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Stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking risks

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about stepping outside of your comfort zone to become great.

After three weekends on the road, we're 6-6, after going 2-1 on the weekend, posting wins over UConn and Charleston Southern, and a loss to Kansas who was on a 14-game winning streak. Our last game of the weekend was rained out. We'll travel west the next two weekends, flying to Nevada and California.

With the rain delays this weekend, we had time for a good team chalk-talk on the road. The focus for this week is ownership, accountability and urgency. As a staff, we're okay with where we're at. The team is working hard and getting better every day. We're keeping our head above water, winning some games and playing fine. The hard message for our team is that none of us play sports aspiring towards mediocrity. No one shows up to the field looking to split. We work hard and prepare in order to separate ourselves from our peers, not to be status quo.

So, while we're not in the dumps, and not getting throttled by other teams, we're very average. We're showing up to the field, putting in the work and playing okay. The sense of urgency for all of us comes from getting over the mediocre hump. Wisconsin softball is about building something extraordinary. It's about making great plays on defense that inspire people; it's about dominating from the mound, and having an electric offense. Badger softball at its best is gritty, tenacious, fiery and exciting. We know that as you build and grow a program, you can't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, take risks and do something special. Razzle Dazzle.

Our staff is excited to see the team catch fire soon. We know this group has the ability to get things clicking on all cylinders, creating some energy, excitement and momentum. We haven't found our groove yet, which is fine. No one wants to peak in February. But, March is the time to make great strides. Mentally tough teams take the lessons they learn early in the season, they make the critical adjustments, stick with the game plan and start playing quality softball.

The biggest jump we all face in life is the move from good to great. Coach Schneider has spoken to the team many times about what it takes to be a great program; the extra effort, the attitude, the approach and swagger. We've challenged our team to work even harder, do extra, and emotionally invest in the Badger softball family. We were so proud to hear that the team ran its own captain's practice Sunday night after a long weekend of travel. We're seeing leadership start to bud.   

Great opportunities within reach for Badgers

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about adversity and opportunity.

Adversity, what a great word for sports, what a great lesson for life. Wisconsin softball is 4-5 right now.  It's a good 4-5. We've played a great schedule, with our three of our five losses to top 25 teams, and the other two losses to Arkansas and Maryland who are in the top 30/receiving votes.

The first few weekends always test your mental toughness. Everyone enters the season with high hopes and dreams of the type of impact player they could be. Everyone has their sights set on making huge strides as a program, getting out of the gates fast and knocking off a few ranked teams. Reality can be humbling. When things don't go as you'd planned, it can either motivate or hold your back.

For Badger softball, this week is about focus and confidence. When you face ranked teams, and you play in tough, tight games that you almost win, it breaks your heart. Adversity tests your character, placing you in pressure situations, forcing you to act, react, and respond during and after competition. As a growing team that's still trying to figure out who we are, and how to win big games, it's the response that matters most. What happens after the game; what do you do every day afterwards to improve? As a coaching staff, we're so pleased that our team has the opportunity to play in tight games against great pitchers early in the season. It builds your database, and makes you a smarter, tougher team.

As a staff, we work hard to prepare our team to compete. We've challenged them mentally and physically throughout the fall and winter. We've built up their softball IQ and worked on mental training. Yet there is no substitute for the real feelings that arise when each players battles through the ups and downs of the season. It is the games that cause that gut reaction, the nerves, the thrills and hearth-break. There's no way to simulate that emotional rush. What we cannot account for as coaches is each individual's mental toughness, and their ability to deal with adversity and challenges. Great players always bounce back.

I think our team is in the perfect position to make a run, and go on a role these next 14 games. We're prepared, we've been tested; we're learning and getting better each and every game. Our success over the next three weekends will be a direct result of how mentally tough our team is. If the challenges of the past two weekends bring us down, and hold us back, it could get ugly. If the adversity causes divisiveness internally, we could be in trouble. Yet if we can pull confidence and trust from what we've learned in playing tough ranked teams, we could surprise some people.

I'm excited to see our team's character and leadership develop. This weekend could be a great turning point for the Badgers. We'll see if we have the leadership and experience to make the jump. I would love to see the team pull together, get excited, and string together some wins. It all comes down to temperament. These are the moments in the season, and in our student-athletes careers, when the greatest opportunity is right within reach.

Kicking off the season

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softball_BLOG.jpgIn today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about opening weekend and the team's focus.

It was great to kick-off the 2012 softball season in Tampa, Fla. The University of South Florida hosted a nice tournament with Arkansas, Drake and Georgia Southern. I'm proud of our team for winning our opening game, and coming home 2-2.

Whitney Massey led the offense, getting on base and driving in runs. Redshirt sophomore Molly Spence provided a few sparks, driving in runs in three separate games. Our pitchers were impressive; averaging only five hits a game while keeping us in every contest. Junior Meghan McIntosh and sophomore Cassandra Darrah each earned their first wins of the season. Defensively, Shannel Blackshear and Stephanie Peace did a nice job holding down the left side of the infield their first weekend on the dirt.

We have a short turnaround this week, returning to Florida to face Maryland, Florida State, Southern Illinois and St. John's in Orlando Feb. 24-26. Maryland and Florida State are both ranked in the top 30 right now, which is exciting.

Our focus last weekend was pulling activities from the book, "10-Minute Toughness" by Jason Selk. We had our team create "Identity Statements" to help them decide who they want to be and how they want to live. Dr. Maxwell Maltz's "Psycho Cybernetics" argues that you will act like the sort of person you conceive yourself to be. I think this positive self-talk exercise helped our athletes stay composed and confident.  

Team leadership and the privilege of competition

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the first two weeks of practice and what a privilege competition is.

Winter Practice: Week 1

The Badger softball team spent a lot of time in 2011 listening to chalk-talks and inspiring speeches from great coaches and leaders on campus. We kicked off our 2012 winter practice season last week with a few visitors willing to share words of wisdom to help break up our two-a-day workouts. Major Shannon Hellenbrand spoke to our group about leadership, before our team got to participate in a mini boot camp. The amazing thing about Shannon is that she was young, friendly and bubbly. She shared her experiences of leading two tours to Iraq, managing units comprised primarily men, many of them older than her. She led a group of engineers and oversaw a detention camp. Her leadership seemed to be centered on caring for her coworkers. By establishing relationships with the people she commanded, she got more from her employees and created a better environment. We were inspired to meet someone so young who has dedicated her life to serving her country as a leader.


Later in the week Lindsey Smith from Athletes in Action spoke to the team about opportunities at Wisconsin for service, community outreach and spiritual growth. It's amazing how many resources are available to our student-athletes at Wisconsin. There are so many groups, organizations and professionals who are dedicated to helping our student-athletes reach their potential on the field, in the classroom and in life. One of my favorite quotes that you can find on a lot of the Athletes in Action materials is from Nelson Mandela, "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down barriers. It laughs in the face of discrimination."

Winter Practice: Week 2

This week's chalk talk was one of the most inspiring for me, because it featured two of our own student-athletes who wanted to share insights into leadership and mental toughness that they learned over break. Senior Karla Powell led the way by reading a book, "Strengths-Based Leadership", by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. While the book focused on leadership in corporate America, Karla shared lessons that translated into sports. It's rewarding to hear our team echo some of the life-lessons that our staff is working to emphasize.

The two lessons that Karla talked about, which resonated with me, had to do with surrounding yourself with good people, and leading from a strength-based perspective. The book emphasized the need to surround yourself with people who are positive influences. I think that's one of the most important things we can do in life; seek out individuals that inspire us, who build us up, who challenge us and make us better people. There are so many negative influences in this world, why not choose to be around people with similar values and goals, who care for others and do things the right way. My mom always told my sister and me to surround ourselves with good people when we were growing up. That lesson has helped so much in choosing the right college, dating nice guys, finding true friends and working for amazing bosses.

The other message I liked from Karla's talk said that leaders focus on their strengths and the strengths of their organization and employees. As coaches there are so many times that we dwell on what's wrong. It's so easy to see where our players fall short and how deficient our team is. Great leaders have the unique ability to see what people do right, and accentuate the positive. Sports and life can be a long, difficult journey. There are so many challenges and pitfalls along the way. To inspire our athletes, our teams and ourselves to survive the marathon, and stay motivated and positive, we must highlight the good. If athletes don't feel good, and worthy and special, they'll never have the energy or tenacity to chip away at their weaknesses. It's a tough world out there. If we lead from a strength-based perspective, our athletes will feel the confidence and energy they need, to take on new challenges in sport and life.

Sophomore Stephanie Peace then spoke to the team about a 30 day challenge she took on. She read two, 14 day workbooks on mental training. Each day there were stories and activities to read and complete. These workbooks offer a great, tangible plan for improving mental toughness, and teaching relaxation. If our staff had made the team complete these workbooks, I'm not sure how much they would have gotten out of them. I love having one of our young leaders share some of the extra work she is doing and to inspire her peers to do the same. What a powerful way to lead by example. Everyone wanted to try these workbooks out after hearing Steph's talk.

Accountability is an amazing thing among athletes. We can all take on new challenges, or try to overcome a weakness. Yet when you stand in front of your team, commit to being more positive under pressure and in control when the going gets tough, you really become accountable for your actions. True change happens when you put yourself out there and become vulnerable in front of your teammates, committing to a goal in public.

My favorite lesson from Steph's reading on mental toughness states that "Pressure is a Privilege." How true. If you are under pressure at work, in life, or on the field, you must have an amazing opportunity in front of you. Sure, you could fail, but you're in the fight, you've stood up, put yourself out there, accepted the challenge and joined the dance. You might fail, but you have the opportunity to fail brilliantly. Not many people have the privilege of experiencing pressure. If you're feeling pressure you must have made the team, and you are probably in the game! What a privilege to compete. bootcamp2BLOG.jpg

Badgers kick off 2012 season

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UWBadgers.com sat down with head coach Yvette Healy to discuss the first week of practice. The Badgers kicked off the season on Jan. 17 and play in their first game Feb. 17.

How did the first week of practice go?

"The first week back looked good. We spent a lot of the time making sure physically we are in great shape. Practice is a lot more creative than usual. A lot more running, jumping, diving, medi balls, jump ropes, ladders and juggling. Fun stuff like that. We are really working on some differential learning with the team, trying to get them active besides just softball skills.

Were there any surprises the first week?

"Molly Spence had been hurt and she was out last year. Even with being in some pain and being out, she hits the ball a ton. It is really fun as a staff to see her hit live and hit in scrimmages. She is a tremendous athlete and she is someone you can't help but notice when you are watching practice."

You worked on fitness the first week, what does the second week include?

"We are getting into a little more philosophy stuff. We are working a lot on our swings. I think we have a lot of potential to hit home runs and attack that record. Coach Schneider has been doing a lot of the science behind it and working with our team on torque and their bat positioning, creating velocity and increasing bat speed. (There has been) a lot of strength stuff, vision training and then just your basic, grounders, fly balls and breaking down the skill and re-teaching it. I think you spend the second week tearing apart your fundamentals, making sure you are all on the same page and re-teaching. It is a great week going into a weekend of camp to have our team reviewing all of those fundamentals."


What are your goals for the next two and a half weeks of practice?

"Every week we try to advance what we are doing and just make sure we are getting better from a pitching, fielding, defensive and hitting stand point, each aspect of the game. We are ramping it up to feel more like game situations, but we were careful not to jump right in and just go from 0 to 60 right away. Really the first weeks are about getting your fundamentals down and being in great shape and having the team work really hard and get in extra work.

"The next couple weeks will really start to feel like game mode, where every drill feels more a little more rushed, a little more sense of urgency, a little more game like.


The power of words

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the power of words and the impact they can have on a team.

With a short week of classes, the Badger softball team is lifting and conditioning hard, before Thanksgiving break. There has been a lot of excitement in our offices today, as we celebrate our men's cross country's fifth national championship! They just won the NCAA Cross Country Championship last night. It's been fun to see the trophy and hear stories about the police escort the Badger bus received driving back through Madison last night. We have our final home football game on Saturday, as the Badgers battle for a spot in the new Big Ten Championship title game.

Our team meeting this week is focusing on the power of what we say as teammates. This is such an important message this time of year. As coaches, it's hard not to see our team every day. Our athletes are spending a lot of time studying and working with tutors as we enter the last few weeks of class.

We're giving the team a few quotes from the book, "The Four Agreements," by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book shares ideas on how to be a better person, and teammate. The first agreement is, "Be impeccable with your word". Ruiz states, "Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love."

It's amazing how powerful all of our words can be. What we say as coaches and athletes can inspire, or attack. Our words can motivate, or they can cause people to shut down. All of us have the ability to help create a positive, productive, successful environment within our program. We can create drama, or minimize it with words we choose to use.

In the "Four Agreements", Ruiz goes on to say, "You can measure the impeccability of your word by your level of self-love. How much you love yourself and how you feel about yourself are directly proportionate to the quality and integrity of your word. When you are impeccable with your word, you feel good; you feel happy and at peace."

Our goal in the Wisconsin softball family, is to create a competitive environment where the student-athletes feel challenged, supported and respected. We want our athletes to be successful students and people. Hopefully we all take a moment this holiday season to reflect on how lucky and fortunate we are. Our goal is to use our words to make this softball team, athletics department and university a better, happier, more successful and productive place.

Badger Blog: Fall festivities

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about celebrating the fall season in Madison.

What a beautiful fall in Madison. This fall has been filled with pumpkins, football and falling leaves. The leaves are all changing colors, with red, orange and yellow trees everywhere on campus. We've had beautiful weather with a few sunny 60 and 70 degree days over the past few weeks. People are jogging along the lake and out playing with their dogs everywhere you look. Our campus looks like fall postcard right now with the sun shining on the lakes and the leaves changing colors all around us.

The softball team celebrated Halloween with a costume contest, dinner and pumpkin carving party at my house last week. My three year old daughter Grace was a fairy princess with big purple wings and a butterfly mask. Grace has prayed for the "Badger softball girls" every night since the party. Her favorite costumes were the Bee Catcher and the Nerds. Our team gatherings make me feel so fortunate as a wife, mom and coach. There are many times when the travel and rigors of the job make it tough to balance. Yet, when my husband Shawn and I have the team, coaches and staff over to our house, and we see Grace playing with the student-athletes -- looking up to them as role models -- everything seems to fit together perfectly.

We had a fun two-hand touch football game with our staff and the team at the field last week too. It was a great workout and non-stop laughs. We have some hilarious personalities on our team. I really enjoyed mixing in and playing too. Coach Schneider played football in college, so his team had a bit of an advantage, but we still finished in a tie. This is the second year that we've ended the fall with flag football and I think this tradition will stick.

Unsung heroes, UW defenders getting the job done

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Unsung heroes. Every sport has them. In the sport of soccer, it is typically the defenders that fall into that category. They play day in and day out, without the glory of the offensive positions. Rarely do they score a point, maybe an assist here and there.  And when the team records a shutout, it usually isn't defenders getting the credit. Yet without them, the game wouldn't be the same.

UW defenders Blake Succa and David Caban are two players that exemplify the role of the defender. Both have seen action in all 12 of Wisconsin's games this season, with Succa starting every contest. Both play hard every minute they are on the field and play even harder in the final minutes of the game, yet neither has been the subject of a postgame interview or earned a weekly honor.

"Defending starts the attack," Caban stated. "It is always nice when you get to blow up a challenge with an opposing midfielder as he is coming down at you, and then you win the tackle and start the attack to the next play."

"Our main job is to slow down the other team's attack so that our attackers can get back and get behind the ball," said Succa.

"If someone is under pressure I can be an outlet for them," added Caban. "If the attack can't break through, they always have options back to relieve the pressure."

The strength of UW's defense was put the to the test in Sunday's 2-1 win over Michigan. The Wolverines came out of halftime with a two-goal deficit and tested the Badgers' defense with 16 shots in the second half, including six on net. 

"We had the lead and we stayed calm," Caban said. "We knew that once they came at us we had to hold solid and make sure we preserved the lead and try to get the win. We used the motivation to stay undefeated in the Big Ten as a little extra push."

UW's defense held and the Badgers earned their first-ever win over Michigan in Ann Arbor; a fact that shouldn't go unnoted as the team travels to Ann Arbor in November for the Big Ten Tournament. 

Badgers break into Soccer America Top 25 poll

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The Wisconsin men's soccer team has earned a No. 25 ranking in the latest Soccer America Top 25 poll. Creighton, UW's opponent in tonight's game, is ranked fifth. The Bluejays fell from the third spot after suffering their first loss of the season to Maryland.

The Badgers also earned a spot on this week's Tournament 48 rankings by Top Drawer Soccer. The rankings are a running attempt to project the postseason college soccer tournament qualifiers, including every automatic conference berth.  UW earned the 30th spot on the list, while Creighton is sixth.

Wisconsin hosts Creighton at 7 p.m. on Oct. 5 at the McClimon Complex. The Bluejays enter the game fresh off of their first loss of the season, while the Badgers are looking to extend their unbeaten streak to six games.


Janus picks up more honors

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Wisconsin men's soccer sophomore Nick Janus (Deer Park, Ill.) has been named to the CS360 Primetime Performers Weekly Honor Roll and selected to Soccer America Men's Team of the Week, announced today.

Janus scored three points in UW's upset over then-No. 6 Indiana Sunday afternoon. He assisted on junior Tomislav Zadro's (Toronto, Ontario.) game-winning goal at the 53:30 mark and then confirmed the victory for the Badgers with the game's second goal in the 79th minute.

Earlier in the week, Janus was selected as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week.

The Badgers put their five-game unbeaten streak on the line tonight when the No. 5 Creighton Bluejays come to town. Game time is set for 7 p.m. at the McClimon Complex.