant Belief – While I know it’s super important to keep your calm in order to help others around you stay calm, doing so as you watch your team fall apart has to be one of the toughest things to do. And yet every single coach in the WCWS saw their team struggle with bad calls, poor plays or botched innings and yet they stayed supportive & didn’t visually show their disappointment! Every teammate who wasn’t good enough, healthy enough or able enough to be in the starting lineup was slammed up against the fence cheering and supporting their teammates who were. It’s easy to lose your patience as a coach, or to get jealous as a player, but easy isn’t what makes you a championship team. It’s doing the hard, the really hard over and over and better than anybody else – that’s where championships come from. Keeping a calm front and a constant belief in your team’s ability is a must for every member of your team. And the proof of just how difficult this is is how much we admire it every time we see it. So next time, BE it instead of just seeing it!
It’s an incredible feat for a group of individuals to come together and unite through a sport they love, that asks so much. For this group effort to rise to Championship levels, lots of factors are at play; Luck plays a part, as does momentum and sometimes things beyond your effort and control. But when a group of individuals can pull together and sacrifice all they have for the good of the team, and withstand the long, hard rigors that the softball season throws at you – when you can do that and come out the other end – then win or lose, you’re a champion!
For more help building your team into a championship team, check out our Vault Classic!