High-SchoolSoftball: Casey Stangel blog

Casey Stangel is a senior-to-be pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012 and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
As my summer season came to an end, it was a very sad time for me because softball was all over for the year. That said, I am coming into one of my favorite seasons of softball (because there is never an offseason). The season I am talking about is what I call my “rebuilding” period. Most players out there are taking some time off right about now. Here are some good tips and things to do to stay at the top of your game without actually playing the game!

Yoga: I have found that as I get older, I get a lot more sore. Yoga is huge for me because while I am letting my muscles heal from the pounding over the whole year, I get to stay flexible and active. I recommend doing yoga up to three times a week to stay functional and flexible. It also gives you a great core workout and works muscles that softball players don’t typically use.

Pilates: As a softball player, the majority of our motions are rotational, so core is huge. I think a lot of players overlook how important it really is. During this rebuilding period, tear up your core workouts, and Pilates is a great way to do it. A one-hour class will leave your midsection feeling stronger, and it will also focus in on muscles that we don’t normally focus on using.

Long-distance running: Nobody wants to do it, but it’s a very important element of your overall athleticism. It will also help break up some of the lactic acid that has built up in your muscles from all the work over the spring and summer. I recommend starting around 25-30 minutes, and then adding 5 minutes every other run. Push yourself, but know your limits.

Swimming: Swimming is such a great workout because it is easy on your joints and it is total cross training from a normal softball player’s workouts. If you are lucky to live by a lake, swim along a shoreline for 30-45 minutes, or in a pool at the gym, and that should be around one mile. It is a fantastic full-body exercise that will leave you feeling tired but not torn up.

Mix up your cardio: Running up and down all of the bleachers at your high school football field, and then around the track continuously for 30 minutes is a different workout that will be challenging but not overwhelming. Sprints up hills are good as well, targeting different muscles that will help with explosiveness. Dynamic workouts in the sand (High knees, high skips, long jumps, shuffles, lateral jumps, karaokes, etc.) are awesome as well.

Working your body out beyond playing catch, taking ground/fly balls, hitting and pitching is huge during this period. Find your weak muscles, and make them stronger. Work on flexibility and break up all of the soreness that you have from the long summer season. Just because you are taking time off of softball doesn’t mean you can drop your endurance and athleticism.

Remember, to be the best, you have to outwork everyone else!

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog -- on playing without fear -- here.

Casey Stangel: Join me on Fearless Field

July, 20, 2012
7/20/12
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Casey Stangel is a senior-to-be pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
I am a person who likes to be OK all the time. I never want anyone to see that I am struggling, upset, hurting or anything of the sort. I am a grinder, and I will just keep going and going no matter what until I am done. This is definitely both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because I will always give my best effort all the time no matter what and keep fighting until the end. On the other hand, it is a huge weakness because I don’t want to admit that I am going through hard things.

Take last year’s high school softball season. Living in my small town, everybody knew who I was. Our team went undefeated the year before, I committed to Missouri and I was a Gatorade Player of the Year. I had some big accolades behind my name, which brought some big expectations for my season. Everyone was really watching now, and I was on the stage.

The funny thing is, I still felt like I had something to prove.

Never play with the mindset that you have to prove yourself as a player, because then you are just playing with fear. I would go into every game tight, with unrealistic expectations. If one person got a hit, I was angry, and that isn’t right because hits are going to happen. I felt that everyone expected me to have a perfect game every time, and go 4 for 4.

I needed to relax and just play, and if I would have, those stats were possible. But not if I was out there trying to do it.

It should not matter what anyone but you thinks about your performance. If you know that you gave all the effort you had, and had a great attitude through it all, then there is no more you can ask for. If you are preparing yourself off the field correctly, and working harder than everyone else, then you have nothing to worry about.

As newspaper reporters asked me if I was worried about high expectations, I said absolutely not. I told them that I wouldn’t buy into everyone else’s expectations, and I would just go play. But the truth of the matter is I did buy into it, and I didn’t just go play. I was not intentionally lying to these people, but remember I have the “nothing will ever bring me down” attitude, so I couldn’t even admit to myself that I had a problem until after the season was over and I analyzed it.

Learn from me when I say that you will never enjoy yourself if you are caught up in trying to impress everyone and play with unrealistic expectations.

There were very few games that I truly had fun and played with joy because all I wanted to do was strike everyone out and say “See, look what I can do!” That is not what the game is about. It is about playing with love, and playing with passion and seeking victory through hard work.

My team lost the state championship game, and the second it was over I had a sense of relief. Everyone knew I wasn’t perfect that day, and it was OK. It didn’t make me a worse player, and it didn’t mean I didn’t work harder than everyone else; I just didn’t win that one.

As I look ahead to my senior year, I have one focus for the entire season. To win a state championship? No. I have learned that winning is out of my control, but my effort is not. My goal for the year is to be a fierce competitor through every second of the games. To not worry about the scoreboard, or what the paper will say or what people will say about me. That stuff is out of my control. All I want to do is to compete with everything I have, and come at people full-force saying, “Here I am, try to stop me.” With that attitude, everything I wanted so badly the year before will come naturally.

So to all of you amazing, talented athletes reading this, forget the expectations and play. Don’t worry about the outcome, play in the moment and play with a strong competitive nature. People are going to put you down if you win every game, and they will do the same when you lose. But that really doesn’t matter.

When you are playing for expectations instead of playing with passion, realize it and tell yourself to stop. I know that I will, and I hope you will, too.

Trust me when I say the game is so much better when you are playing on a fearless field.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog -- on her approach after making her college decision -- here.

Casey Stangel: Stay committed

July, 16, 2012
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Casey Stangel is a senior-to-be pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012 and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
Softball players are committing earlier and earlier these days. By the time we’re 15 or 16, we are deciding our path for the future, and that is a lot to put in the hands of a freshman or sophomore in high school. Some players commit for the right reasons, and others for the wrong reasons.

In one of my previous blogs I talked about choosing the right school for you. There are a lot hard decisions to make, and when you finally make your choice, it’s a great feeling.

But sometimes when girls commit, they take on the mindset that they are done. Committing early gives us about two years to either excel in our play, or sit in cruise control because there is no worry -- you’re not playing with your future on the line, you have your scholarship, all the worry from a recruiting aspect is gone. The question now is, what are you going to do with the time between your commitment and the fall that you step through the doors of your university?

Develop your skills
Players often catch coaches’ eyes because of the potential they have. Potential is a great thing that a lot of young athletes have, but potential is nothing if you don’t develop it. When I committed to Missouri, the thing I really needed to work on was my rise ball. I did not have one at all, but I had the potential to develop it. Over my 2 -year period between the time I gave my verbal commitment and the time I had left in high school, I had the choice to learn a new pitch, and I took it. A lot of the time players think that they are good enough, and once they verbal they don’t need to get better. The fact is that you now have bigger expectations to get better, and it is time to get going.

Keep your foot on the gas
You often see players go into a relaxation mode; they are committed to their school of choice, and now they think it is time to relax. I could name 5-10 girls who I know personally who had the potential to be All-Americans at a young age. Once they committed, though, they relaxed on their training, cut back on tournaments, and basically let go of their work ethic. Once you commit, you need to be working harder. You are not at the end of your path. In fact, the only thing you have done is decided which path you are on, and now it’s time to start on your journey down it. Make sure you always remember how badly you wanted to beat out every other girl to get to the school you are going to. Remember the “look at me” attitude you played with for coaches to see, and the extra sprints you did at the end of practice to be one step ahead of everyone else.

It is a job
Kids my age always try to give me a hard time because I don’t have a job, but then I explain to them that I do. When I go to work, I have shorts, a T-shirt, tennis shoes, and my ball bag. My job has a lot of different activities such as pitching, hitting, infield/outfield work, yoga, speed training, strength training and Pilates. I work every day of the week for varied amounts of time. My paycheck? A college education. Keep in mind that your coaches are paying you to go to school and perform. You better be working hard every single day to keep your job, because you can get fired real quickly if you slack off. The best part of it, though, is with all the work we put in, we have the best job in the world. Playing the sport you love and representing your school is something that not many people get to do, so don’t take advantage of that.

Making the decision of which college path you are going to take is so incredible and exciting. Never take your accomplishment for granted. Always remember that once you make that choice, it is time to start working harder because you are now accountable to yourself, your team, your coaches and your university.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog -- on softball sacrifices -- here.

Casey Stangel: Give it up for softball

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
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Casey Stangel is a senior-to-be pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012 and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
Being an athlete requires a lot of commitment and a lot of sacrifice. From a young age we are faced with decisions that can either make or break our careers. Whether it is choosing one sport to play or missing out on a birthday party to go to a tournament, you have to makes decisions for your future.

When I was younger I played soccer, and I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed that you could go one-on-one with someone and be physical to get the ball and score. I dig the aggressiveness of the game, and since my mom was a Division I soccer player at UCLA, it was in my blood.

When seventh grade hit, I was faced with a decision to either pursue my soccer career or my softball career. If I was going to fully commit myself and try to win national championships, I had to choose between the grass and the dirt. Well, I realized you have to run less if you hit the ball over the fence, so I went with softball. All joking aside, I knew softball was my passion, and it was what I was meant to do, so I put away the shin guards and bought some new bats. Quitting soccer was a hard thing for me, because I really loved it, but at the end of the day I would do it again. This was really the first big sacrifice I made for my softball career, and little did I know there was much more to come.

I have to believe that high school just isn’t the best years of your life. Are they some awesome learning years? Heck yes! But definitely far from the best. I say this because I have missed out on a lot of high school activities, and I am for sure not scarred for life.

When you are an athlete, you are on a much different path than other kids in school. You are in the small percentage of kids with a plan that you are working hard at every day, and when high school came around I faced my biggest bunch of sacrifices.

You will rarely catch me out past 10:30 p.m. with my friends because I have training in the morning. You will absolutely never find me at a party or hanging out with people who have a reputation for doing bad things. Friendships were a big sacrifice because even though some people are awesome and fun to be with, they are not on the same path as me. Beyond the friendships comes missing out on dances, or football games, or other school functions because of tournaments. I am now a senior in high school, and I have never been to a homecoming dance because we always have a tournament that weekend. It kind of stinks to miss out on these things, but at the end of the day I am missing out to pursue my dreams.

The day-to-day sacrifices are my favorite; they make you strong. Things like getting up early to train vs. sleeping in or having a salad vs. a huge McDonald’s burger. These commitments are the ones that separate the players from the athletes.

I love the feeling of being up in the early hours, grinding out a hard workout and mentally driving my body beyond pain, beyond reason, to the point of exhaustion. The mental and physical sacrifices that you have to make on a daily basis are why I love the sport, because you have to push your limits when nobody else is watching.

Even though you may not be at the rivalry football game, you might have a game-winning hit that you remember forever. If you leave a friend’s house at 10 vs. 1 a.m. because you have early training, don’t worry. Nothing good happens after midnight anyway. Sometimes you have to miss things that seem important in the moment, but at the end of the day they really are not.

Remember that when you graduate you will have memories of home runs and pushing yourself to your physical limits. You will gain so many life lessons when everyone else will just remember partying hard and freezing their butts off at a football game.

Sacrifice is hard, but when it’s for what you love, I promise you it is so absolutely worth it.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog -- Burn the Ships! -- here.

Casey Stangel: Just saying

June, 29, 2012
6/29/12
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
Notre Dame football has “Play like a Champion Today,” and Oregon has “Win the Day.” Within big sports programs, it is common to find a team motto or saying that the athletes keep in their minds to remind them of what they are working for. It keeps them focused and drives them to be champions.

Although I am not a part of my college program yet, I have a motto that I look at every day when I play, and it reminds me to give it 100 percent and go all-out. “Burn the Ships” is written on the thumb of my left batting glove, and before every swing, I take a deep breath and read those words.

There are many versions of the story, but here’s the one I was told that inspired my motto:

The English and the Romans had been at battle with each other for many, many years, but each time the Romans would dominate. The English would sail in to shore and climb up a hill to the battlefield, but each time the Romans would see them coming and slaughter them, so the English would go back to the ships and retreat. The English continued to sail in, climb up the hill and fight, get defeated quickly, and retreat.

Over time, the English got a new leader who had different tactics. They sailed into the Roman shores prepared to fight, just as they always had. This time before they climbed up the hill, their leader burned all of their ships. The soldiers were outraged and confused. As they sat and watched the ships in flames, their leader said, “We will go and fight all-out, there is no turning back now. We will either conquer the Romans or die, but no matter what, we will not retreat.” They went at the Romans harder than ever, and for the very first time they won.

When I am playing the game, I want to always have a do-or-die attitude. Playing 100 percent will leave you knowing that win or lose you gave it your all. Don’t make excuses or give up when it gets hard -- don’t retreat when your opponent starts to beat you. You have to keep battling through the hard times, and stay at the top of your game.

For example, my team is playing in the Boulder Independence Day tournament this week. On Wednesday, I had a bad game; my pitches were off and I hit very poorly. I never stopped trying, and never broke focus, but I just didn’t have my best stuff. Going into Thursday, I could have remembered that Wednesday was bad and I could make excuses about my pitching if my opponent began to beat me.

I took a different approach.

I wanted to redeem myself, and give everything I didn’t have the day before. I came into the game and threw a no-hitter and I went 2 for 3 with a single and a home run. What I learned is not that I was better on Thursday, but that I never gave up and I made my adjustments.

When you give it your all through the good times and the bad times, you will make the adjustments needed to be successful. Some days are bad and some games don’t go your way. Throughout the game I am always reminded to “Burn the Ships” and go all-out, never looking back.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – lessons from a MLB draftee– here.

Casey Stangel: MLB draftee shares tips

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012 and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
I had the opportunity to sit down recently with a baseball player named Kyle Johnson. Kyle graduated from my high school four years ago and went on to play at Washington State. As a senior, Kyle led the Pac-12 in stolen bases, and was a key player for the Cougars at the plate and in the outfield. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 25th round of the 2012 MLB draft. I have the utmost respect for Kyle, and I know with all of my heart that he is going to be extremely successful in his professional career. Before he left town for training, he sat down to talk with me about college and the big things that he learned throughout his career. There was so much sensational information that he shared with me that is going to be huge for my college career, but that is also extremely useful now.

The first thing he started with was having a good approach. Baseball and softball are very mentally demanding games, and it’s easy to get caught in a mental slump. You can be on at the plate, tearing it up going 4 for 5 consistently. But eventually you don’t have a good day, then another, then another and you’re caught in a jam. You’re overthinking every swing, and when you step into the box you are uncomfortable and worried about not producing. You start changing your approach and start overanalyzing and dig a ditch deeper and deeper with every at-bat. This is so common, and it is very hard to find a solution. Kyle gave me some great insight into how he dealt with this in college, and it all comes back to having a strong approach.

Every time you get in the box, it should be the same. Your approach is consistent and you are going through the same routine. For example, when I prepare for an at-bat I take three steps away from the box and scan the outfield. I look to see where they are set up and where I should look to drive the ball. Next I take two steps in and take one swing. I then hold my bat up and look at my left batting glove, where I have written a personal saying. Next I take a deep breath, and step in with my back foot, then my front foot tapping the plate twice. I move my bat over the plate a couple times, bat loose in my fingers, and come set. Every time. Having consistency in how you get in the box and how you breathe keeps you focused and relaxed. When you are going through your routine every single time with solid focus, you feel comfortable, as if you have been here a thousand times before.

With every pitch you receive you have to make the decision to swing or not. Clearly when you get a hit, your at-bat is over. But when you do not get a hit (or an out), you must step out and immediately let go of any negative part of the last pitch. You can’t go into the next pitch thinking “man I should have swung at that,” because before you know it the next ball is by you. Staying calm throughout an at-bat and staying consistent in your approach is so huge and something that all elite hitters do.

The second thing he told me was, “When my life outside of baseball is in order, my baseball is in order.” Things like being organized in school, keeping good relationships with your friends and family, or even eating right. These are all parts of your “other” life, and when everything else is going good, you bring no outside stress or emotion to the game. Kyle's example to me was that he woke up and made his bed every morning. It was a sign of respect and organization for his home life, and when that one thing was in order, it helped him keep other things in order. When you can go into a practice or a game with nothing else but playing on your mind, you are setting yourself up for success.

These may seem like two small and idiotic things to worry about. To some they may be, but I view these pieces of advice like golden tickets to success. As an athlete you must set yourself up to be successful at every turn, whether it is when you are stepping in the box or cleaning your bedroom. Your mind must always think “I want to be successful,” and you must make a constant effort in every aspect of your life to make it happen.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on three crucial innings – here.

Casey Stangel: Three crucial innings

June, 8, 2012
6/08/12
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. She was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Idaho in 2012 and has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
The first, the fourth and the seventh; they change a game. Every inning of a game is important, and must be filled with focus and effort. But these three innings are so huge to me and are what I consider game-changers.

The first

When you run out onto the field, it is time to make a statement. The other team gets its first look at you and they evaluate you. It is crucial to leave no doubt in the opponent’s mind that they have a challenge ahead. When I throw the first pitch, it has to pop, and from that moment forward, it’s on. A goal for me is to always get the momentum on our side in the first inning. When you go 1-2-3 through their hitters, it leaves a mark. The top of a lineup is typically the “igniters,” they are the people who are the strongest and really know how to get the job done. When you shut them down, it puts on a lot of pressure. On the offensive side of things, the first inning is when it really counts. When you are loud and get base runners on, it creates an energy and momentum that is critical in big games. When your team is taking some strong hacks and putting people on base in the first inning, it puts a lot of pressure on the opposing side.

The fourth

By now, you are more familiar with the other team’s hitters and their pitcher. In this inning, it is time to take all of the information you have gathered and hit the gas. I have found that this is where teams get lazy, because you’re halfway through and people are getting tired. The fourth inning is where I really tell myself to focus and work hard at spinning and spotting the ball on the mound. It is a point in the game when teams can steal back momentum, and that is the last thing I want to happen. Really pushing yourself, and upping your focus from this moment in the game forward, is extremely important.

The seventh

When you are training outside of games, and you are on your last sprints of the day, that is when you need to think seventh inning. You’re tired, emotions are all over the place, and the game is on the line. This is closing time, and it requires everything you have physically and mentally. As an example, in Game 2 of the Women’s College World Series, Alabama was up 8-1 in the seventh on Oklahoma. The second Jackie Traina stepped on the mound she needed to focus and put OU away. I felt like she did something that so many players do in situations like this -- she relaxed. In games like that, you cannot let up or lose focus until the last out of the seventh inning. Oklahoma showed its strong hitting skills and came back with five runs in the seventh. Opposite of Alabama, Oklahoma approached the seventh correctly and went all-out. Luckily for Traina, she got refocused and executed, leading her team to an 8-6 victory. Even players as amazing as Traina have these moments, and that is why I believe it is so important to practice them in every game.

If you are playing an exposure game that nobody is keeping score of, or if you are in the World Series in Oklahoma City, you have to play all-out. Seven innings of pure competing with the other team and never letting up. Have fun, be crazy with your team in the dugout; but when it comes time to do your job, make sure you do it with focus. Take every inning seriously – especially the first, fourth and seventh -- and you will never be disappointed.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on the lessons she learned from her state championship loss – here.

Casey Stangel: Learning from our loss

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
Going into the seventh inning we were down 5-2, and we had one batting opportunity to win the game. Could we do it? Of course. Our high school team had the most dangerous hitting lineup in the state, and we could hit any pitcher in the tournament. On May 19, things changed and we didn’t score those four needed runs, and we lost the state championship game to our cross-town rival high school.

“Everything happens for a reason” is the quote that everyone turns to when situations are not what they had expected. I believe that holds true, especially in sports; that every game was given to you for a reason. Every game in our careers was given to us so that we can learn something. After each one, I sit and process it and take lessons away from it. Some games have more information to offer than others, but every one is just as important as the other. This season I had the opportunity to play a game that I will remember for the rest of my life, and it has taught me huge lessons that are very important to me in my softball career.

In the moment, it was a killer. You have to win and lose like a champion, so I congratulated our rivals and let them have their moment, because everyone deserves to have that moment.

My next job was to be strong for my team because losing the championship game is never easy -- losing to your rival takes your breath away. The one thing I reminded my girls in our postgame huddle was lesson No. 1 for me: Don’t dwell on one game, because one game does not define a player, a team, or a season. We had two losses the entire season, and broke almost every offensive record at our school. Statistically, we had one of the best seasons in our school’s history, but there we were, girls in tears. In the moment of our big loss, it was very understandable and normal to be upset. But it was important to remember all the great things over the course of our season, and not the one bad thing in that moment. We had to realize that we had a better season than most teams, but the last game didn’t go our way, and sometimes that happens.

The whole bus ride home was when I really got to reflect by myself about the game on a more personal level. What can I take away from this experience? The lesson was not that I didn’t swing the bat well, or that I didn’t play solid defense, or that I didn’t have heart. It is easy to point fingers at specific plays or simply to say “they were just better today,” but I didn’t believe that what I didn’t do was the lesson to learn.

The second lesson that I took was this: Great players and leaders win and lose the big games; but the point is that they keep bringing their teams back. Peyton Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback in football, and he has won one Super Bowl. LeBron James is one of the greatest basketball players of our time, and he has never won an NBA championship. The thing that great leaders do is they keep leading their teams back to those games, and eventually it will be their year. The best players in the world can’t win every time, but the next day they put it away and start working hard again so that they can get back to that big game.

The morning after the loss I went out in our backyard and sat down to talk with my dad about the game. Among all the things we sat and talked about that morning, two things stuck with me. Initially he told me my third lesson: The sport is not fair. I don’t know why, but it’s not. You can work harder than anybody else, care about the game more than anybody else, and sacrifice things that others don’t sacrifice to win a game, and then still lose. The sport is never fair, it doesn’t know the work you do when everybody else goes home and all the love you have for it. Some days the softball gods are with you, but sometimes they are not, and you have to learn to accept it. I don’t play the game just to say I won a championship, I play because it is what I love to do. So even though that result wasn’t necessarily fair or the way I wanted it to be, I keep playing with nothing but love for it.

The last thing we talked about was what I needed to hear more than everything else. He told me simply this, “All right, Case, now quit your whining because today is the first day of next season, and it’s time to get workin’. ’ ” Which is exactly what I did, because May 20 was the first day of my senior season, and I am working my butt off every day to lead my team back to that game, and end my high school career with a win.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on her sources for motivation – here.

Casey Stangel: Ins and outs of motivation

May, 25, 2012
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
I take a Ted Williams approach to softball. What I means is, when Ted Williams played baseball he always had one thought in his head. He said “A man has to have goals, for a day, for a lifetime; and mine was for people to say, ‘There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.’ ” My motivation is that I want to be successful, and I want people to say, “There goes Casey Stangel, the greatest softball player who ever lived.” Crazy goal to shoot for? Definitely. That being said, I know all the things I have to do to make it possible. I have chosen the lifestyle to get there and I put in the work to do it; so what is so crazy about that?

Motivation comes in different ways to every athlete; it’s a personal thing. There are two main types of motivation for me, internal and external.

Internal motivation

When practice is over and everyone is leaving, there is a voice inside my head that says, “I could do more today.” I know that the work that is put in when nobody else is watching is what separates the good players from the great players. Self motivation, or internal motivation, is something that is really hard to teach, because it is something that’s in your DNA. I believe internal motivation comes from those who pursue greatness, rather than fear failure. It means that you want to be the best, so with every decision I make, I ask myself, “Does this benefit my dream or not?” When self motivated, you don’t have to have people tell you to go do it. I want to go practice, I want to go for a run, and I want to do those extra five sprints. The important thing is that you absolutely love what you are doing -- that is truly where self motivation comes from. Loving every second of the game, and wanting to do everything and anything that will make you the best is what it’s all about.

External motivation

External motivation is something that really fires me up. My perfect example is football. The football coach at my high school is an outstanding model of a great motivator. As is typical in the sport, before every game our football players get the inspirational speech that gets them jacked, and then they go out and battle. One thing I love about football is throughout every part of the sport, the coaches are pushing players to go harder and give it everything they have. That is just one of the reasons why I respect our high school football coach -- because he motivates not only football players but any student in our school to give it everything they’ve got. External motivation can come from anywhere. It is a simple reminder outside of yourself to keep pushing and fighting because you’re getting closer and closer to your dream with every move. There is a video I downloaded from YouTube onto my phone that I watch every single night before bed. It is called “Quiet Confidence” made by the TCU baseball coach. It is an external motivator to remind me about the will to win, and what it takes to be the best. I remember the coach’s words when I am in a game, “Sharpen your focus, grasp the urgency of now and win this pitch.”

Motivation can be a YouTube video, a coach that you truly admire, or it can be a fire within yourself that drives you to your goal. It can be numerous things, but for everyone it is different. When you can’t find motivation, remember why you play. Always, always remember why you love what you do, because that is motivation enough to keep on pursuing your dreams.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on playing by the book – here.

Casey Stangel: Playing by the book

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
6:35
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
I take pride in not only being a player of the game, but also a student of the game. I love to learn from players and coaches everywhere. I believe you can take away bits of information from any experience and apply it to your game.

My favorite source of information is University of Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido. Coach Garrido is a highly respected coach, and has extreme passion and knowledge for the game. He is the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, and is one of my favorite coaches of all time. He wrote a book called “Life is Yours to Win,” and I highly encourage players and coaches of any sport, at any level, to sit down and read it. Though this book has a considerable amount of insightful points, there are a couple that mean a lot to me.

“When you are driven by fear, you may win but you have no peace. When you pursue your passions, you find fulfillment in every moment, every day, every swing of the bat, every pitch thrown.

I have found myself in places where I have been playing out of fear. Fear of failure, fear of letting down my team, fear of not being the best. Like Coach Garrido says, you must find fulfillment in every moment. I play softball for a reason, and that is because I love it; I get a rush every time I get on the field. I can’t focus on trying not to fail and fear not succeeding, because then I’m not enjoying playing and am in a state of worry. Remember why you do what you love, because in the end you will find success, and you will enjoy every second leading up to that.

“The problem is that as long as you buy into the expectations of others and base your performance on rewards, you are dealing with things you can’t control. You can’t control things around you but you can control your response to them.”

My high school softball team went 26-0 last year and won the 5A state championship. Going into this year, there was a feeling throughout the team that we had expectations to repeat an undefeated season. People put a lot of external pressure on us to be perfect, and we have to work really hard to shield all of their expectations. Realize that you cannot control the outcome of a game. You can control your attitude, and your effort, but that is all. Don’t buy into the hype of all the things outsiders will say, because you can’t play with that on your mind. Play to win, stay hungry, humble and hard-working because that is what you can control and that is what will lead you to success.

“Focusing on solutions rather than problems is critical. When all you do is obsess over what went wrong, you’re like a guy trying to drive a car forward by looking in the rearview mirror.”

Keep a short-term memory when you play. If you miss a ground ball or strike out looking, forget it; learn from it so you know how to succeed the next time, but forget everything else. When you dwell on mistakes, it takes away from the rest of the game and you ruin your chance to make up for it. When you take the information and then apply it, you will make that next play and hit that next pitch.

“The players who succeed are those who feel they truly belong at the top, whether it’s in the major leagues, the business world, or their community. It’s all about confidence. Once again, self-perception determines who you are and where you go.”

When you play, bring some swag! Get in the box and own that thing, same goes for when you’re on the field. It should not matter who you are playing, you have to believe in your preparation and in your skills and go at your opponent full-speed. When you believe you are a great player, and you play every inning that way, you have the best chance to be successful.

I could go on and on about my respect level for Coach Garrido, and how much I value learning from his words. He is such an amazing teacher of the game, and on every page of his book there is something to be learned. These are just four points among so many that Coach Garrido addresses that have truly inspired me when I play. I encourage everyone to take a look at Coach Garrido’s book, “Life is Yours to Win,” because I truly connected with it, and I hope you will, too.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on getting mentally prepared – here.

Casey Stangel: Get into game mode

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
8:25
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
When I put on my uniform, it’s like putting on a shield; it blocks out anything and everything unrelated to that game. I am no longer worried about my friends, my school work or my weekend plans. I switch into my game mode, and that is a focus that cannot be broken.

Before a game, my mind zones in and mentally prepares to beat that day’s opponent. I build up my confidence and focus on winning a ballgame. Pregame mental preparation is absolutely crucial for me to play at my best. Keys to this preparation are visualization, listening to music and looking over the other team’s stats.

Visualizing myself striking out batters or seeing contact on a perfect hit is something I do before every single game. If I can see myself doing something in my head, it makes it a reality when I go out on the field. I have to sit down in a quiet place before the game and close my eyes and put the game in my head. I think about what it looks like to strike someone out and then go out on the field and apply it. The same things go for hitting; I see the other team’s pitcher in front of me and imagine finding that perfect pitch and hitting it right back at the defense on a line.

In one of my earlier blogs, I made the statement “Hours before a game, up until the second I put on my cleats, you can find me with my headphones in, mentally preparing.” Music is something that I have found is huge to my mental preparation. It puts me in a different world, away from people, relaxed and focused on the game. Music also is something that just fires me up. I am pumped for the day. It loosens me up because I am jammin’ out to my iPod with some good pregame vibes flowin’. I stay in my separate world; my mind ready and psyched to ball. People know that when the headphones go in, I am in game mode and I’m not coming out.

Last, but most definitely not least, is going over stats. My high school pitching coach has tracked every single pitch I have thrown since my freshman year, making me well-educated on every team we play. We know every hitter and what they have done so that we are prepared and have a game plan going into every at-bat. My goal is to win every pitch, and beat out my opponent every time, and reviewing the stats gives me a great advantage in that fight.

Preparation is the key to success in everything, whether it is a game, a test, a speech, anything. Softball games are a huge deal to me no matter who I am playing; each game is my test. To be at my best I have to prepare for any eventuality, and focusing my head is a huge asset in preparation.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on her approach to high school season – here.

'Tis the season to challenge yourself

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
7:48
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
High school softball season is the time to test myself. It’s an opportunity for me to get comfortable with changes I have made over the winter.

For example, this last winter I learned a new pitching style, and this spring I am perfecting my mechanics. I am not playing against “the best of the best,” and I am in a more relaxed environment to just get in there and play.

In contrast, summer season is when it’s go time. Day-in-and-day-out I am competing against the very best players in the country. For me, it’s when I want to peak in my training, and by nationals I should be at my very best. It is my biggest challenge and it shows me what I truly need to improve on because I am playing against the girls I will be facing in college.

What I have found is that high school season can become a goof-off and social time, and for the college-bound athlete, it can be easy to fall into that. So learn to challenge yourself; make your own competition. It’s very easy to lose your mechanics in the high school season if the talent level is not the same as it is in travel ball. Basically, the 15 home runs you hit in high school mean nothing if you get to an exposure tournament and go 0 for 5 against pitchers going to Division I schools.

That brings me back to my point of challenging yourself. High school season doesn’t have to be a time to coast; it can be so much more than that. It is an opportunity to test new things in your mechanics or learn new things about yourself as a player. Take advantage of it.

My challenge this high school season is to develop my rise ball. We are calling it at least twice for every batter, and whether or not it’s a strike every time, we keep throwing it. You have to fail to be able to succeed, and why not fail now? It’s easy for me to throw a fastball right down the middle every time and strike girls out, but that’s not making me better.

Realize that high school season is a huge opportunity for growth and it is something that should be taken advantage of. I would much rather fail a couple times in high school season than fail at Premier Nationals when it truly counts. Take this opportunity to work on your pitches or get some at-bats and see the ball.

You have to be willing to sacrifice some statistics by challenging yourself, but it is so worth it to be at your peak in the summer and eventually gain those stats back against better competition.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on her fire to compete – here.

It's about love -- always and everywhere

April, 20, 2012
4/20/12
9:20
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Compete: verb--to strive to outdo another for acknowledgment, a prize, supremacy, profit, etc.

Hours before a game, up until the second I put on my cleats, you can find me with my headphones in, mentally preparing. The second I step on the dirt, it is a battle, and I am ready to compete. When you look at the definition of the word “compete,” what do you see? What it means to me is that you are trying to outdo someone else for something. An acknowledgement, a prize of some sort, basically a benefit or reward for your accomplishment.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
I am always trying to outdo my opponent and win the battle, but as a player in exposure tournaments every weekend, it can sometimes become challenging. The reason is because exposure tournaments are designed for one reason, and that is to get players scouted by colleges. You go into that setting knowing what games you’re playing, and there is no “prize” for winning. You are just out there showing off your abilities to college coaches, and at the end of the day it technically doesn’t matter if you win or lose because there isn’t anyone looking at your record or giving you a trophy.

So how do you keep that competitive state of mind? How do you stay hungry to win even though you are not being acknowledged for your achievements?

That’s when it gets personal, and you have to find that inner competitor in yourself. You have to challenge yourself so that you constantly want to beat your opponent.

I felt for a while that these tournaments killed the competitive part of softball, and almost made it selfish. When you mess up you are not upset because someone scored on you, but rather because it made you look bad in front of a coach. And we are all guilty of it. We all at some point lose the competing side of it, because there is a lot of pressure to perform in front of those college coaches.

It is hard to tell someone to be more competitive because the competitive spirit is a fire inside of you that only you can ignite. That being said, the best advice I could give someone is to remember why you play the game. Don’t play to look good in front of a coach, or to make someone else happy; play the game because you love it.

I love that feeling when solid contact is made and I get a line-drive double to score a run. That pop of the glove when I throw the third strike and beat the batter. When I have a backhand in the hole and make a perfect throw to first. Or when I lay out and make that diving catch in the outfield. Whatever give you that feeling, that’s why you should play. That’s where my competitive edge comes from: the simple love of the game.

When you have a love, a passion, for something, you want to be the best at it. To be the best, you have to compete and beat out your opponent. When you go out and play simply because you love to play, and when you compete you do your best, you will feel that reward inside. You will know that you outdid the other team and you came out on top, and that is the “prize” that we are all truly looking for.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on setting goals – here.

Casey Stangel: Get up and goal

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
8:30
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Every morning I wake up and walk into my bathroom, where a list of goals hangs on my mirror. This is a list that I have had since I was 13. It holds all of my dreams and things I want to accomplish. As time goes on, my list changes, whether it’s adding something, or crossing off things that I have accomplished. Some of my biggest goals right now are:

-- Win two more 5a Idaho State Softball Championships
-- National Gatorade player of the year
-- Play in the Under Armour All-America Game
-- Win a national championship my freshman year in college
-- Win multiple national championships in college

As you can see, these are just a few of my softball goals. On my list you would also see things beyond softball such as:

-- Serve as an All-Student Body officer in Lake County High School Student Council
-- Keep above a 3.8 GPA through high school and college
-- After college, work as a reporter for ESPN

I find that this list is extremely important to my success. I wake up and read through all 43 goals, and it reminds me of what I am trying to accomplish every day. When I go to bed I read through the list and ask myself, “Did I do everything I could do today to make it happen?” Meaning did my actions throughout the day move me closer to achieving my goals?

I would recommend everyone make a list of all the things they want to achieve. When you have it written out and place it where it is visible to you every day, it keeps you on track. It reminds you of what you are working hard for, and motivates you to make it happen.

My advice when making your list is to chose goals that are attainable, that don’t contradict each other, that are specific and are truly important to you. If you looked at my goals you will see that they are not all softball; though I would say that’s the majority. My list expands past the sport, past school, and past what I want to be when I grow up, the list contains characteristics of the person/player I am, and the one I work hard to be. As an example, the very first goal on my list is:

-- Always outwork everyone else

Things like working the hardest, always giving my best effort, and making decisions that will benefit my future, are all goals that I have set as well.

Always remember that setting expectations for yourself and being reminded of them will only make you a better person/player.

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, Casey was elected ASB secretary -- she can cross another one off her list!

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – her secret workouts – here.

Casey Stangel: Working out works wonders

April, 6, 2012
4/06/12
9:00
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Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Casey Stangel headshot
Courtesy of Casey StangelCasey Stangel
There is no better feeling than that last sprint after practice or that last rep in the weight room because you feel so accomplished. Working out is an important part of our sport, whether it’s lifting, running, yoga, pilates, or even swimming.

Lifting: As a softball player, having strong fast-twitch muscles is crucial. We go from being at a standstill to having to react in the blink of an eye, so strengthening those muscles is something that should be a priority. We must also keep strong lower and upper bodies to maximize our power at the plate. Time in the weight room is a must to work on these different muscle groups.

Running: Our sport is not like soccer or basketball, where we have to be running 24/7, but we do have to be in good shape. To be able to keep you legs under you in that nine-inning 0-0 game, you must have endurance. I do a good 30-minute run a couple times a week to make sure I have the endurance to get through a game. In addition to long-distance running, sprint and agility work helps. Try running 40-yard dashes, speed ladders, sprinting football fields, shuttle runs, resistance cord sprints and quick sprints while changing direction.

Yoga/Pilates: Don’t we all just love getting into random positions and holding them until it feels like our muscles are going to snap? Oh yes, the beauty of yoga! But yoga is such a great benefit to us because we have so much more range if we’re flexible. When your muscles have that range and flexibility, you move freer and quicker. Yoga also provides the benefit of learning to control your breathing. For example, when you hit, you should be exhaling, letting it all out and putting all your power into the ball. Knowing how to control my inhales and exhales are something I have really enjoyed and apply to my work on the field every day. As for Pilates, when you ask someone who hasn’t tried it, they will usually tell you it’s an easy thing old people do. If you ask someone who has, they will start ranting about how hard it was, and how the next day their abs hurt so bad that they didn’t think they would ever recover. Pilates is core, core, core and more core. In our sport, we use our core in everything -- hitting, pitching, fielding, throwing, all of it. To get your core to its strongest, I recommend going to a Pilates class, because it will kick your abs.

Swimming: As a pitcher, I rely on my swim work to the extreme. It opens up my hips and strengthens my shoulders and forearms as well. Swimming movements are nice on your body, too, if you’re really sore from a game the day before but need to get a workout in. And, it's not just for pitchers, either, position players can benefit, too.

Remember that there are a lot of different things we have to do to be the best, and hard work is the driving factor. Though it is a lot to do in a day, all of these are important to our success.

Our bodies are a reflection of us as athletes, and we need to take care of them, and make them ready for all the things we put them through.

Don’t be afraid to hit the weight room, or pound the pavement, it can only make you better.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – how she knew Missouri was her perfect fit – here.

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