Candrea on Coaching: Playing at the elite level

Sept. 07, 2016, 10:58 a.m. (ET)

It has been an amazing opportunity over the past 40 years of my career to be able to watch some of the very best softball athletes play this game at the very highest levels.  The names are too numerous to mention only because I have been blessed to coach National Champions and Olympians.  Speaking of Olympians, it is so exciting that softball will be back on the Olympic program in 2020 in Tokyo!  The Olympic process is one of the reasons I have seen the game played at the very highest level.  In 2004, I witnessed probably the greatest team performance in Olympic history with USA’s domination in the sport.  We finally had the opportunity to train our very best athletes for four years in preparation for the games and we also got to watch a team that the average age was 27 perform to perfection.  Why is the age so important – I feel at that age, we had athletes that mastered the skill set of the game but also had tremendous control of the mental and emotional elements of the game.  I was amazed to watch these athletes practice with great purpose, focus, and drive each and every day to become the very best player and teammate that wore the Red, White & Blue.  A common motto in their training was “The only easy day was yesterday!”

Playing at the elite level in our game is not easy by any means.  As coaches, we talk about the process and controlling the controllable.  An athlete that is truly “elite” first of all must understand how to handle the complexities of our game.  We play a game of failure and one of the key traits that elite athletes have is responding to failure in a positive way.  Elite athletes never get too high or too low – they have undivided confidence that they can make the proper adjustments to give themselves the best chance for success. We achieve that confidence by our work ethic and passion for the game.  A common trait of elite athletes is a strong passion for the game but also a strong desire to compete.  Elite athletes are constantly competing to push one another and bringing high expectations to the field every day.  Whether they are practicing or playing for a National Championship or Olympic Medal, they tend to have the same look on their face and play or practice with the same energy, focus, competitiveness, and emotional stability all the time. 

One of the most common traits of the elite athlete is their ability to make everyone better around them and their unselfishness to be a great teammate.  Let’s face it, softball is still a team sport and it will always take a team to accomplish great things.  Elite athletes have become so comfortable with their own skill set and mind set to play the game, they are able to focus on the bigger picture of the team. It is truly remarkable to be around elite athletes and watch their command of their skill set, mental toughness, fierce competitiveness, great teammate, and can slow the game down due to a data base developed through repetition and experience.  To be elite, you have to commit to doing things right all the time – it is a lifestyle!!!

Until next time,

Coach Candrea