Thursday, June 20, 2019

Key to Victory

If you've learned anything about me, you've probably gathered that I hate losing more than I love winning. After wins, I typically yuck it up with my players and their parents. I might talk to a player about something specific I saw or congratulate them for doing something great. We rarely have post-game talks after wins. 

Losses are another story. There's typically a lengthy post-game talk. I still might pull a player to the side and discuss something. More importantly, I usually have some introspection by myself, away from the team and even away from the other coaches. Typically, I start out mad about how bad we hit, then I will cuss myself for base coaching errors, and then I will typically open up the GameChanger App, (you can follow us at AO1 14U) walk myself through the play by play and check the box score.

After a thorough review of this second loss of pool play, before the next game, we have a pre-game talk. First, we discuss why we aren't hitting. We can't win if we can't score and losing 3-2 or 2-0 isn't any different than losing 13-2 or 20-0 because we aren't hitting well enough to make a difference. 

Then I bring something else up for discussion. We shouldn't be losing games with the defense we are putting on the field. From my perspective, it IS about our hitting performance, but it's also about how we are booting easy balls or making terrible routine flaws. More importantly, we are making these impossible plays on defense to keep us in the games and if we could just make the easy plays and put a few more balls into plays, we would win a lot more games.

I call it the razor's edge and this team rides it like no other. 

Let me give an example. It's the last inning and we are tied with two outs. We need to get this last out so we can get back to bat. Batter lays down a bunt, Hay charges, scoops up the ball and fires it a mile over our first baseman's head. Next pitch, runner steals and Key comes up to throw and we get the out. Except the field umpire calls safe because he claims Lindsey dropped the ball, which she didn't. We appeal the call and don't get it. Next pitch, runner executes a delay steal since our pitcher wasn't watching. Key throws a rocket, Hay puts down the tag but the runner cleats the ball out. That's the third time we should have this player out and we should be hitting. If I was the catcher, I'd be losing my mind, first at my own team and second at the umpires.

The base runner is feeling her salt and decides that she's going to continue to mess with Key, our catcher. She dances off the bag the next pitch, just begging to get thrown at. 

She dances too far and Key throws her out at third. 

Great play? Yea. We needed it. 

Routine. At least for this catcher. 

A few months ago, I am talking to a fellow coach and we are talking about pick off plays and what our catchers' throw-out percentage is against base stealers. 

When I gave him my guesstimate of 80%, he laughed. His default response was "well, the base runners at our level are too good to get thrown out like that."

I didn't argue. I don't know what kind of talent he refers to. All I know is what I've seen. I've seen Key hold players at first and third an entire inning because coaches are terrified of what she is capable of doing and does on a weekly basis, or they wouldn't fear her. 

Key, along with her pitcher and shortstop have consistently executed the old first-and-third baserunner steal pick off play to the point that it's become routine. It's so routine, we don't have a visit in the circle to talk about it. We don't even have a sign. If there's less than two outs, she's going to execute it and bait the runner at third to come home. If there's two outs, she's going to throw the runner out at second. I've seen them get both runners out at least three times. In terms of straight stealers being caught? It's gotta be around 90%. Teams don't even bother straight steals, anymore.

What I would give for people to have feared me as a player and keep them conservative. What I would give to have the talent to strike that kind of fear in other teams.  I've been able to do neither in my life. I'd be insufferable if I had. 

So as I sat and wondered how we were staying in games where we were being out-hit 7-2 or 10-5 or whatever, the same thing kept coming up. Other teams could not get free bases on us and when they tried, we got outs. That was all on Key. Key consistently makes these clutch, game robbing, desperation outs.....with the assistance of her teammates of course. We have girls who make circus plays all the time, my own daughter being responsible for a lot of them. None of them as asked to do it every game.

Without Lindsey at short catching those throw downs or Zay's rifle shot from right field, none of those outs happen. Still, catching the ball in that pressure cooker of a situation and catcher's gear is hard enough. Getting that tag down while blocking the plate and doing it consistently is something that few can do. In terms of a team, this team can do the impossible on the field, if they could just do the grind of routine fielding and hitting. 

On the flip side, Key's hitting hasn't been where it needs to be and I've taken it personally that what she does great has nothing to do with me and what she's struggled with IS on me. I pitch to her in the cage enough to know what she's capable of doing to balls, but it hasn't translated to numbers during games. She's getting on base often enough, but she's done it by getting hit, by being walked, and beating out grounders to first. 

More often than not, she's popped up to the infield, not from a lack of power but because she tries to do everything herself, which is the mindset of a great catcher. The other teammates and coaches see the helmet getting thrown, the bat tossed, the scowls, the bad side of her intensity. They don't see the other side of it. There has been nothing more heartbreaking than to be on the other end of the basepath from her as she's having a crying meltdown as she runs to first because she's under-performed again. As far as the team is concerned, Key is emotionless on the field. She's too big and tough to cry. 

Everyone sees the toughness. Everyone sees the grit, ability, and the domination behind the plate. Everyone hears her yelling in the dugout. No one sees her other side. So, in last week's championship game when she absolutely unloaded on a pitch that hit halfway up the wall and never got above 10 feet, I got to see something else no one else saw: the relief in her eyes as she watched that ball soar. 

Key is my Spirit Animal, my Power Creature. If I could be any player on our team, I would be Key. 

She's fearless and relentless, aggressive, quick to forget mistakes but plays with a chip on her shoulder after them. She loves to prove doubters wrong, whether it's about her speed, or her arm, or playing through injuries or errors, she's going to prove you wrong. She wants you to know when you've messed with the wrong player, just as she did with that baserunner. When she doesn't do it, she goes on to the next play. But when she does, which is more often than not, there's no chest beating. It's a point to short. It's a fist to right. It's get back in her crouch and go to the next play. It's getting the catcher's gear off to hit and help her team. 

Obviously, when we desperately need an out, she's one that we can count on to make that out, whether it's just holding on to a third strike, diving for that foul ball, blocking up the plate, or fielding a do-or-die throw from right field while blocking up the plate to save the winning run. And she did all of that just last tournament and she will do it again next tournament, over and over. 

During our tryout last year, Key was the first player to greet me at tryouts and she did so with a hug. Now, I shy away from hugs and I don't like people in my bubble. I especially don't care for any of that to come from a 15 year old girl, especially one that's sweaty and stinky. So after she had jumped in my arms and hugged me, none of which I could stop since she is bigger and taller than me, she smiled as only Key could smile and said:

"Remember when I picked up with your team last year and you said you didn't like physical contact or hugs? I remembered!" 

I was in no position to debate that, though I couldn't really remember her playing and I felt like I would remember her. So, I made an assumption that she must not have been good enough to remember if I couldn't recall a twin blonde braid, all smiles, biggest kid on the field with the biggest smile. 

Almost a year later and I can't figure out why she's still playing for me when she could be playing for anyone else. For that, I certainly thank her and her parents for their trust in me, but coach Alex most importantly for recruiting her and getting her on the field with us. 

I want to bring her out of her shell at the plate. I want her to swing at the first strike and do so without swinging out of her shoes. I want her to see her future and how bright it is, if she will embrace it. I have NO DOUBTS this kid can play college ball, if that's what she wants. She wants me to hug and dance, and wear a tu-tu during games. She wants me to be "extra" when I coach first and dance around. I try to meet her halfway. 

Whether or not she knows it, she's a heart of the team(there are a couple of them) and while she doesn't QUITE embrace it, she's a natural born leader. She has all the qualities if she will just put it all together. She's who we send to the circle to calm our defense. She's who we turn to to get the dugout loud. She's who we will bunt when we need to move a runner, even though she's one of only three on the team capable of hitting a dinger. She's so close to being as good as player as she is a teammate. And what a teammate she is. 

 She's our Key to Victory.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Fight Through the Night Together

The Importance of Being Well Rounded
I Ain't Never Been Nothin' But a Loser

It was just after game three of the day and I was standing just outside the tent city that our team would call home for 21 hours. I can't recall if we had a team talk as we usually do after games. The hotter and later it gets in the day, the more we typically just let the girls decompress before we reassemble for the next challenge. It was hot and it was late, not in terms of the time, but because of losses that were piling up. 

I felt the losses piling up on my shoulders like the weight of the world. Through three games, we had been outscored 16-1, 2-0, and 6-5. It was essentially the mirror image of the week before and the week before that. Can't hit. Can't score runs. Can't win. 

I sensed doubt in the players. I sensed doubt in the parents. That could be real or imaginary. I had doubts in myself and that was very, very real. I was worried that our players had lost faith in us and the parents wouldn't be far behind. It happens all the time and you can't blame parents for wanting what's best for their players. 

Doubts. Regrets. Questions. 

I'm not saying I know much about hitting. It's not like I went to a hitting coach school and I never played fast pitch softball. I was never a great baseball hitter. As these thoughts piled up, I reached the conclusion that maybe it was time to seek help or accept reality that I had overstepped my bounds and ability. 

In these dark moments, you analyze everything. What are we missing? What's the X-factor? How can we motivate them? How can they grow as a team?

Over the last month or so, we've identified and addressed team chemistry a lot. They weren't fighting for each other or pushing themselves past their preconceived ideas of their abilities because they weren't seeing their teammates doing the same.  "Getting along" has been the focus because we thought that being a family off the field would make them a family on the field, which would likely fix a lot of what we were seeing. They are a group of really good players playing well below their ability. 

All they needed was that galvanizing tournament. They needed that moment when it wasn't just difficult but hard to seemingly even impossible to win. They needed to hold not only their teammates accountable, but more importantly themselves and they decided that 11 girls would push together in the same direction. It's so easy to point fingers and fracture that trust and push each other apart. 

Game four is an elimination game at 6PM. In all honesty, I fully expected to lose and go home. I didn't see a team that wanted to fight through the night and all the way through the losers bracket. They are smart girls. They know how schedules work. I wasn't going to be shocked if they lost and we were home by 9PM. I wasn't going to be shocked if parents and players alike started looking elsewhere. Who could blame them? 

In the pregame we take a different approach. I went right at them. I told them up front that this was the same shtick they've heard from a dozen different coaches a dozen different times but I wanted eyes on me. All of them. And I better have their attention until I was done talking. 

"Do you want to be here? Do you believe in us? Do you believe in each other? If any answer to those questions is no, then let's call it and go home.  Don't get there and decide it's not worth it. Accept the challenge or let's walk away. Decide now if you want to fight through the night together and win it all, or let's go home now." 

And then I did the hard part for a grown man. I had to be emotional. 

"We love each and every one of you more than you know. You have to love each other and us, not in the personal sense but how we coach and believe in you. This is never going to work if you can't love each other and us. If you doubt, you are on the wrong team." 

Instead of trying to be the home team at the coin flip and worrying about that first inning, we decided that we would be the visitor and we would take it to the opposing team. 

And then we went to work. 

8-3 win and we never trailed, but more importantly, when the team scored, AO1 dropped a six run last inning on them and buried the team from North Georgia. Ball after ball is barreled. Three doubles and one triple on the six total hits. 

Then it was the team that beat us 16-1 with first pitch at 9:45 PM. The team from Cobb County Georgia punched A01 right in the mouth in the first inning, dropping four runs after A01 put up 3 in the top of the inning. 

Here is that moment. This has been the situation that has demoralized this team game after game, week after week. Couple that with the knowledge that if they win, it's three more games back-to-back-to-back. In the way lies a one-run deficit to a team that blasted them earlier in the day. 

AO1 scores one run in the second to tie it and hold the team hitless. Something is different with the team. Coach Alyse is yelling at Emma, the pitcher, to keep giving 100% every pitch. It's a reminder for her, but also for the defense behind her to give their own 100% and have her back. Emma pushes harder than I've seen in the years I've known her. Alex has the defense and pitch calling down. The defense is pushing behind Emma. Both teams are hitless and scoreless in the third. 

It's 4-4 in the fourth so we go to International Tie Breaker. Now we have to hit. Now we see if they've responded to me as a hitting coach. AO1 drops a five run fourth inning on them and backs it up with another flawless inning to win the game. Nine hits. Nine runs. Emma throws four innings of hitless ball and has pushed herself passed what she thinks she's capable of. More importantly, it sets the bar for the rest of the team, but most for the next pitcher, Deanna whom I refer to as "Smoke". 

It's 11:45 PM for the next game against another Georgia team. The bats are still white hot and swinging with confidence. AO1 is up 6-0 in the bottom half of the last inning when the team scores two meaningless runs. "Smoke" throws 60 total pitching in the game, 35 for strikes while piling up six Ks and allowing just one walk and two hits. Smoke has always had the capability, but we've never seen her push like that before. It's inspired pitching in front of a defense she knows will have her back. 

It's now 1:10 AM on Father's Day and we are on to the first Championship game against another team that beat us earlier in the day. 

Alex asks the girls do they want to be home or hit? It's unanimous. 


AO1 throws three runs on the board in the first. Smoke shuts them out in the first. Nothing for us in the second. Smoke gives up a homer with one out. Promptly walks the next hitter. Then the next. Then a triple. It's a tie game. 

Here we go. This is when the wheels come off. This is when the defense fails the pitcher and the pitcher fails the defense and the hitting fails all while the blame game spins in the background.

But Smoke is angry. Weak groundout for out two. Three straight strikes to end the inning. Nothing for either team in the third, so again we go to ITB. AO1 throws up two runs, which would have been an impossibility before now. 

Leadoff reaches on an error and now there's runners on first and second with no outs. It's Gut check time. A past ball puts the tying run in scoring position. Ball hit to second. Aubree goes to Emily at first with it. Emily goes home to Key. Double play at the plate. Next batter ends the contest on a dribbler to Smoke. 

It's 3:07 AM and we start with a Shoot Out game, which is essentially ITB rules for one inning. First two hitters strike out and things aren't looking so hot but Hay is up and she's not only our best over-all hitter, she's been on fire the last four games. First pitch she sees, she destroys. If not for the humidity in the early morning air, she'd have a homer. A01 is up one.

Other team scores one and we are headed for another inning before the umpires inform us they've had enough softball. We are forced to call the "if necessary" game a draw and split the championship. No fancy talks. No trophy presentations. Just one little girl in the car with me having an absolute meltdown about how hard her team pushed and how far they came and had nothing to show for it

I feel for her but I'm smiling at 5AM while driving into the sunrise. 

Nothing to show for it? Not true. 

Not when you fight through the night together. 

Fishing Report for Wheeler 6/13/19

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Hey fishing buddies. Bet yall think I quit fishing. I didn't. Don't think the thought hasn't crossed my mind, cause it has. But I dismissed the thought pretty quick cause my parents didn't raise no quitter.

But I've been struggling mightily this year. Losing tournaments and struggling isn't a new thing. I'm not a great fisherman to begin with, but when you have a year like this year following a year like last year, writing about fishing two days after getting curb stomped is hard. It's been tough to talk or write about fishing when you are doing your best to forget your performances from 48 hours ago. I'll go into that more in a later post, but let's just say that finally "getting on the board" this past week felt good and it made me feel like writing. 

Some of you will snicker and say that it's easy to write in the good times. Hey, you're right. No one comes here to read "fished again yesterday and didn't catch anything." 

As I alluded, last year was a banner year for me and my partners. While we struggled in the Alabama Bass Trail, we still managed a check in our first year and we absolutely cleaned up in our clubs. It wasn't just me because both Brad, Josh, and Wyatt were striking gold on their own without me. Brad won two really good club tournaments without me in the boat. 

Conversely, we cashed one check in ABT and we've bombed essentially everything else we've fished this year. I mean, we've been MILES out. 

The Thursday night Wildcat out of Ditto Landing has been fairly mystifying for us because of how locked down we had that lake leading up to the ABT 3 months ago and then being unable to do anything afterwards. That stretch of river can be mystifying. All last year, we had the lake clocked but the fish have not been in the same spots. They also haven't been in any spots they've traditionally been in, either. Truth is, the fishing for everyone has been really tough but we were determined just to go have a good time and hope to luck into some fish. 

Josh and I ran up to the dam with no plan. We typically start near or at the mouth of a small feeder creek. Last year, it was lights out all summer but this year we've only managed to catch a fish or two on it each week. With only 3 hours to fish, you can't afford to have that happen. I've made the joke that when that spot is on, I've always caught this one fish on topwater on this exact cast. She's not been there all year and that's been a sign of how the evening would go. But I gotta make that cast, anyway because when she's there, she's a decent fish and she's a sign that we are going to do well.

So, I toss my XCaliber Zell Pop onto this clay bank that has a huge laydown on it and she's there. Slurp. I boat a nice river two-pounder. There's never been another fish there, so I toss my bait back and I'm not shocked that there isn't another blow-up. We fish the point a few casts with nothing to show. Then I decide to throw a Texas rigged worm into that same spot and as I'm swimming it back, the rod loads up and I swing aboard a second keeper. Josh pulls another keeper off the same spot. I snag a fourth on my next cast. We fish it a few more minutes without a bite, but don't get bit. Still, it's 5:47 and we have four good river fish.

The point doesn't produce, which it's struggled to do all year so we decide to make a move. We fish about three other spots that have consistently held fish in the summer without a bite. Since we have four decent fish, we don't mess with The Nursery, a spot that holds small fish in big numbers, but never any good ones. We decide that we need a kicker and with 45,000 CFS of current, a solid number in this time of year, an offshore rockpile smallie would fit the bill. 

So, we motor over to a stretch of river that has four consecutive rock piles in 14-16 feet of water. We make some casts to the bank and bring it back to the boat. I lose a small fish, as does Josh. Then we begin working the main channel drop that has the rock piles on it. Josh picks up a jig and starts dragging it along the rocky bottom. I pick up a Strike King 6XD and start chunking and winding. 

This spot is super sticky and IF the fish are there, the quickest way to make sure they leave is to get stuck and retrieve your lure. So, when my crank starts dredging the bottom, I slow it way down. As I'm crawling it, I get a slap but the fish doesn't hook up. I make the same cast but when I clear the boulder, I hit the brakes instead of crawling it. Rod loads up and I boat swing number five. I do it again and catch another. Then another. Because I am on the back and fishing at specific angle due to Josh's presentation, he re-positions the boat so we can both effectively fish. 

The next 15 minutes were like what we experienced last year. Fish after fish after fish. It didn't matter what we threw, as long as we found the rockpile. The highlight was a 2.75 smallie I caught on the 6XD that went skyrocketing to the moon when I set the hook, which is totally a smallie thing. We catch a few here and there. Make some small culls, but the bite dies eventually and we didn't catch another fish the rest of the evening. 

All told, we caught around 20 fish with our best five knocking on the door of 10 pounds. It wasn't the best bag and the struggles to find a good fish continue, but it was enough to pocket some money and finally get on the right side of the board. Winning bag was a little over 11 pounds. There aren't a lot of quality fish being caught on that end of the river. Don't know why. We know they are there!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fishing Report for Alabama Bass Trail on Pickwick 5/11/19

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Just when things were looking up and we were continuing a push to make the ABT Championship, we threw out a clunker that likely torpedoed our chances. That being said, this wasn't one of those times where we didn't find or catch fish. I can't even say that I am upset with the finish. If you missed the report for Weiss, click the link below.

Now, I am a little upset with the weight we caught compared to everyone else. If you look at the weights, you will see that we finished something like 130th with a little over ten pounds while it seemed like 15 pounds was the benchmark for everyone. One of the reasons I like writing about fishing is to give the story within the story. In this case, it would be easy to make some assumptions based on where we finished and what everyone else did. For example, you could say that based upon our finish and our weight that we were way out of our class and don't know what we were doing.

I made the comment during weigh on on camera that I caught every 14.5 incher on the lake. Yeah, it was a stretch, but boy did we seem to wack on those little guys. 

One of the though parts about being our age with our families and the things they do is coming to grips with this: no matter how good you are, no matter how hard you work, you can't replace experience or time on the water. For Josh and I, that means trying to overcome one and a half days of prefishing with a combination of talent and luck. It's worked for us some times but it won't work the majority of the time. This tournament was one of the latter. 

Josh got a day to prefish a week before the tournament. He caught some fish, but didn't get a pattern. 

A month ago, we experimented with some new offshore humps and while we did catch fish, they were small. We speculated that fish may move out on the humps on the main river, but we simply didn't have time to check, so we stuck it in our back pocket. Ultimately, we never fished them though we hope to make it part of the rotation going forward. We caught fish on all of these humps, most of them coming from 18 feet up to 14 feet and we caught fish on Strike King 6XDs and jigs.

Friday, we spent over half the day idling around offshore looking for schools of fish. We did this for several reasons, but the most important being we feel like we have at least some edge on others when we fish offshore. A lot of people avoid it at all costs. Also, we've learned that if you wait for guides and others to tell you the deep bite is on, it's too late to win any big tournaments.

Alas, we never found any schools, though one spot I found last year had a boat on top of it every time we looked. Eventually, the afternoon moved in and the spot opened up. We idled it and it had a decent little school. Here's where I made the first mistake. Because weather was moving in and I didn't want to get caught in it, I told Josh that I didn't want to fish it and see what size fish were on it. I based this on the fact that the same spot held 3 and 4 pounders last year. 

Though we caught fish here and there, mostly we found two fish on every hump. These humps had scattered grass on top and if you could target these small clumps, you could get bit. None of the fish were big, but it was consistent.

Saturday morning, we were boat 21. We decided to forgo the dam and run to the school we found Friday. Next mistake was this: we had assumed that we would have to fight people all day to get on a school and that the shallow bite wouldn't be a factor and by midday, everyone would be offshore. We were the first boat on it and though we did have two boats come idle around us, no one stopped to fish.

The day started out perfectly as we located the fish and began catching them. We had three measuring fish very quickly and were getting bit pretty much every cast. The issue was, everything was 14.5 inches long. The three we did have were barely keepers. But, you never leave biting fish, which we had JUST been bitten by last week on Wheeler when we did just that. So we caught and caught and caught. While there were some lulls, the bite was consistent. The size never improved. We caught them on everything we threw. 

We should have thought about a few things. First, we've had the most success on Coosa River, mainly because we've learned that fish school in similar sizes. After about the 5th fish of the same size, we should have left. Second, the fact that they were biting everything we threw should have told us it was less about the spot and more about the fish being active.

But we doggedly stuck to the spot for 6 hours and before we knew it, it was noon and we had just three measuring fish. We began junk fishing some history, which we had agreed to do for just an hour and just to get a limit. First spot we fished, I caught a measuring smallmouth and another short largemouth. We had several other bites. Next spot, more short fish. 

It was about this time we learned that the fish were biting, and they were biting everywhere. We had limited ourselves to only fishing for small fish. But we had plenty of time to fix that. We went super shallow to throw spinnerbaits on wood. Wouldn't you know it, we caught our best fish and started getting bit by better quality. The bad news was, we ran out of time. 

Coulda woulda shoulda, but we took ourselves out of the game by going deep and while the winners and several other big bags came from deep, we had limited ourselves to a school of small fish. Word was, the better schools were even further downriver than we were in Brush Creek. However, the situation we find ourselves in make it virtually impossible to fish that area because it is just so far from our homes, That's six hours of drive time alone. But, we at least acknowledge that we have made that decision and if we want to get better, we have to figure that out. 

For everyone else, a lot of them just went fishing, beating the banks and whatnot and they had great days. Our buddies had over 15 pounds and didn't even cash a check. In other words, we could have gone fishing without any practice and would have been better off.

Then again, we caught around 30 fish and had a ton of fun, so I ain't even mad. I am slightly miffed that we didn't figure out some things earlier, specifically about the school fish, which raises a lot of questions. Do these fish always run in schools of the same size? Do the schools move over the year? Do they rotate each year? Did those other boats catch all the big ones from that one school? So many questions. So little time. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Fishing Report for Wheeler Lake: Weekend of May 4th

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After our solid finish on Weiss Lake, I was thinking I turned the corner. 

This report is actually for two different days on two different ends of the lake. First, we fished the Thursday night Ditto Wildcat tournament. TVA was pulling about 45K CFS and we simply haven't had enough luck junk fishing to warrant sticking around the Ditto area, so we ran towards the dam. I had gone through some of my older fishing reports and had seen that while the off-shore bite wasn't likely to be great, it was likely better than fishing shallow stuff. Suffice to say, we expected weights to be down as they typically are the first week of May. Usually it is the third week of May before the fishing really gets hot. 

We were able to get on one of the points from one of the creeks above the Flint river. As expected, the bite wasn't quite the fast and furious that it should be in two weeks. In two weeks, the fish will likely be hitting anything you throw and the deep cranking bite is phenomenal. This week, the fish were extremely skittish and it took around 20 minutes to catch the first measuring fish. I definitely noticed that my bite came on a shell bed at the bottom of the drop. When I made my next cast, I didn't get on that shell bed and I didn't get bit. 

I spent the next few casts just trying to located that spot and eventually I did. First few casts, I worked a shakey head across them and didn't get bit. So, the next cast, I just let the worm sit on the bottom. It took what felt like 2 minutes and eventually a fish bit. I continued to repeat this pattern and was able to call my shots. The issue was that we began culling, but the culls were so small they weren't worth doing. We were catching plenty of fish, but it was taking five minutes per cast with no real gain in weight.

We decided to go looking for a big bite. First spots we wanted to fish were on the face of the dam, but the wind was bad in one spot and a barge came out of the lock and blocked an entire wing-wall. Our other spot was covered with bank fishermen. We decided to fish for smallies for while, but couldn't get bit on the north bank, a spot that has typically been solid this time of year. 

With the sun winding down, we ran back down river to fish some junk fishing areas, but to no avail. At weigh in, we found out that we had made the mistake of leaving biting fish. Essentially everyone had done the same thing we had done: left biting fish to find a kicker, but no one had a kicker. The winning weight was just a tick over 10 pounds thanks to a four pound smallie. Second was around 9.5, third was 9 and we had just 8.85. Had we just waded through the fish, we likely would have caught a larger one to put us over the top. Alas, we didn't. 

Saturday, we had a club tournament out of First Creek. I had not fished down there since last year, but Brad had been twice. Both trips had solid results. His better trip had been a ledge spot in Spring Creek where he caught a six and a four before leaving the fish. His other trip had produced a 10 pound limit, which would have been a solid day, considering what I had seen Thursday night. He found those fish on a secondary point near First Creek. 

We started the day at the second spot and I quickly caught a small smallie on a spinner bait. Considering the weather, with the overcast skies and rain, I thought I had the right bait in my hand. But, we covered the 50 yard stretch without catching another fish where he had caught five or so in 15 minutes the day before. Maybe it was just a timing thing.

We moved into spring creek to find the ledge fish had completely disappeared. Brad had said they were post-spawn fish when he caught them, so it was a surprise to find they had moved. We then decided to fish real shallow and while we did catch fish on chatterbaits and spinnerbaits, none of them were worth much. 

Around noon, we did what we had hoped we wouldn't have to do: resort to history. We moved out to main river points and pockets. First pass through these didn't yield anything. We used a collection of baits, specifically moving baits. 

The sun eventually came out and the fish flipped the switch. The only thing they would hit was a shakey head, but it didn't matter where in these little pockets you threw it, they were eating. We were catching great numbers and culling, but we could not get anything more than 2.5 pounds to bite. The later in the afternoon it got, the less they were biting, which I suspect had something to do with the cloud cover. 

We had around 9 pounds with the winning bag being 12. Everyone seemed to catch fish and we ended up having a solid day that made me feel better about losing. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Fishing Report for Alabama Bass Trail on Weiss Lake: 34th Place Finish

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First, let me apologize for having to re-use a picture (again) for this post. Couple of reasons for that: first and foremost, I didn't catch but three fish in two days of practice. Second, I had ASSUMED that about the time I caught a big largemouth on Saturday, we would have our picture taken on stage or we could at least get a screen shot of weigh in. Wrong there as well, as the live feed cut out when we were weighing in to cash a check for a 34th place finish on Weiss with 14.25 pounds. 

But, hey, yall ain't here for the pictures of us. You want to hear the story and BOY do we have a story for you! 

Last year, we fished Weiss lake for the first time for the May Alabama Bass Trail event. You can click the link below to read about that event.

Fishing Report for Weiss: Alabama Bass Trail North Division

Suffice to say, 100th wasn't where we wanted to finish, but we were in the log jam at 10 pounds where what those fish ate that morning meant the difference between 100th and 40th. So, going into this year's event, we had a few things we wanted to work out.

First, if the tournament was won at the dam last year, we owed it to ourselves to at least see what the dam offered. So, last Friday, we made the run all the way to the dam and despite knowing how many miles it was, we didn't appreciate just how far 50 miles of winding Coosa river is. When we finally got there, we discovered that the rains from the last two days made for 10-foot high water levels and ripping current. We couldn't fish, heck we couldn't even really get the lay of the land. It was basically a wasted day.

Friday before the tournament, we wanted to check a lot of off-shore stuff. That's something we are good at and with our boat draw of 193, we figured the only way we could likely get on some clean water was going off shore. Last year, we didn't really find off-shore stuff, but we at least found fish on the end of long points. So, we idled a lot. We fished a little. We never got a single bite on off-shore stuff, whether it was channel swings, underwater bridges or roadbeds, or whatever. 

In fact, we caught only three fish and had six bites all day. The common factor? First, shallow seemed to be the only way to get bites, with four or so of the bites we did get coming on one small stretch of docks on a north facing bank. It was the warmest water we had seen. 

With the lack of bites anywhere else, we decided that we would pray something changed positively in that one small stretch. So Saturday morning, we ran to that pocket and began fishing the north bank.

Along the way in, there was a boat on the point of that pocket and they were just wearing the fish out. We counted essentially six fish on six casts for these guys before we even dropped the trolling motor. Seeing that caused us to be more patient than we likely would have been, otherwise. 

So after we fished the docks the first time with a combination of top water and soft plastics, we made another pass simply because the other boat was still there and we planned to fish that point when they left. On this second pass, I picked up a red square bill, the lone consistent bait from last year but one I had not thrown in practice at all. I targeted the west side of those north docks which was holding the little bit of shade still left in the morning. 

As I brought the square bill past the dock pilings, the square bill stopped. The rod loaded up. I knew this was a good one. A big largemouth had crushed the crank and we netted easily the biggest fish we had ever caught on this lake.....except that it was spawned out. Still, this is the kind we needed. 

Next cast on the same side of the next corner of the dock, rod loaded up. Not as big, but still good. Next cast, another decent largemouth. Josh added one and we had four. Minutes later, we had our fifth. They weren't huge, but we had ten pounds at 7:30. That made the day acceptable by both our standards, real quick.

Another pass through those docks was fruitless and we figured (largely confirmed now) that the morning bite was absolutely crucial and since we only had about a 20 minute window to fish that low-light, we got what we got, even if there might have been more to be had. 

Josh and I both culled one fish apiece on the boat now vacated by the spot from earlier that morning. After that, Josh culled twice more and I had just one bite for the rest of the day. 

We weighed in our 14.25 pounds and were initially 28th place with about 50-75 more boats to weigh in. We quickly slid to 31st and I didn't think we would make 40th, so we headed home. I was shocked to find we made it to 34th when the scales closed. We moved up to 105th in points, which was huge considering our dreadful Smith Lake tournament and a sub-par event on Wheeler. 

Fishing Report for Alabama Bass Trail on Wheeler

We fished super clean, with me missing just the one bite. We never lost a fish that we hooked. It wasn't great, but it was a lot better than expected! On to Pickwick in a short two weeks. We aren't where we hoped to be when it came to my Look Ahead post, but, that's why it's fishing! 

Friday, April 12, 2019

I Ain't Never Been Nothin' But a Loser

Confessions of a Travel Softball Coach

Many of you will read the title of this post and likely realize that it is a Paul "Bear" Bryant quote with just one word substituted. There are no two words in the English language with polar opposite meanings than the two words that have been substituted. America loves a winner and hates a loser. 

Here is the entire quote, if you don't know it: 

“I’d like for people to remember me as a winner, because I ain’t never been nothin but a winner.”

A lot of you are racking your brains on how a staunch Auburn fan would dare quote the antithesis of Auburn football, much less to take that quote about being a winner and turn the quote on himself and call himself "nothin' but a loser". 

We will get there and when we do, I hope you will see that there is no greater force than a motivated perennial loser and that being motivated by losing is the single greatest teaching force in sports. If you want your kid to reach their full potential, to harness every ounce of grit, determination, talent, and work ethic, they will have to lose and the more they lose, the better it will be for them to reach the pinnacle. Furthermore, losing in sports can promote tremendous personal growth and strength off the field. That kind of thinking isn't going to be popular with many people. 

After one of the many brutal losses I took in my first year as a softball coach, I was approached by a parent and asked a very pointed question. 

"How can you be ok after losing like this?"

That would seem to be a fairly nebulous question with many meanings and possible answers. 

Oh, I knew exactly what this parent meant and perhaps they expected a litany of excuses or reasons. The good Lord knows that I know them all. Instead I crossed my arms as I sat on the bench in that tiny little dugout of that tiny little teeball field and shrugged as I thought about my answer. I took off my pink Killa Kupcakes hat and sighed. 

"All I've ever done is lose. I've been a loser all my life. This isn't a new experience for me."

That's probably not EXACTLY how the quote went, but it's close and it isn't the only conversation I had with this parent along these lines. When it comes to ball parents, there are only a few stereotypes and this one was firmly in the "win at all costs" category and the reality of losing game after game, sometimes by a wide margin was unacceptable, for whatever reason. From this parent's perspective, I wasn't doing my job to win games and that me accepting losses in such a calm manner must mean that I was apathetic about coaching and therefore a bad coach and a loser. 

The truth is, there was a lot more going on with coaching this team than just the W-L column and I was in it for the future. I wasn't willing to take a little immediate success to sacrifice the future. I'd lost a lot of games, what's a few more? 

At least part of what that parent thought was right.  I am a loser. I always have been and I embrace that as the perhaps the single greatest strength in my personality.

Losing in sports started at an early age. In my case, before birth. God gave me a great mind for sports, a desire to succeed in them, and ALMOST all the physical gifts to be a great ball player. I say ALMOST because genetics remains undefeated and I would never have the size or height to do anything to the level I wanted to do. 

As I've written, I played a lot of other sports. I loved basketball, but can't ever recall winning any games. I know we had winless seasons. I played peewee football for just one year and we literally scored two touchdowns the entire winless year. I poured my heart and soul into highschool football and despite playing for the largest school north of Birmingham, our win totals over four years: 6-4, 4-6, 1-9, and 4-6. The best year of soccer I ever had was a .500 team my junior year. We followed that up with a single win my senior year. 

I could tell story upon story of being a loser. Even today, I still play adult league softball, flag football, and soccer. I'll let you guess how those seasons typically go. I've joked with people that I have lost more sports competitions than probably anyone on the planet. But I think the following story shows the power of being a loser and being motivated by that, in the right way. 

Like most kids, baseball was my first sport. Each and every year, we had a baseball draft and each and every year my dad ended up with the same players, but not because they were good players, but because they were the players no one wanted. Every year, there was a really good team from our park and a really bad one. You can guess which team I played on. In the first three years of playing for this team, I don't know if we won a single game. Not only could we not beat the team from our own park, we surely couldn't compete with teams from the more "well-off" areas with much larger populations. There was a lot of frustration to go around, for sure.  

On the fourth year, things changed. I'd love to tell you that we had some sort of great sports moment. It wasn't like that. I believe my dad and the other families came to grips with being handed select players, handicapped on field time, and losing. I believe they accepted this as motivation and not an excuse. That season, we won the only championship I ever won. It was an incredible experience that made a life-long impact on a 3rd grader. It was accomplished by a lot of hard work, working through adversity off the field, but perhaps more important, treating every player equally in attempt to develop them all and refused to give up on a player. Each player was given opportunities that other teams would never give them for fear of losing a game.

Having the power to accept losing by extracting the potential of every player was huge. I've seen it elsewhere and most of the great teams and coaches exhibit this. There's the old cliche about a team being only as good as the worst player, but not every coach lives by that. 

When Aubree began playing softball, I was re-acquainted with this process and I found myself in the same situation that my dad had found himself in years before. I made many phone calls with my dad, who explained that this is what he had dealt with in my youth. I could despair and be overcome by the situation, or I could use my life's lessons on losing to help me in my time of need. 

So, when the question of "How can you be ok after losing like this?" was leveled upon me, I was well prepared for it.  Another loss for me wasn't anything new and it wasn't going to change me. I'd still wake up tomorrow, just as I had done every day after losing. Hopefully, I would wake up with a little more knowledge and just as much determination. Or, I could be the coach society expects. I could yell and scream at players and argue with the umpires. I could quit playing these six year old girls in different positions when there was CLEARLY a better player to play there. I could send the "bad" players into right field and let them kick dirt. 

Games aren't decided by a play. Seasons aren't decided by a game. Sports careers aren't decided by a season. Life isn't decided by a sports career. I am living proof of that. All I've known in sports is losing, but it's made me a motivated coach because I've seen what harnessing that motivation can do and I've been a part of it. So, I accepted the losses as fair trade for giving each and every girl a chance to get better and certainly to keep them from quitting. I looked to the future, hoping they would have a moment like me. 

That team never won anything of relevance, but as I look at the picture on my desk of the 2013 Killa Kupcakes, I am proud to say that at least SEVEN of the ELEVEN players on that team are still playing travel softball, to this day, and they all approach me when I see them at tournaments. That's a far cry from today's expectation of player turnover, which I believe is almost completely driven by coaching to win at all costs. 

Obviously, this entire post is about losing and dealing with adversity. In a society obsessed at winning, and sometimes winning at all cost, the term "dealing with adversity" is thrown around a lot, but not in the context of losing. Losing is simply something that is deemed unacceptable. You can see that if attend your local teeball game. If you don't accept losing, you can't accept the motivation and knowledge it brings. I think this is why sports are on such a decline and society has so many problems. 

The jury is out on just what kind of coach I am for several reasons. First, I am just getting started at being a serious travel ball coach and it will take some time to see if I can develop ball players. 

Second, and most importantly, while preparing them on the field is my main goal, my ULTIMATE goal is to produce well-rounded, humble, and hard-working players who will translate what they learn from me off the field as young adults. Since the oldest player I have coached is just 14, we still have several years to see what kind of young ladies they will become. For all I know, this could be my last year to coach but if it is, I hope I made a positive impact on them, even if the results on the field were negative. 

All of these girls will play their last game sooner rather than later, but life will just begin for them.  I would be remiss if I only coached them on how to field grounders or hit dingers when they will spend far more of their life in the workplace and/or parenting young ball players of their own. Life is going to throw them nasty curves, so to speak. For the vast majority of us, life is going to knock us flat time and time again. Can they get back up? If they know how to respond to losing, they will. 

I sure have. I Ain't Never Been Nothin' But a Loser