Today, we are back with a special guest. I have been doing a lot of solo podcasts the last couple of weeks but I hope you’ve had a chance to check those out, a lot of valuable information, strategies, ideas that I’ve learned from my training from other guests on the show. I’m talking about how we use our body language, our physiology to control how we feel and how we can use that idea of, “Fake it until we make it,” act as if to be a peak perform today in this game. We also talked at another podcast where we talked about playing full force and the deeper structures of the mental game. So much what controls an athlete, what dictates their performance, it lies beneath the surface and beneath the surface is our belief systems and how you respond, how you react to any situation. If you make an out and you react with frustration or with sadness or if you react in a way that says, “I made a mistake but what can I learn from it and how do I apply it to be better the next time I’m up.” All those different reactions, they all stand from our belief systems. We gain awareness if we use some of the strategies and the processes that I go through in the episode, we can actually pre-program ourselves on how we want to react in this situation in a way hopefully that serves us to be our very best towards our goals and our ultimate vision.
We are back as I mentioned today with a special guest, a chance to ask those questions and learn more. I can’t wait for you to hear this episode. Phenomenal athlete, phenomenal woman. She is from the softball world, Nicole Giordano. She was a national champion at the University of Arizona as an outfielder. She was also a member of 2004 Team USA at the Sydney Olympics that brought home the gold; a very, very highly accomplished woman from the softball world. I think one of the things that I just love and respect most about our time talking together is just how she seems to live her life with this idea of being full force too. She is an extremely passionate woman and you can hear just the underlying tone of the way she speaks, not only about her career as a softball player, what she did, her beliefs about everything, the advice that she gives to young softball players whether it’s about college or how they play and approach the game. You can just see she’s not a sit-on-the-fence type of person. She’s about fully committing herself to this moment, to this task, this activity and to keep developing, to keep battling. So many people today it seems like they just stood on the fence. They try things out, “We’re going to try this approach.” You can just hear in her story how committed she is in the process and going out there day-after-day and building on it.
It might be a belief but it seems to be one that is adopted by many, many successful people in the sporting world or out of it. But it takes time to build, it takes time to develop to be your very best. Be patient with the process. An interesting book, I think I mentioned in the last podcast, but Carol Dweck, Mindset, developed this idea of a growth mindset and focus on that process. Without any further ado, I will bring her up to the plate and we will see you on the other side.
Listen to the podcast here:
Nicole Giordano: Olympic Gold Medalist and NCAA Softball Champion
I do a lot of work with a lot of softball players of twelve, thirteen, fourteen years of age that are all trying to commit. I don’t have a daughter, fortunately, because I’ve got about five of them currently where there are tears and frustration and anger and all that sort of stuff.
What’s great is when they finally do commit though. I go, “See, I told you not to worry. I told you everything is going to happen. Not to stress out because there’s nothing you can do.” My mom used to call me, as a joke after the tryout and start singing Que Sera, Sera and always do it as a joke. She’s like, “Nicole, it’s out of your control. All you can do is the best you can and you got to just leave it to whatever is going to happen is meant to be.” I’ve just started believing that whatever was happening was supposed to happen whether it was good or bad. I was really fortunate to what always happen to be good. I’d lost championship games. I’d had to deal with all that before but it made me really hate the taste of losing and going, “I don’t want that to happen again. What can I do to make sure it doesn’t?” I felt like I really was able to control my destiny a lot when it came to outcomes of games or stuff like that. It wasn’t just, “We’re okay. If we just believe then we’ll win.” No, you have to actually do something about it.
Coach Candrea used to say, “It’s not just the way you tie your shoes before a game. That’s not how you mentally prepare. It’s not just being superstitious going, “I have to put my left shoe on first and then my right shoe.” No, it’s actually preparing, mentally preparing how are you going to get ready for the game. He’s one of the most superstitious men I know but it helps you stay relaxed when you do have superstitions. It’s crazy the way that all worked out like kissing a rabbit’s foot, “I’m going to get a hit now.” You can’t just show up and expect that if you have a superstition and you do it, that all of a sudden you’re going to get that hit. What did you do to prepare yourself for that situation?
What you’re saying is if you don’t get the result that you want, then you need to find a new game plan.
Yes. My husband makes fun of me because I’m all about quotes. Before every game, I had a little book of quotes that I read just to motivate myself and keep me positive. They love me as a coach because they go, “You’re the most positive person I’ve ever met. Even if you’re down by nine runs, you will find a way to get your team to come back and score ten and win the game in the last inning.” They always know that we’re never done. My parents on my daughter’s team go, “Nicole, you’ve got to dig deep in the vault for this one. We’re down and it’s the championship game. What are you going to do?” I will pull out motivational speeches. I swear to you, these kids just soak it up. They’re like, “Coach believes in us. We can do this. It’s possible.” At the end of the game, I am mentally exhausted. I have told umpires, “It’s harder to coach than it is to play,” because I have zero control. If I don’t show up and bring my A game mentally and I pumped them up, then we’re going to be flat and we’re going to lose. I’m going, “I can’t do this. This is exhausting.” You’ve got to dig deep in the vault for all those speeches.
What we were just saying about the luck is I tell my lessons all the time, “Don’t be upset for the results you do not see, for the work you do not do.” They all go, “I guess you’re right.” I go, “You expected to show up and be great. What did you do before your lesson? Have you hit at all this week?” They go, “No, I got busy. I had homework.” I go, “Then why are you mad that you’re not hitting great in the cage? You expect to just turn it on all of a sudden when you show up?” They’re like, “I guess you’re right. I guess I actually have to work out to be good.” You can’t just show up. Kids sometimes have a tough time understanding that you get out of it what you put into it.
Let me take a step back further in how this all started talking about the young softball ladies that they’re going through these tough times of twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old. They’re going through all these recruiting. When it all comes together and they’re able to celebrate and you see this relief, my biggest fear is always that then they stop putting in the work possibly.
Because they get discouraged.
Not necessarily discouraged but maybe you’ve committed to go to division one, division two, division three, whatever it is but you’re not that player yet and you still need to do the work to develop. I think that is along the lines of what you just mentioned of you don’t just show up to play the game but you can’t just show up the next three years and expect to go and contribute.
You’re saying they stopped trying because they’re like, “I got it. I’m good.”
“I’m already committed.” That was phase one, now it’s time to put in to work and become a college level player.
When I went to Arizona, it was unheard of. This little girl from Santa Clarita got a full ride to Arizona. I went in there and I was supposed to not start, I was supposed to sit the bench behind all these big Batbuster girls. Arizona had just won three of the last four World Series championship games with this class. I went in with eight seniors and I was a little freshman and I was supposed to sit the bench. I never once thought that I was supposed to sit. I didn’t go in thinking that, “I’m not that good.” I went and go in, “I’m here to dominate.” I batted 400 my freshman year. I batted second in the lineup, sandwiched between four-year All Americans and I had the year of my life. We made it to the championship game. Unfortunately, back then it was a one-game series and we lost one-nothing to a team we had beaten four times earlier in the year and we were stacked. We had three losses out of 70 games all year. I don’t know if we went in expecting to win, which I think you do need to expect to win to a certain point. You need to expect to be great, expect to win. You should never doubt yourself because the second you doubt yourself, you’re going to do exactly what you thought.
Like what you said, “I want to walk in and dominate.” There is some expectation there.
Like you said though, it’s what you do to prepare to get there but we were amazing. I was a three-time All-American. My freshman year, you’re only allowed five All-Americans and we had all seniors. That was the one part where I felt like, “What? I should have been in All-American. I kicked butt. I led in stolen bases and hits and I was one of the top in the country. I batted 400 in a Pac-10 back then. It was unheard of against UCLA and all these great powerhouses.” I didn’t let it discourage me, instead I went All-American sophomore, junior, senior year. I never stopped wanting to get better I always thought that there is always room to grow and that was always my philosophy in life. My mentality was I always want to be the best and I didn’t want someone to be better than me. I was very competitive.
I see people their senior year going, “I’m going to this college next year, blah, blah, blah. I will work out when I get there.” I’m like, “Everyone is fighting for you spot.” Coach Candrea used to teach me that, “When you sleep in, someone else is waking up at 5:00 AM with your position in their mind. “I want to take your spot on the Olympic team. I want to take your spot in Arizona. I want to take center field from you. I want to be batting leadoff at Arizona.” There’s always someone, so you have to protect your spot.” I don’t think a lot of people do that.
I don’t want to say we’re entitled. I want to say, in society these days we feel like things should be a little bit more given to us and handed to us, whereas in old school, when you and I grew up, it was, “No, you got to work your butt off to earn it.” I think that there are parents out there who keep trying to keep these girls going, “No, life isn’t fair. Sorry.” Life is not supposed to be fair. I think that these kids expect to walk in, “I should be batting leadoff and playing center.” “No, you got to earn it.” That’s what they expect.
My poor daughter, a lot of my parents feel worse for her because I’m even tougher on her and she’s got an even shorter leash where she wants to pitch and she wants to be the star. She wants to bat third and if she does bad, she’s quicker to be pulled than anybody else because I want her to understand that, “You’re not just going to play because mom’s the coach. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a spot.” There are coaches these days whose kids aren’t even on their team and they didn’t make it. “They cut off my girl, how sad is that?” I go, “I don’t think I’m not a cutthroat. She may be frustrated now but in the long run, she’s going to go, “I’m glad you pushed me a little bit more because now I’m way above these girls at my age instead of just going through the motions.” It’s tough. I feel bad for her sometimes. That’s how I was raised.
Everyone would be sitting at the table eating dinner and I wanted to pitch and I wanted pitching lessons. My mom said, “If I’m going to pay for you to have pitching lessons, you better go practice.” “Yeah, I’ll do it later.” The next thing you know, the family is getting ready to eat dinner, “Nicole, have you done 150 arm circles into a net?” “No, I’ll do it after dinner.” “No, you go out there. We’re going to all eat dinner.” I would be outside and the family would be looking at me out there and I’d be having to pitch into a net. It anchored me so much and I thought she was so mean, but she tells people all the time, “You’re welcome. You only got to this level because I made you do that. If I were going to let you choose, of course you’re going to choose to hang out with your friends or watch TV.” Seriously, who really wants to go sweat and run until they throw up and start wheezing when you’re doing so many sprints? Nobody chooses to do that but you realize that the reward is so much greater than what you’re having to die for.
I don’t think I’ve asked an athlete about this yet but I think it’s really important to me and I’m curious what you think about the idea of being an independent worker and the importance of that.
I love that you said that because I’ve had debates with people for years. My sister, she’s built totally different than me. I’m really fast. We both had really strong arms. She was a catcher at Washington and I was outfielder at Arizona. I was a leftie and I was always real quick. She was the bigger catcher, slow but strong. Whenever we would do sprints, I would always sprint as fast as I could. She goes, “No, when you do your sprints with your team, you stay with your team. It’s a team sport.” I go, “How am I building my team and making them better by me slowing myself down and not getting faster by just waiting for my team, because then I’m not really working hard?” We always had this debate and I go, “Maybe that’s coming from a slow person saying you have to stay with us.” I just explained to my son the other day and I go, “Even though people say baseball is a team sport, it’s an individual sport brought together as a team.” I tell my son, “Nolan, if you go 0 for 4, did you help your team?” He goes, “No.” I go, “You have to do your job hitting. You have to be a productive out. If there’s a runner at third, you need find a way to hit him in, whether you get a hit or not. Did you just go up there and strikeout and do nothing for your team or did you do something that helped your team? The more you work out individually and make yourself better individually, it helps your team so then the team gets stronger.”
Coach Candrea used to always say, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” If you’re building yourself up then you are helping your team and playing as a team. I got to a point where on the USA team I was like, “If I don’t get a hit, Natasha Watley will, Jessica Mendoza will, Lisa Fernandez will, Crystl Bustos will.” Then I started to find myself going, “I’m not pushing as hard as I did at Arizona.” I know a lot of parents don’t like this but this is how I was raised in Travel Ball was I used to get called out after a game and the coach would say, “You went 0 for 4 and that’s why we lost. If you don’t get on base, we don’t win.” I turned around and I’m looking at the team, I was like, “I didn’t realize I was playing tennis. I didn’t realize it was an individual sport. I guess it is all about me having to be great.” Because of that, it made me realize, I have to be a leader. I have to make sure I’m always at the top of my game and I could never slack off because then I’ll let my team down. I know it’s a lot of pressure to put on a 14-year-old girl, but I go, “It made me stronger and it made me better because of it.” I think that’s what made me excel was I did play as an individual. Not a selfish player but I was making sure that I was the best at my game at all times to help my team out. I loved that you said that because rarely people will talk about the individuality part of the game where, “It’s a team sport.” “No, it’s both.”
The main thing is you do want to be a good teammate. You don’t want to be selfish where if you do go 0 for 4. Jennie Finch said in a game, “Nicole, if you strikeout, go make a great play on defense. Go make a diving catch.” I think that’s why I never really slumped. It was because I was always able to change my thought, instead of, “Poor me. What about me? I just struck out. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did that,” to “That’s okay. I’m going to go catch a ball and going over the fence. I’m going to go make this amazing dive or I’m going to get a girl out from second base.” I was able to transition where my head was at so I never got down on myself, which is very hard at this sport because you’re going to fail more times than you’re going to succeed. You’ve got to be able to deal with failure. I never really thought of it as failure. I thought of it as, “Now I have a chance on defense or now I have another opportunity. Our next at-bat, I’m going to make an adjustment and I’m not going to pop up. I’m going to think about hitting hard ground ball.” I wasn’t just up there going, “Poor me,” and then all of a sudden I get worse and worse and worse. I love the way that Finch put it, “Go help out your team on defense now because you’re not always going to go 2 for 3 or 3 for 4.” Even though I expected to always have at least one, two hits a game, it was rare for me because I was fast. My mom used to say, “Speed never slumps.” “How come you never got in the slumps?” My mom is like, “Speed never slumps.” She’s going to at least find a way to get a hit because she’s fast. You create chaos out there.
More than that, I see fast people all the time that aren’t very good. It wasn’t just that I was fast but I was able to always look at the positive. A lot of parents that have played for me over the years have said, that’s the number one thing they say about me, “I love how positive you are.” Not “We love a USA coach out there coaching my daughter. I love a girl that won a World Series at Arizona and won a CIF championship at high school.” They don’t care about any of that. They love the way I am with their daughters and how they’ve grown. Whether they’re not very talented, they play like Derek Jeter. You would think that they believed they were the best player ever because, “Coach believes in me.”
Coach Candrea, you would look down the third baseline and you go, “I want to give blood, sweat and tears for this man.” You wanted to die for that guy. I think that’s why he’s been so successful not just in how brilliant he is as a coach but you were willing to lay everything on the line for him. You hated letting him down. You didn’t want to have a bad game because then you’d feel he was disappointed in you. That’s a great attribute for a coach is to go, “I’m doing this for you. I want you to do this for me.” You want that mutual respect. Coach Candrea has always had that. People leave going, “Just being in his presence, how lucky were you to play four years for the man, and then another four years with the USA team.”
I was very fortunate and I think that’s where I got a lot of the mental side of the game, was from him. It helped me go, “Who are you to say I’m not going to play?” He never said that but it’s like, “Who’s this girl thinking she’s going to beat me up in this position? I’m better than her.” Whether I was or wasn’t, I thought I was so I ended up playing that way. She may have been this big stud that came out. You see girls all the time. They come out of high school, that big stud out of their valley and all of a sudden, you’re like, “What happened to that girl?” Because like you said, they stop working for it because they feel like they got it. No, that’s just the beginning. Don’t win the battle and lose the war. It’s like, what did you work your whole life for? I try to tell my girls that.
I’ve had a couple of girls, believe it or not, who had full rides offered to them and they say, “I don’t want to play anymore. I don’t want play in college.” I go, “What did you just work since you were eight years old for? What have your parents been doing every weekend for you for the past ten years to get you this scholarship? You have it now, you’ve done the hard part, now is the fun part. College is fun. It’s work but it’s nothing like Travel Ball.” I hate admitting this but I hated Travel Ball. My friends in high school were going to the beach and I was heading to Orange County for a softball tournament. They were going out on Fourth of July and I was in Canada playing in the Canada Cup for the USA Team. You can’t really complain about that because people would kill to be in your shoes, but you get to a point where you’re like, “When do I get to have all these?” What’s funny is now that I do have all this, I’m going, “What I would give to go be playing in Canada again right now. What I’d give to be on ESPN again and making a great play just that feeling that you get.”
I talk to people all the time and they complain about how expensive it all is: lessons, travelling, Travel Ball dues, tournaments and this and that. They actually did a study where I think it’s actually cheaper just to pay for your kids to go to college. I go, “You know what you can’t pay for though? I met the President of the United States.” We were flown out to Washington DC after we won at Arizona. We got to meet the President. We got to meet all the senators. We were on the Late Show with David Letterman. I met Matt Lauer and Katie Couric at the Olympics. I’m going, “You can’t pay for that. You can’t pay for experiences.” It may be cheaper just to go to college but the experiences you get out of it and what you learn from the game and the camaraderie and how to be a better person and a better teammate and how to be responsible to make that you’re at practice on time, stuff like that, you can’t buy. There’s so much more to softball than just getting the scholarship. It keeps kids out of trouble. It keeps them focused. It keeps them believing in something. It keeps them having a passion. They learn to deal with failure. They learn that life isn’t fair. They learn all these stuff through sports. I think that’s more important than just going to college, just doing this and that. It’s just life lessons you gained from all that.
You mentioned about that transition from high school to college. For yourself, I know it was a very successful transition. What were some of the things that you didn’t know going into it that may have been the bigger challenges? The stuff that when you talk to young and upcoming ball players you like to pass on, “You need to know about this, you need to know about these expectations,” or whatever it is that comes to your mind.
It’s definitely a lot harder because now you have college classes, you have training, you have weightlifting. I had never had weightlifting in my life. You’re soring muscles you didn’t even know you had. You’re dealing with dying during the workouts but also having to stay up until 11:00 because you have a midterm the next day. That’s where it gets difficult because you don’t have your mom and dad there helping you out and bailing you out. You have to wake yourself up for an 8:00 AM class. That was the hard part for me, waking up going, “Where’s breakfast?” No one’s going to take care of me and who’s doing this for me? That’s where it was tough for me because you also have a lot of distractions.
I went to Arizona and Arizona is not known for being a dry school. There’s a lot of partying going on there and it’s not a private Christian school. I had to deal with the peer pressure. I’m in a dorm my freshman year. You can hear them out in the hallway getting ready to go out and pre-partying and all this. I’m going, “I have an exam tomorrow.” The thing about Coach Candrea is he knew everything. I was so afraid to disappoint him and for him to go, “You guys were out partying and that’s why you couldn’t wake up.” You never miss conditioning or else our weight trainer, Carlo, would absolutely kill us. There was no missing anything but you knew you were going to pay for it the next day. It was hard going, “I am free. I am on my own but I need to learn to be responsible.” Thank God for softball because it keeps you on that track.
A lot of people fail out of college especially the first year because they end up doing all these stuff and then they lose focus of what they’re there for. That’s what college is all about: Getting your education. I get so mad at my mom, I go, “Mom, I had a scholarship to Stanford and UCLA and Cal Berkeley and full rides to Michigan and all these and you allowed me to go to Arizona, which education-wise, you shouldn’t choose Stanford over Arizona.” My mom goes, “Nicole, when you came back after you met Coach Candrea, you knew. I was going to let you follow your heart and your passion because I knew if I made the decision for you, you wouldn’t have lasted four years. You would have been miserable.” If I’m sitting here going, “No, you have to go for this education,” and I get that’s what we’re going for but I made a career out of softball. I still give private lessons, I coach, I do clinics and I was fortunate to where my path and my journey worked out better because I was at Arizona.
Coach Candrea was the USA softball coach. It helped me transition into everything to where I was really fortunate. Had I gone to Oklahoma or Michigan, I’d be sitting there going, “Now my chances in making the USA Team aren’t as good. Maybe I’m not going to grow as much under these coaches as I did with Coach Candrea because he was able to mold me into the player I needed to be.” I was lucky because I knew that I love softball and I loved working with kids. It was a passion of mine to give back. That was the route I knew I was going to take, so I was lucky. Whereas as some people go using their scholarship going, “I know I want to be a nurse. I know I want to do this.” That’s great. Honestly, at 17 years old who really knows what they want to do the rest of their life.
Now, they’re making that decision far, far younger.
We went and visited Coach Candrea and my husband goes, “How do you know if an eighth grader is going to be any good when she gets here?” Coach Candrea goes, “Honestly, you don’t. The problem is, everybody is recruiting at that age.” I’d heard about they were going to make a rule where you couldn’t really start recruiting them until later and you couldn’t be verbally committed to eighth grade. He’s going, “If I don’t get this girl, UCLA is going to get her or Auburn is going to get her.” It’s like everyone’s keeping up with the Joneses. Everyone is doing it like steroids in baseball. I’m honest and I try to follow the rules and I don’t do steroids. Now I’m hitting the ball 300 feet. This guy is doing steroids and he’s hitting 450 feet. How is that fair?
Or you retire and you found out that everybody around you was doing it.
Yes, you find out after the fact going, “Why was I the only good guy and now I’m being punished because of it?” I think that’s where Coach Candrea is going, “I know, I don’t agree with it but what am I going to do? If I try to stay with this isn’t right, let’s recruit them.” When I was young, your sophomore year, junior year was when you committed. Until you sign that letter of intent your senior year, you really didn’t know where you were going. Now, these poor kids are having to make decisions. They’re just going through puberty and just dealing with life and stress and going, “I don’t know about what college I want to go to. I don’t even know what college is.” It’s so sad. I feel awful for these kids. It’s like the rules of softball. When I went to college in 1997 at Arizona, is when you finally jumped up to 43 feet pitching distance. When I was in high school, 18U, 16U, 14U was all 40-feet pitching. I went and I was like, “I’m seeing the ball great. I got three extra feet.” Now, at fourteen and under, it’s 43 feet. That is so sad. When do we stop? When you draw the line at this is too young and too early and now they’re wearing metal spikes. We weren’t able to wear metal spikes until we got to college. It’s crazy. Maybe I’m just old school.
I can pick up on what were some of the important criteria points for you for choosing your college. When you give advice to these young and up and coming softball players, how do you explain the best way for them to go through their decision and the process?
I had a lesson this morning. She’s a sophomore and it’s her second college. Then, I had a lesson right after her, it’s her junior year, it’s the same college and she’s miserable. The girl who switched colleges was so much happier. Sometimes we’re limited to what we’re offered, so we’re going, “If this college is the only college that offered me a scholarship,” you seriously have to go with your gut. You take that recruiting trip. Back then, I don’t know if it’s the same, but you were allowed five recruiting trips. I took all five. My travel coach wouldn’t let me go to Hawaii at a full ride but he’s like, “No, you’re not going to take the money from our recruiting trip from someone who actually wants to go there. You just want to go and go to Hawaii.” You know you’re not going there. You know you want to stay in the Pac-10.
My sister was at Washington and then I had a full ride to Washington. I took a recruiting trip there and I didn’t like it. I didn’t mesh. I didn’t feel it. I tell girls all the time, “Go visit the school. Set it up to where you can meet with the coach and you can talk to them. Is this somebody who you want to be your dad or mom for the next four years of your life or five years? Is this somebody who you can tolerate for that long? My dad loved sending me off to Coach Candrea. He goes, “I feel totally comfortable that you were going to be a second dad to my daughter.” That’s what Coach Candrea always says, “I know I’m taking on that role and I’m molding your kids.” You have to go with your gut and you have to go where you know you’re going to be happy. I know we don’t know everything going into it. We’re all going to get throwing curveballs like, “I didn’t expect classes to be this hard. They were so nice on my recruiting trip, and now these professors are crazy.” It’s going to be tough but you have to go, “Am I willing to spend the next four years at this place?”
Literally, I got off the plane. I was with a friend who went to Thousand Oaks, Erica, and I go, “Mom, we’re going to be roommate.” She goes, “What? I didn’t even know you decided.” I’m like, “We’re going to room together. It’s going to be so awesome.” She’s like, “I take you made your decision.” Sue Enquist was amazing. Just very comparable with Coach Candrea but sometimes you just know when making decisions. UCLA and Arizona were both back and forth every year. UCLA won at one year, Arizona won the next year. It was one of those things where if I want to win a national championship, I’m going to win one at either school, because UCLA won at my sophomore year. I knew I was going to win it somewhere but where was I going to be happiest? You have to go where you’re happy because if you’re miserable, those four years will feel like 40 years.
I know people personally who had horrible college experiences, 20 years later still talking about it. How miserable they were, still remember it. I have girls. I tell them, “Transfer if you go somewhere that you think you’re happy.” I have a girl who got a scholarship purely by calling coaches. “My name is so and so. I’m interested in your school. Can I send you a video of me, just a highlight video real quick.” Now, all of a sudden, they put a face to a name and they’re like, “I remember this girl. I talked to her. I’ll look at the video.” Then they come out and watch them play and that’s it.
Nowadays, you have to put in a little more legwork. You have to go to these college camps. I have a girl, they talk about it on TV at Notre Dame, got a full ride. She’s going to be a junior now. She’s batting cleanup for Notre Dame, amazing school, a very expensive education. She went to one of their camps over the summer when she was maybe in eighth or ninth grade. She got on their radar. They started watching her play, offered her a full ride. Just by exposing yourself, all of a sudden you’re going to get in good with these coaches and then they’re going to now know who you are as opposed to, “You’re just another Jane Smith that I just see at the game. I’ve seen her video before. She’s got a good swing or she’s this or she’s that.” It’s crazy where these scholarships come from.
You don’t have to be Gatorade Player of the Year to get a full ride. There are so many scholarships out there. It’s just with Title IX, there’s such a better opportunity for females in sports. You just got to put in the legwork. Like I said earlier, you get out of it what you put into it. If you put in the time and you make a bio of yourself and you send it out and not just mass, “Just watch my YouTube channel.” You’ve got to make it a little more personal. I’ve had so many girls get scholarships that way. Because how else is a school going to know about you between the 10,000 other girls that are playing, that play your position all across the country that want college scholarships?
I see a lot of young players not as self-motivated and take as much action as they could because there’s a little bit of that, “I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. Some of these schools they might not be interested or maybe these schools are too big.”
At Arizona, we thought for sure this girl was going to Stanford. She had a full ride, we’re like, “Great, she’s going.” She wanted to go there. She didn’t get the right grade. I think she got a C in one of her classes and she needed a B and that changed everything. Now, she’s coming to Arizona, amazing ballplayer. Stanford could say, “I’m all locked up with scholarships.” All of a sudden they could lose somebody. I had a girl and I tell a lot of my lessons this story. She was so discouraged, “I’m going to a JC.” We worked her butt off right before the big Colorado tournament. She went and she hit seven homeruns in six games; got offered a full ride from Utah State right there. She went home, it was July and she was packing in three weeks to go to Utah as opposed to go into a junior college and no scholarship at all on one tournament.
I try to tell people all the time, she was a senior, she graduated, she was done going, “I’m going to go play a local JC and hope that I can still make it at a great tournament.” There was suddenly a scholarship available and she got it. Nowadays, they do have to promote themselves and become politicians and go run for office. They have to go out there and put their name out there. When as I played, people came to me. I never wrote a letter. I never send a video. They came to the Colorado tournament. There were certain tournaments that the college coaches went to. They saw you play and they were like, “Thumbs up, full ride.” Nowadays, you can’t do that. It’s a little bit more difficult for me with my lessons saying, “I didn’t have a portfolio. I didn’t send videos. I was the video. They would come watch me play in a game.”
I try to tell people too that if there are college coaches there at your game and you strikeout, don’t think it’s the end of the world. I had probably about six or seven colleges watching me at Nationals, which is now Premier, they call it. They’re watching me play. I went 3 for 4 that game. Of course, my very first at-bat, my only out was when Coach Candrea was there. He turned to my coach, gave him a thumbs-up and walked away. Next thing you know, all the college coaches left. I went to my mom and I was so sad and I go, “Why did everybody leave?” All of a sudden Hawaii walked up and he goes, “I know everyone left because they saw Coach Candrea gave a thumbs-up so they knew that there’s no way.” “If he’s taken her, we can’t compete,” because like I said, they had won it every year in the ‘90s. If you get an offer, you’re not going to turn it down. He goes, “I know everyone left but I have something to offer you that even Arizona can’t.” I go, “What?” He goes, “Hawaii.” He handed me a brochure and I was like, “Awesome, this brochure looks great. Look at the palm trees.” My mom is like, “Nicole, don’t get caught up in that.”
What’s amazing is the one at-bat Coach Candrea saw me, I grounded out. They don’t put everything into the outcome. They look: Does she have a good swing? Is she fast? Is she aggressive? Is she positive when she strikes out? Is she high-fiving here teammates or is she putting her head down crying in the dugout? I do not want a girl like that. Is she on one end of the dugout while the rest of the team is on the other end of the dugout? She’s selfish? All she cares about is herself. I don’t want a girl like that. There’s so much you can read by body language from these girls. You’re sitting there going, “She’s not a good teammate. She’s going to be a cancer to our team.”
Right after I got home with the USA team, a guy came to me and said, “I’m going to bankroll this team. I want you to coach it, my daughter is on it. I’ll buy all the uniforms. We’ll be called the Wildcats.” I was like, “I’ll coach travel,” which by the way, I was like, “Never again. That was so time-consuming.” It just brought me back to the days I dreaded Travel Ball. I’d loved it because it was a 14U team and it was tough because they’re all going through, they’re trying to get recruited. It was such a great experience. I had a great time. I loved it. At the tryout, I had this stud catcher come out. She had just had a nasty attitude. You could just tell. The coaches came to me after that were going to help me, they were like, “Her parents are a nightmare.” I go, “What?” Obviously, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If you’re raising your kids to be like that and their parents are a handful. You’ll hear people all the time.
I will draft my team based on families also, not just the girls. You want great families because if not, it can make your life miserable. That’s where also, not just the kids, the parents have to go, “I cannot make my child un-draftable. I have to sit back. I have to let things happen. I can’t be micromanager. I can’t be yelling at the coach for not playing my kid because there is a process that we all have that they may not understand.” The parents called me after and I go, “If you want my honest opinion just for the future for your daughter, she had a bad attitude. I’m going to take kids who want to be here. I’m going to take the hardest working kids, not the salty ones. No offense, but if you want to learn from this now while she’s young, great things have not been said about you guys, either. You need to step back and go, “We’re hurting our child because of this.””
Everyone talks about this and the Choppers coach still talks about this. I was learning to play shortstop and I wasn’t very good. I was an outfielder. I was a pitcher my whole life. My coach in my high school said, “Who wants to play short?” I said, “I’ll do it.” Because of course I was confident, I could do anything; ball between the legs, I was terrified of it. I was like, “It’s going to hit me in the face and next thing you know, I’m going to have a black eye.” I did that at my Choppers practice with Dean and Gary Fausett. Dean goes, “Put your glove down.” I set it down, he goes, “Now, lay on the dirt.” I laid down. He goes, “You don’t want to get dirty and die for a ball up the middle? Okay, we’ll get dirty.” He grabbed my hands and he dragged me around the field like I was a dragger. Everyone looked like in panic. I never not dove for a ball again. You can’t get away with stuff like that these days. My legs were all bloody.
What I was trying to get at was I came home, my mom was like, “Next time you’ll dive. Next time you’ll get dirty.” I’m like, “What? Why aren’t you calling and yelling at him and saying, “Don’t do that to my daughter?” She’s like, “No, next time you better learn.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” Obviously, she’s not going to bail me out. That helped me but what was amazing was I played shortstop one year in high school. That was the year we won CIF and that was the year I was CIF Player of the Year at shortstop and I beat out Natasha Watley. I never played shortstop again in my life. Natasha Watley’s dad was awesome because we beat them in the championship game in my senior year. He came up and hugged me and goes, “I’m so glad you’re gone.” I go, “What?” He goes, “You beat Natasha in the championship game at CIF in high school.” We beat Woodbridge, I beat Natasha then and then I beat her in the championship game in senior year. He’s like, “I’m so glad you’re just done playing Natasha, that we’re done with you.” It was so funny but it was such a nice compliment. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to be a Natasha Watley to play like that. She’s the greatest shortstop ever and that one year was my year. That was the year I just dominated. I had never played there again, I have never played there before, but I dove for everything. I was a vacuum out there. I believed I could play that position.
My coach came to my house every single day and threw me short hops from the Choppers. He’s like, “We’re going to get this down.” My other coach would pick me up, take me down to the park, “I’m going to hit you ground balls. Let’s just get used to you seeing the ball this close. You’re not in the outfield anymore, hard ground balls. Let’s get you confident and comfortable.” Because I did it every day and I was determined to be a great shortstop, that’s why I played that well that year. Like I said, I never played it again but because of that, because I worked my butt off, I wasn’t going to be the girl with ball going between the legs and ball going to my right and babbling everything and over throwing first base. That wasn’t going to be who I was because I was determined to be the best.
The one thing I know you mentioned a while back was talking about dying in your workouts. I remember the first time we had met talking on the phone, you were talking about the SEAL training.
It’s one of those things where if you know what you’re getting yourself into, you would never do it. You’d probably go, “I’m done. I quit. I don’t want to be on the team anymore.” Training with the Navy SEALS was the most amazing one day of my life.
That was with the Olympic team?
Yes. Coach Candrea set it up because our Olympic training center was in Chula Vista and so we went to Camp Pendleton. We had to do the obstacle course. They said that’s what weeds out 80% of recruits, is they can’t complete the obstacle course. What was amazing was I completed it. Our entire team didn’t do it because coach was also afraid, he didn’t want people getting hurt. You had to jump on to a wooded beam and if you miss, you fall down on your back and at the sand. He’s like, “Maybe before the Olympics, we shouldn’t have Lisa Fernandez falling out on her right shoulder. That’s probably not a good idea.” I was like, “I can’t get hurt.” I was the daredevil going straight down at mountain skiing going, “Catch me.” I’m going to go as fast as I can but that was always my personality.
We did the obstacle course. We did the U-boats, those yellow boats and we had to work as a team. We had four of us to a boat, we had to get the boat, we had to run it out into the water, jump in, paddle through the waves that were crashing in on us, row all the way out to the buoy, get out, dump it over. Mind you, it’s freezing in the ocean. Dump it over, get all the water out, dump it back. Team work, make sure you’re not all trying to get in on one side so you’re falling over again and again and paddling back. The worse though is when we got back, he’s yelling at us through a megaphone and we had to lift the boat over our shoulders and hold it like an arm press above us and do squats and hold it. Stupid us, we didn’t know we are going to have to do that, so there was still water in our boat. We’re lifting this boat with all these water in it. There’s a video of it and I haven’t watched it in years because it still makes me cringe. We’re tears in our eyes, our legs are shaking, our arms are giving out, but you know if you give up, you just gave up on the other three teammates that are holding your weight.
We learned the mental toughness that we didn’t know we had in us. It was one of those things where they taught us and it was great. They trained us just like they did the Navy SEALS and they go, “We do hell week where they don’t sleep.” You literally close your eyes and you’re like, “I’m done napping.” They survive on 48 hours of no sleep and just pure running and no eating. I go, “That’s when you feel bad. We shouldn’t feel bad for ourselves for one day.” What was amazing was we pushed ourselves further than we thought we could go. Just when you’re like, “There’s no way I can hold this boat up anymore,” we hold it two more minutes. It’s like, “That was amazing that I was able to do that.”
On the drive home, they have it on video also, we were sleeping with our mouth open, head back, passed out in the van on the way back like that was death. Then coach, when we pulled in, “30 minutes, we’ll meet on the softball field. We have hitting practice.” We’re like, “What? We want to go and sleep for the next 24 hours.” Crystl Bustos was cracking me up. She was singing R. Kelly, “My mind is telling me no.” She’s yelling it through her dorm room and we are crying, we’re laughing. We were sore in places that we didn’t know could be sore. We had to go hit and everyone’s trying to shag. We can’t move. Our muscles are depleted. They wanted it for team work. The coach wanted to see how we could push ourselves as a team. He liked the mental side of it because he goes, “You’re going to get to a point where it’s the twelfth inning of the game and who’s mentally tougher? Because pretty soon, the physical part, you’re done and then, the mental side takes over. People who are mentally weak are not going to be successful. It doesn’t matter how good you are, when it comes down to it, when push comes to shove, it’s who’s the mentally toughest.
The Navy SEALS training was just amazing. It’s something that we got to experience that was probably the coolest thing we’ve ever done. Honestly, knowing now that the pain my body was in, it would have been a lot harder showing up because we were smiles on our faces, “We’re training with the Navy SEALS, this is awesome.” It was not fun. The obstacle course looked cool. It wasn’t just swinging on a rope and jumping. We were army crawling under barbed wire and it was tearing our shirts. Our hair was getting caught in it, pulling our shorts down as we’re crawling underneath going, “Forget it, I don’t need my shorts. I’ll just finish without them.” It was crazy. It was not an easy thing to do. It was hardcore. It was great for our team and I thought that was really cool that our coach thought to do all that because he knew we’re going to the Olympics.
Someone interviewed Coach Candrea after we won the game and he said, “What do you to think this is going to do for the sport of softball now that you guys just dominated?” Because they were going to do a vote after that in October to get rid of baseball and softball. We knew it was pretty much coming. The reporter goes, “What would you just do now that you guys dominated, now that you made everybody else look terrible?” Coach Candrea goes, “I didn’t know you go to the Olympics trying to take it easy on people. I didn’t know our job was to not dominate and to make people feel good about themselves. We had one job and that was to win a gold medal and to leave nothing behind.” The guy was like, “I guess that was a good comeback.”
What you mentioned a lot earlier too was come out running sprints and being the one who always wins. I’ve heard about a young basketball player the other day whose coach told him, “I need you to take it easy and stop winning all the conditioning sprints at the end.” The kid turns to his dad, “Why don’t you tell them to run faster?” His dad was a professional football player so he’s got a little bit different training on that area. You talked about being a team, you’re making the team look bad by beating them in the race, but why don’t they be a team and come join me?
I try to tell people that, I use it in my lessons. I go, “While you’re pitching, your hips are going faster than your arm and that’s why the ball is going inside. Instead of slowing down your hips, why don’t we just speed up your arm?” Why are we trying to slow down our hips? I think because that’s always been my philosophy with, “Instead of making this slower, why don’t you make this faster?” It’s easier, that just seems like the common thing to do. Call me crazy but that seems like the most logical answer. I agree with that 100%, I love that. We used to that, we used to run with parachutes or with bungees. I’d have a girl behind me at Arizona who’s like, “I’m going to pretend I’m pulling hard and you pretend like you’re running hard if you do that for me.” I looked at her, I go, “That’s fine.” She was a pitcher and I go, “If you want me to do that when you’re running but I’m not going to get anything out of that.” I don’t want to waste an hour of my time and leave practice going, “What just happened?”
That’s what I love about Coach Rittman who was one of our USA coaches. He put it in a great way because there are days you show up and you’re like, “I don’t want to be here.” We all have that, we feel like crud. He goes, “You have to be here anyways, why not make the most of it.” I tell people when they come to their lessons, and you could tell they’re tired, they had a long day at school and maybe they’re sore from practice the night before. I go, “Don’t leave here going, “I wish I wouldn’t have wasted that 30 minutes.” You have to pitch the ball anyways, why not pitch it as hard as you can? You have to swing the bat anyways, why not get something out of it?” It’s a good way to change their thinking because we all go, “I’ll just go through the motions. I can sleep in 30 minutes. I can nap on the way home. I can go nap when I get home from school. Why not if I have to be here anyways, make the most of it?” I always loved having that mentality just to keep me motivated of, “All right, and then I can rest later. I can sleep when I’m dead.”
I tell my lessons, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” There was a girl at Arizona who got a full scholarship and she was not the most talented but she played with more heart than anybody who probably ever went through the system. He’s like, “She deserves a full ride.” You don’t have to be the Crystl Bustos to get a full ride to Arizona. You can be the girl who’s going to do what she has to with the game on the line, who you want up there standing in your corner. That’s what they taught us at the Navy SEALS. Who do you want in the trenches with you? Who do you want to go to war with? Coach Candrea said that, “I want to pick the team where each of you look around. I’m not going to pick the best nine individuals. I’m going to pick the nine that play the best together on the field.” He looked at us and said, “Who do you want to go to war with? I want to pick a team where you look over and you’re like, I want to go to war with her. I know the game is on the line, I would want her up to that. I would want the ball in her hand, with her pitching in the last inning.” If you don’t trust your teammates, you’re not going to have a successful team. You’ve got to be able to know that they’ve done their part to make your team better.
There was never a time where you had to work that hard on the athletic field but I always teach about athletics. The thing that we’re really doing is developing the character. We’re developing the courage, the ability to focus, all these great things because life outside those white lines are going to be the real challenges. Those are the times that we’re going to need all that toughness when it comes to relationships, when it comes to family, health and all these other things that are going, waking up in the middle of the night, taking care of a child that’s sick and hurting.
My grandpa used to say that, “I would rather you learn these lessons now when it’s not going to hurt as bad what the repercussions than you learning later in life.” For people who aren’t playing sports, they learn later in life that when they make a mistake, it can destroy things, whereas, I’d rather try to learn all those things at a young age when I still have my parents’ support and I still have people, my teammates helping pick me up to where I’m not going to make that mistake when I’m older. You’re going to always have things that happen to you but you want to be able to soften the blow a little bit. I think sports definitely helps with that. I tell people I love games, I hated practice. You will never work as hard in a game as you do in practice. I go, “What am I going to do 30 gassers in a softball game? I’m going to sprint once for a ball and then I get about a five-minute break between the next ball hit to me.” It’s the most mentally challenging sport and you’ve got to be great for that one moment of opportunity you have to be great and you’ve got to be prepared.
I had a poster in my room in high school that it was a guy hitting a ball, a baseball player. It said, “Success happens when 10,000 hours of training meets one moment of opportunity.” I loved that because I go, “How many balls do you hit a week? How many balls do you hit off the tee? Do you hit live? Do you hit center toss? How many balls do you hit for the one swing in a game, the one crack in the bat that’s going to make the difference?” All that training comes down for that one swing or that one throw out to home where the girls are trying to score with the game on the line. “How many times have you thrown the ball home at practice? Two. Are you going to do it right this one time because you get one shot?” It stinks. You don’t get to keep trial, “Time out, I mis-stepped. Can I try that again?” It doesn’t work that way. I try to explain to people that’s why you put in all the hours you do for that one opportunity.
One more question. You talked a little bit about the mental pregame. Was there a specific routine that you got yourself ready in the right state, the right emotion to go up there and play your best?
I knew that I prepared myself at practice enough until when I got into the game. It was more of just relaxing. On my headphones, I listen to music before the game just to distress myself. What was crazy was I did have something when she just pitched in the US Cup in Oklahoma. It was just on TV I think last month, Yukiko Ueno for Japan. She was so intimidating and she actually won the gold medal game in 2008 when the USA Team took the silver. She threw 72 miles an hour. She threw gas. When I went up to bat, we had this guy, Hector, who was from Cuba and he used to throw batting practice to us at practice. When I would get up to bat, I would picture Hector on the mound. I know that sounds crazy but it helped relax me instead of going, “Yukiko is pitching. Is she going to throw a rise ball?” I just see ball, hit ball. I would just get up there. I take a deep breath. You know how certain hitters, they look at the bat, they spin it, they look at the ground, they do all this stuff. Mine was just take a deep breath, get up there and I’m like, “Okay, Hector.” I would love to hit balls off Hector in practice and I’m like, “Here we go.”
For some reason, it just helped me zone in and focus in on the ball and not all the other things going on around me like, “Game is on the line.” That’s where you see the great players really succeed is they swing the same way in the bottom of the seventh inning of the World Series, down by a run with the runners at second and third as they do first lead off hit at the game, playing in a high school game. They are able to relax and just get out of their own head and go, “See ball, hit ball.” Just relax just like you do at practice. I would find out a way to go, “I’m in practice. Here we go.” That was always a way for me. I tell my lessons this. I go, “Just imagine that I’m pitching to you right now. The way you hit in the cage with me, that’s how I want you to hit in the game. That’s how I want you swinging. Not getting tight and trying to poke the ball in play. No, go up there and try to knock the cover off the ball. Try to hit the ball hard.” I was able to just relax when I go, “Okay, Hector. Bring it.” Instead of, “Jennie Finch is on the mound. Here we go.”
Not too long ago, I was reading and I don’t know if too many of the listeners are on the younger side, they might not know who Mike Masino was, a long, long time major pitcher. I was reading the other day about how he was quoted of saying when he was growing up, I can’t remember how the set up was but it was just like just imagine, he’s throwing off the side of a barn or something. Wherever he was throwing, he had a strike zone measured out on the wall. That’s what he would throw, but he would always pretend that he was in the Big Leagues pitching in the World Series. A lot of his career was for the New York Yankees. He said he was pitching in the World Series for the New York Yankees and he said he was imagining he was in his backyard.
You don’t realize what’s going on in these people’s heads. You just see, “I can’t believe that guy struck out.” You want to be in that situation with 75,000 people staring at you going, “You better not choke.” It takes a certain kind of person to not choke in that situation, but I agree. I tell my pitchers especially, I go, “Why is it that the game of softball is 80%, 90% mental, yet we spend 10% to 20% of the time working on it?” They’re like, “It’s a good point.” I go, “Seriously, think about it. You pitch, you pitch, you throw awesome to me in the cage. Why do you look like a different picture in the game?” “Because now there’s a batter there. Now, there’s a count.” I go, “You need to start training mentally. You need to start with 3-0 count. You need to be able to come back. You need to have a batter stand in there or a trashcan or something there to where when you’re throwing a screwball and it’s great. Now, try throwing a screwball with a batter there. Now, you’re hitting people well.”
In practice, when I’m hitting with people, I go, “Are you going to see balls down the middle?” “Rarely.” “Why don’t we work outside? Why don’t we work low and in? Why don’t we pick a spot a day and work on hitting that pitch? Pick pitchers, start with 2-0 count and let’s see how you can come back. Let’s see how many people you walk and how many people you strikeout. Challenge yourself because you need to be mentally tougher and you need to challenge yourself mentally not just physically. Anyone can throw the ball hard right down the middle but are you making the ball move 0-2? Are you hitting too much at the white at the plate? That’s bad.” You’ve got to start training mentally, not just physically when you’re doing stuff like that.
The word that comes to my mind is the same intensity, game speed, I love it.
That’s true, very true.
I really, really appreciate your time.
That was enjoyable. I love talking the game. I can talk for hours. It drives my head spin nuts, but I can talk to anyone who wants to talk the sports. I always love running into people like that.
For everyone out there that’s still listening, if you have any questions, comments, criticism or sarcastic remarks, please feel free to reach out to me at info@JasonBottsPeakState.com. Until then, everybody aim high, swing hard and smile often.
Nicole Giordano Stoll is a National Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist in softball. As an Outfielder for the University of Arizona Nicole finished on the All-Pac 10 team all four years of her collegiate career (1st team-2000, 2nd-2001 & 1998 and 3rd-1999) and won the NCAA WCWS title in 2001. In 2004 she was a member of Team USA that took home the gold in the Sydney Olympic Games.