Haylie McCleney hits a single in the first inning against Australia of the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship on Aug. 10, 2018 in Chiba, Japan.
Outfielder Haylie McCleney was Alabama’s sixth four-time All-American in program history when she graduated in 2016. With the U.S. softball team, McCleney has won two world titles (2016, 2018), world silver (2014), two World Cup of Softball gold medals (2015, 2014) and Pan American Games gold (2019). McCleney was named to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team in October 2019.
The below blog first appeared on McCleney’s website.
Like a lot of you reading this, I have felt so many emotions over the last couple weeks. Fear, anxiety, disappointment, and heartbreak to name a few. Nothing about our future is clear. The Olympics are still going to be played, but our preparation process just got a whole lot different. It’s scary, but it’s okay. With everything that has been cancelled lately, it can be easy to panic, worry, and doubt everything in our lives right now. It’s also an opportunity for self-reflection and focusing on what matters.
It’s kind of a crazy feeling, but for the past few weeks I was following along with a sermon series on the Churchome app titled “What’s Really Important.” The pastor is Judah Smith and the church is based out of Seattle, Washington. If you’re interested, I highly recommend watching. I can assure you it’s better for your soul right now than binge watching Netflix or mindlessly scrolling through Twitter. Anyway, the whole theme of the series was about living our lives focusing on what’s actually important, eliminating distractions, and ultimately being better and spreading more love. DOPE. Two weeks later, COVID-19 has forced all of us into a situation to re-evaluate our priorities. What an opportunity. It has enabled me to understand that knowing what’s really important is good, but putting that knowledge into action is what is great. COVID-19 is the perfect test, a window into self discovery that maybe we otherwise wouldn’t have had.
After my time at Alabama, I had a bit of an identity crisis. I really had no idea who I was without college softball in my life. It was taken from me and I couldn’t get it back. It was over. I was uncertain about where my life was going to next, very similarly to how a lot of us feel right now. A lot of current athletes will eventually get their sport back, but it might be MONTHS before that happens. Myself included. With this obstacle, we are either going to take it head on and get better, or not. We have a choice.
So what can you do with this time? I want to be careful here because this isn’t an excuse to do two a days, lift and run like crazy, run your body into the ground, or anything along those lines. Having the game taken away from us is a blessing if we make it. It’s forcing us to stop. Rest. It is preventing overuse injuries that we continue to see over and over in our game. We should take full advantage and be re-charged. That’s not to say we won’t train, but it is to say that we have an opportunity to train smarter. We have an opportunity to turn ourselves into better people, and maybe better athletes after that.
We cannot control this hiatus that we are all on. We don't make the decisions for when our game comes back, but we can make the absolute most of the current situation that we are in. Here are some things I’m going to focus on these next weeks and maybe you can join me. Let's improve together.
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1. Read More Books. You want to talk about some self-discovery opportunities, FREAKING READ. Some of my favorite books out there right now: “Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer, “To Hell with The Hustle” by Jefferson Bethke, “Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday (honestly, perfect timing considering coronavirus is everywhere), “Ego is the Enemy” and “The Obstacle is the Way” both also by Ryan Holiday, and “Mamba Mentality” by Kobe Bryant (you want to talk about perspective... I think reading this book after Kobe passed made it resonate even more). Reading lowers our levels of anxiety and fuels learning. Instead of opening Twitter and Instagram or Netflix, I'll be opening my Kindle app.
2. Pray and Meditate. If faith isn’t your thing I respect that, you by no means have to believe what I believe. However, regardless of what you believe there is so much power in practicing meditation and stillness and gratitude. The research is EVERYWHERE. It has been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; lengthen attention span; enhance self-awareness; and for you parents out there, fight aging! Get still. Get deep with your thoughts. Escape and disconnect. For those of you on the faith journey, spend some time in prayer and surrender all of your worries to a higher power. Let go.
3. Journal and Write. I LOVE WRITING. It aids in the self reflection process like no other Some things I write down: What am I getting better at? What do I want to get better at? Who am I? Why am I feeling? We can take a history lesson from a lot of incredible leaders in our past here. Some of the most influential people in the world that were also journal-ers are: Beethoven, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and George Patton. Research has also shown us that journaling aids in improving sports performance by increasing self-confidence and cultivating self-awareness. It doesn't matter what it is. Write it down.
4. Learn how to play my new Guitalele. AKA- Pick up a new hobby. My grandpa got me a guitar one Christmas when I was about 10. I never learned how to play but music was SO important to him. It is important to my whole family. I can’t sing for crap so the least I could do is try an instrument and feel closer to my grandpa while doing it. Love you Papa. Help me learn quick. Research also tells us that the vibrations of music can help activate our vagus nerve and therefore our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us improve recovery. It's a win-win for me.
5. Go for Walks. Be in nature! Sunlight also increases Vitamin D, which reduces inflammation, which helps us defend against illness (and get tan).
6. Spend time with my fiancé. A plus of us being “off” right now is that I get time with Kylee that I never was going to have. I want to make the most of it and do all of this stuff WITH her. She’s pretty great.
7. Focus on the intricate parts of my game. I am going to partake in specified, smart, individualized training. I saved this for last truly because I believe it’s the least important. I’m a better player when my soul is better and I find that most people are the same, but I’m still training for the Olympics. Duh. As a national team, usually due to budget, we are on our own the majority of the year anyway, so I am used to training alone and being disciplined with that. Instead of just trying to "stay in game-shape," I want to push myself to another level by paying attention to detail as much as possible.
Will I do all of these things every day? No. But I have a plan to improve myself even though for the meantime a lot of resources aren't available for us as athletes. If there isn't a way, I'll make one.
"It's an infinitely elastic formula: In every situation, that which blocks our path actually presents a new path with a new part of us" - Ryan Holiday, “The Obstacle is the Way”