Lethal Lefty: Journey to greatness began with caring coaches
By Greg Bach
When Monica Abbott – one of the most lethal pitchers in the history of women’s softball – stepped on the field for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing she had a lot of emotions flowing through her red, white and blue clad body.
And many of them had to do with thinking about all the incredibly caring coaches from her days growing up in Santa Cruz, Calif., who taught, guided and encouraged her during those early journeys into organized sports.
“I think wearing ‘USA’ across your chest it was a feeling like I was representing all those coaches who I had played for that taught me the skills and put in so much time and effort in rec ball,” says Abbott, who helped the U.S. capture a silver medal. “It became more about wanting to represent the people who had an impact on my life both on and off the field.”
Abbott played a bunch of different sports growing up – basketball, volleyball and softball among them – before eventually falling in love with pitching.
“Once I started pitching it kind of felt right and I knew it was for me,” she says. “I was definitely blessed to play for some really good coaches and they challenged me in a positive way.”
Quality and caring coaches, combined with Abbott’s talent and tenacity for pursuing greatness, produced one of the sport’s all-time best at her position.
She was a four-time All-American at Tennessee, and holds NCAA career records for wins (189), strikeouts (2,440) and shutouts (112), among a dizzying array of other records far too numerous to mention.
Earlier this month the Houston-area Scrap Yard Dawgs, the National Pro Fastpitch's newest expansion team, signed Abbott to a six-year contract expected to pay her $1 million. The contract is believed to be the most lucrative paid by an individual American professional franchise to an active female athlete in team sports.
PRACTICES THAT WERE SO FUN YOU HAD TO TELL YOUR PARENTS ABOUT THEM
Abbott’s love for the game was sealed early on thanks in large part to coaches who understood the value of planning and executing practices that met the kids’ needs.
And sent them home with a smile on their face. Abbott still remembers those sessions fondly all these years later.
“When I was playing youth softball my coaches would always end practice with some type of fun game,” Abbott recalled. “It always ended on a positive note. When you send the kids away from the field at the end of the day with a smile and positive energy it makes them want to go home and tell their parents what they did at practice today.”
That’s a great mindset for all volunteer coaches to adopt when constructing and running players through a practice: Will this time I’m spending with them result in them excitedly telling their parents how much fun they had at my practice today?
SCRIMMAGES ARE NOT ALWAYS THE ANSWER
Abbott enjoyed playing for coaches who got creative and introduced fun games into practice sessions instead of just relying on drills and scrimmages to fill the time.
“I think anytime you can involve a game inside practice – not a scrimmage – but some type of fun game or challenge it makes the practice so much more fun,” Abbott says. “It just brings excitement and energy because players will feed off those different types of games and activities that you bring to the field.”
CARVING OUT CONFIDENCE
Lots of kids these days show up for practices and games running low on confidence, and coaches are in a great position to refill kids’ emotional tanks.
“I think when coaches can celebrate even the smallest things that these girls do it makes them want to do bigger things,” Abbott says. “So that’s a big confidence boost for them.”
ABBOTT’S FAVORITE YOUTH SPORTS MEMORY
Ironically, one of Abbott’s favorite youth sports memories has to do with hitting, something very few players have been able to do through the years when facing her.
“When I was first learning how to play softball when I got my first hit I remember looking at the crowd and seeing my mom and she was the most excited person,” Abbott recalled. “And that’s a memory that I’ll always cherish.”
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