Observations from the 2001 Women's College World Series
By Jeff Janssen
Peak Performance Consultant
Sports Psychology, University of Arizona
I wanted to share a couple of ideas from the 2001 Women's Softball College World Series in Oklahoma City that you might be able to use with your team. Arizona was fortunate to win its sixth national championship, winning four grueling games against California, Oklahoma, Stanford, and UCLA by only one run each.
We CREATE A MOTIVATIONAL THEME each year as we head into Regional play. Because we had eight seniors on the team who had advanced to the WCWS their first three years but had never won it all, we used the slogan of "This is the team, Now is the time." We wanted our players to realize that they were poised to win a championship because of all the lessons they had learned over the previous years. We also wanted them to know it was their time to step up and leave their legacy on the program. There was a strong sense of urgency to accomplish something they had set out to do since they were freshmen.
We borrowed the "This is the team, Now is the time" slogan from the Women's Soccer National Team who used it to win the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal. Coach Candrea actually used it during the team's first preseason meeting way back in August. We decided to highlight it once again for the postseason. It helped set the tone for what we wanted to accomplish.
Themes are a great way to get your team in the right mindset, especially for postseason play. To create a theme for your team, figure out the mindset you would like your team to have and then find a slogan, movie, story, song, etc. that symbolizes it. Themes get your players to play with heart - which is what you need when playing for championships.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GREAT LEADERSHIP
The Series also re-emphasized to me the importance of having great team leadership. While pitcher Jennie Finch was sensational and named the MVP of the Series, senior third baseman Toni Mascarenas was equally unbelievable with three home runs, two of which where the game-winning RBIs. Down 4-0 in the sixth inning to defending national champion Oklahoma, Toni hit a three-run blast which silenced the 7,000 plus Sooner fans in attendance.
After a solo shot by freshman Mackenzie Vandergeest to knot the score at 4-4 in the top of the seventh, Toni turned to shortstop Alison Andrade and told her, "You are going to make the game-winning play. Don't worry about your hitting, Ali. I know you are going to make the game winning play." Ali had struck out twice and felt like she was letting the team down. However, Toni's words of encouragement picked her up and kept her positive and focused.
Arizona managed to push across another run in the top of the eighth to go ahead 5-4. However, Oklahoma loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs, the same swift Sooner second baseman who had hit a home run in her previous at bat stepped into the batter's box. With the game on the line, she hit a ground ball between short and third. If the ball gets through the infield it's at least a tie game if not a win for Oklahoma. Third baseman Toni Mascarenas ranged to her left to make the play but the ball just got past her glove. Shortstop Alison Andrade ranged to her right and fielded the ball in the hole. She picked up the ball and, with her team's fate hanging in the balance, made a strong throw to first base which barely beat the speedy runner by a mere fraction of a second. The Wildcats won the game in extra innings after coming back from a potentially disheartening 4-0 deficit and eventually won the national championship.
After the game, instead of taking the credit for hitting the key three-run shot which put Arizona back into the game, Toni gushed over Ali for making the game winning play. "You did it, Ali. You made the game-winning play!"
If it weren't for Toni's great leadership keeping Ali positive despite a tough day at the plate, who's to say what might have happened on that last play. Great leaders plant seeds of success in the minds of others. They keep people positive and focused no matter how frustrating or bleak the situation might be. Invest the time to cultivate effective leaders on your team. You never know how much their leadership might make a difference at a critical moment in your season.