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Badger Blog: Respect

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In this week's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about respect.

I love the T-shirts I saw all over Yankee Stadium the night of his last game. Re2pect. What a cool word and logo. Yes I love things with your number on them. But more than the number, I love the word and what it means. 

Respect is such a powerful compliment. There's this deep understanding of the person, their plight and what they're all about when you use the word respect. You really have to know and value the individual and their journey, their obstacles, the adversity they deal with and their perseverance to use the word respect. 

There are so many people in my life that I respect. The ones that stand out are usually the trailblazers. The ones doing things that have never been done, like my mom, being the first in her family to go beyond grade-school education, advancing to earn her high school, college and master's degrees when no one else around her was doing that. 

I respect my Athletic Director at DePaul, Jean Lenti.  Before being named AD, she was a life-long senior women's administrator who loved her athletes, was humble, gracious, smart and firm. She wasn't afraid to care for you, connect with you and hold you accountable all while giving you a hug. My boss now, Terry Gawlik, is one of the most successful female administrators in our conference, and on the national scene. There aren't many women at her level in athletics, and she somehow manages to be smart, kind, proactive and fashionable. She leads by empowering, not micromanaging, and that I respect. 

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So when I think about our Wisconsin Softball team this season, the word respect has come to mind. Who do you respect and why? What is important to you, who are your role models? Who lives their life, both personally and professionally, that inspires you? I saw Jill, our team physical therapist, finding time to coach and mentor young girls in our community through Girls on the Run. Her passion for athletics isn't just a job. She wants to help our athletes succeed. Seeing our team volunteer, after watching them train and lift, run and practice, fills us with pride. 

I really don't know how strong we'll be this year, when I look at what we've lost and how we look on paper. I do know, that this group is special. We're filled with more selfless leaders like Megan Tancill, and fearless competitions like Ashley Van Zealand, and kids who are willing to put their heart into competing each and every day like Chloe Miller. I have respect for Taylor Paige Stewart working to get into med school while perfecting her curve and rise ball. Because this is a special group this will be a special year. This team is filled with trailblazers, if you just look around you, but the respect has to start with you. 

Hopefully you reach out to someone in the next few days, and tell them how they've inspired you. Share how their actions and accomplishments are significant.  When you see people overcome adversity, and achieve great things while being a great person, let them know. Be a storyteller.  

Finally, think about yourself. Do you respect who you are right now? How do you treat yourself? How do you train, what do you eat, how do you sleep? How do you let others treat you? You get one body in this world, you need it to run, lift, compete, play sports, train, learn, and maybe someday have kids and chase them around. That's pretty profound. Respect.

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In this week's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the upcoming season.

t's been a special four years for the Wisconsin Softball program, going from a 177 RPI team, to back-to-back seasons, finishing ranked in the Top 25, and advancing to the NCAA Regional Championship game.  Yet we are still far from becoming a legacy program.

Our greatest challenge will be overcoming the loss of 5 starters from 2013, and four more, All-Region athletes in 2014.  When you graduate that much success, and experience, new talent must emerge within your program and from your incoming freshmen.  We will need new leaders to step in and take starring roles in our program.  With so much youth and inexperience, we'll need a tremendous amount of leadership, patience, discipline and hard-work.  Yet character and team-work really can overcome a majority of our deficits. 

The greatest asset that Wisconsin Softball 2015 holds, is our character.  This team is filled with truly inspirational young women who care about their teammates, and are driven to achieve. It will take a tremendous amount of buy-in, selflessness, and maturity to weather the storm.  Are you prepared to face the challenges of this leap year?  This is the point in history where most teams on our path experience a great slide.  It is at this point of perceived prosperity, when the times are actually toughest.  Just as experience and success are graduating, most programs are lulled into contentment and laziness.  When we think we're more than we are, we fail to truly see our team and ourselves for who we are, and frustration sets in.  With frustration comes a lack of motivation, turmoil, and dissension. 

This is a critical year in the growth of Wisconsin softball.  Climbs and improvements are never linear.  As we work to become a legacy, championship program, there will always be two steps forward, and one step back.  The question is, how big are the steps forward, and how small can we make the steps back?  As we grow, and climb and achieve, there will always be minor regressions along the.  When winning outpaces recruiting, your team is bottom heavy with inexperience, and trouble naturally arises. 

The good news is, our staff truly believes we can jump this learning curve and survive and even thrive this trap year, through character.  If this group can be the most collaborative, hard-working, selfless, and purpose-driven team in the history of Wisconsin Softball, we just might thrive.  It's the "Why and the what" that will count this season.  Why do you play, what are you playing for, why Wisconsin, what are you fighting for, what drives you, why now?     

 We are excited to enter this journey with you.  This will be your greatest test of character as student-athletes.  Your mental toughness, confidence and composure will be challenged every day.  If you focus on caring for each other, playing for each other, being great teammates, doing things the right way, being purpose-driven athletes, you may surprise every team in the country, and become one of the most memorable teams in Wisconsin Softball history.

Badger Blog: Back home in Madison

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In this week's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy discusses the Badgers tough schedule and their first home series of the 2014 season.

It's opening weekend in Madison! It's exciting to be home in Wisconsin, after playing on the road six of the last seven weekends.  We've been to Texas, California, Tampa, Miami, Louisville, and Chicago.  We're 15-12 right now, with big ranked wins over #8 Arizona and #23 Northwestern.   

This season has been filled with adversity, facing the toughest schedule in school history.  We've played #4 Florida twice, #17 Texas A&M twice, #5 Washington, #11 Arizona State, #8 Arizona, and #23 Northwestern three times. We still have eight ranked games ahead against #6 Michigan, #15 Minnesota, and #19 Nebraska.  At least two of our games against ranked opponents will be at home, when we host #19 Nebraska here on April 30th.

We'll face off against a tough Iowa team this weekend, as we get into the heart of Big Ten play.  Being from the Midwest, it's easy to appreciate how special Big Ten softball is.  What an amazing conference; great academics, great facilities and exciting rivalries.  It's an honor to play legacy programs like Iowa, with their 16 NCAA tournament appearances, 4 trips to the Women's College World Series, and 31 NCAA tournament wins.  Iowa is the type of successful, legacy softball program that we're working to build here at Wisconsin.  They have so much history when they step on the field, with 27 All-Americans. 

We know playing opponents like this is never easy.  Iowa has competed in Madison 8 times, and they've only lost one series.   The Hawkeyes are 12-3 all-time here at Wisconsin, which is an 80 percent win percentage.  Our goal is to start evening those numbers out.  We're working to make strides, to improve and to grow.  One game at a time, we're making progress, we're changing history, and we're building success.  It's a tough task to change history, but this senior class is certainly up for the challenge.      

Badger Blog: Resilience is the recipe for future success

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In this week's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy explores the opportunity her team has to bounce back from a tough start to the season and make a statement in the days and weeks to come.

Resilience:

This is a core skill we all wish we had more of. It's important to sports, and critical to life. Can you bounce back from failure? Can you overcome adversity? Do you have the ability to persevere when things get tough? If you really want to train resilience, you need failure.

Congratulations Badger softball, we have an amazing opportunity to train resilience this week. We're 4-5 so far this season, after a tough 2-3 performance in Miami. The question is, where do we go from here? It's so easy to get emotional, and make excuses when we fail. You can ignore the problem and hope it will go away, or face the issues head on. Sometimes it takes a little failure and adversity early on to remind everyone how hard this journey really is. If we could cruise for one moment, one game, or one tournament, then every goal and accomplishment in May wouldn't be nearly as gratifying.

Even after a good season last year, it's so important for every player in the program to understand how much work it takes to be consistently good each and every day. Consistent performance is path, not a destination. Great players find a way to bring energy, enthusiasm and focus every day. College athletes have to work for consistency, every day, every game and every season to continue to grow.

This spring is certainly a gut check for our badger softball athletes and staff. There are challenges each and every game. There's adversity every pitch, and every inning. Yet somehow you can't prepare for how it feels. You really have to live through strikeouts, losses, error's and giving up home runs to experience it, learn from it, flush it and move on. These are the times that teach resilience. When you pour your heart into something and lose, that's when you're ready to learn. These are the moments that character is formed. If you dig deep, take responsibility for your performance, learn, make changes, and truly work hard, we'll all emerge stronger and tougher.

We're learning resilience right now, each and every morning we wake up, get back to work, and get better. Our goal this week is to keep learning, and to play better softball. That's all there is to do. 

Badger Blog: Embracing the challenge

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In this week's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy previews Wisconsin's first games of the season, as it travels to the Sunshine State to participate in the USF-Wilson Demarini Tournament.

This weekend will certainly be a challenge. In fact, the entire spring will test our will. We'll be put under pressure day-in and day-out. There's no relief in this schedule. There are no gimmie games, or easy wins. Would you really want it any other way?

Galvanize. That's our word of the day. Sometimes it takes great pressure for things to truly come together. The more you face adversity, and survive, the more prepared and protected you'll be in the future. It's like battling the flu early in life, you're simply growing stronger, building your immune system, preparing your body to be healthier, stronger and more resilient the next time you're exposed.  Sometimes you need a shock, jolt, or near miss to really get sparked into living.

Malcom Gladwell talks about this empowerment in "David and Goliath". He looks at the Luftwaffe Nazi bombings on London. The people of London actually grew stronger every time there was a near miss. Each bomb that dropped, that they survived, made them feel more resilient and invincible. Courage and resolve rose all over the country, because of the adversity they faced and overcame, head on.

So let's embrace the challenge of playing three games against top 25 teams this weekend. Sure Florida won 58 games last year, and made it to the World Series. South Florida has 11 NCAA appearances, an All-American pitcher who got them to the World Series, and wins more than 80 percent of their games at home. It's more fun being the underdog. Maybe we've been indoors for every practice this winter, maybe we haven't seen the sun shine yet, it only makes the opportunity more exciting.

Badger Blog: Finding inspiration

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In this week's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the inspiration the team gets from playing in Madison.


With one week to go until we open the 2014 softball season, the team is focusing on getting better, and enjoying the journey. It's been a cold snowy winter in Madison, yet everyone on campus seems happy and optimistic, especially the softball team. Maybe it's the excitement surrounding Super Bowl Sunday, with former Badger favorites Russell Wilson and Montee Ball leading the way, or the fact that we can watch basketball, hockey and wrestling compete on campus in the winter. The fact is, there's inspiration all around us: from the success of Wisconsin volleyball competing in the national championship game this fall, to basketball, hockey and wrestling being ranked in the top-10 and top-25, there are some amazing Badger athletes training all around us in the weight room, on the ramps and in the field house.

One of our players said, "It's easy to be inspired when you're living a life that you love." What's not to love about Madison? It's such an amazing town! So many universities are in cities that you'd never visit unless you were looking at that school. But Madison is a tourist hotspot and family destination. People from all over the country want to see what all the excitement is about. This might be one of the healthiest, happiest towns I've ever seen. Families here are so outdoorsy. You see kids sledding, ice skating, skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and jogging, regardless of the temperature. If you can love your life and community when it's cold and snowy, and you're practicing indoors, imagine how much better everything gets when spring sets in, and you can get out on the field, bike trails and lakes.

Badger Blog: The first two days of practice

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In today's Badger Blog, outfielders Mary Massei and Maria Van Abel give an update on the first two practices and provide insight into the Badgers' chalk talks. 

After a rejuvenating winter break, the whole team is back in Madison for the start up of another promising season. We got right to work on Monday morning getting in a great workout before our first official spring semester practice. We have been doing a lot of situation drills in the McClain facility and are excited to finally be using the new Goodman indoor complex. The coaches have done an outstanding job of incorporating chalk talks and meetings to keep a balance of our athletic and mental training for the upcoming season.

Coach Schneider started things off with a chalk talk on Monday afternoon in which he analyzed the neurological perspective on vision and the strike zone in the game of softball. Having coaches who dedicate themselves to learning and absorbing as much outside academic information as they can has made such a difference in our program in these past three years. Knowing our coaches go above and beyond what the average coach might be willing to do makes buying in to their philosophy so much easier for us as players.

In our chalk talk on Tuesday, coach Healy elaborated on our own team's culture through a business lens by looking at the different strategies and values of some of the most successful companies. Coach started out by recognizing the difference between simply claiming values verses actually living them. We looked at our own program and saw how our main values and priorities aligned with some of the Fortune 500 companies coach presented us. After reflecting on coach Healy's presentation, we all took it upon ourselves to see if we were holding ourselves accountable to live out the values of the program. 

Our countdown to Florida is on, currently at 23 days, and we can't wait to get our season started!

Badger Blog: Most Improved

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In today's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the Badgers' 2014 resolution to get better every day. 

Dreamers wish they were the best player, while doers work to get better every day. #MIP #Badgersoftball2014

As we look to 2014, so many people talk about wanting to be the best this New Year. They want to be the best team, player, company or CEO. Who doesn't want to win, accomplish and achieve? Here in Madison, we're shifting our goals for 2014. Instead of worrying about being the best, why not focus on being better? Isn't that what life is all about, getting better? When we get caught up in being number one, we lose focus to the periphery.  Does it really matter what's going on all around us? Wouldn't we be better suited being the best version of ourselves, constantly growing, climbing and making progress?

For the Badger softball team, 2014 really needs to be about improvement. Our schedule is so challenging, that we certainly can't walk out from the snow to the dirt in February and arrive. It's a journey, and a progression. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to not only play Florida, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Washington and Arizona, early, but also again late in the season. We all know it's not where you start, but where you finish. Each season's a new opportunity to rewrite the history books and start a new legacy.

At what point did most improved became a dirty word? Everyone wants to be the most valuable player, not the most improved player. Fans look at the MIP as a consolation trophy, like being named best personality instead of homecoming queen. Sure being the MVP is prestigious, but it's also limiting. There's only a handful of MVP's in the country, but the lions-share of teams and programs are made of hard-working, blue-collar athletes that are on the path to improvement. In life, our greatest feelings of pride and accomplishment come not from the trophy, but from the climb. Improvement really is empowerment, it factors in who you are, where you came from, the adversity and inequality of where you started, ultimately measuring how far you've come.

Talking about improvement forces you to take a good, hard look at the past, understanding who you are, and where you came from. Improvement doesn't come from ignoring, or running from your origins, but rather from understanding, and accepting your heritage. The imperfection of your past is beautiful, because it's part of who you are, it helped you to arrive in the amazing place you are today with empathy and gratitude. Some programs and people have always had success. But if your past was different, challenging and checkered, you can always make strides. There's a lot of beauty in the struggle. Every climber knows that the path of improvement is paved with hundreds of people who loved, cared, worked hard and laid the groundwork for your journey.  

So, for our 2014 resolution, Wisconsin softball doesn't want just to be the best team in the Big Ten, or the country, we want to grow and improve as a program, and as people. Of course the Badgers want to win the Big Ten. It's every student-athlete's dream to say they were part of a Big Ten championship program. Yet reality, history, and a lack of legacy are stacked against us. We'll play 23 Big Ten conference games against eight B1G teams this spring. We'll see Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Purdue at home, and Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State on the road. Wisconsin has 95 wins in 281 career games against those teams, that's a .338 winning percentage. We've got our work cut out. Yet we're blessed with 20 student-athletes in the Badger softball family that can win most improved every day, every practice and every game this season. The journey starts Monday! #MIP  

The turnaround

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In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes about the inspiration of a turnaround and shares inspiring stories of success. 

The Turnaround: It's what everyone is looking for in sports. How to go from good to great. How to change the culture of a program. How do you create a winning environment and establish a legacy when there are no All-Americans to set the tone, when there is no College World Series experience on the field. If you don't have the player of the year, pitcher of the year, newcomer of the year or coach of the year on your staff, how do you win conference, especially if it's for the first time in program history? 

We all love the turnaround, because it speak to our hearts. Deep down we all want to believe that anything is possible. We want sports to prove that regardless of who you are, where you're from, what your history is, or how things have always been, we all have a shot at greatness. We all have a chance to achieve in life, to overcome adversity, to change the course of history, create a new, successful path where we thrive instead of falter, where we flourish for years of prosperity, instead of repeating the same mistakes our parents and predecessors got trapped in.

I have three stories of turnaround that I've seen, experienced and lived. When you hear stories of turnaround, when you read about them, retell them and soak them in, they change your life. That pessimism that things don't change, those crippling subconscious doubts don't seem so logical anymore. There's a fundamental shift in your beliefs, in your outlook, and in your heart. Suddenly when you see the turnaround, and when you live it at your university, in your teams, and with your kids, you see eyes, hearts, and minds open up to the reality that anything is possible. Life doesn't have to be the same. History doesn't have to repeat itself, and the vicious cycle of loss, failure and negativity can be broken.

We're not there yet with our softball team at Wisconsin. We've shown moments of brightness, and glimpses of success, but we're far from arrived. My gratification at this moment comes from being on the path. The hearts and minds of our athletes, coaches and families are in the right place. The optimism and energy right now outweigh the lack of legacy, and struggles of the past. For me, that's progress and success. Being on the path, training, believing, setting the trajectory and moving in the right direction is a step towards greatness. No matter how small the step is, on a long and arduous journey, at least we're on that yellow brick road, and headed somewhere with a skip in our step.

I'll share those three stories of turnaround with you, and books and readings that supplement those messages. The first turnaround I witness is the most powerful one in my life. I've grown to appreciate it more with age, and after having kids of my own. The book I'd like to recommend is "Inside Out Coaching", by Joe Ehrmann. If you want to be great at what you do, you have to dig deep, understand yourself. "Inside Out Coaching" asks every coach four tough questions: Why do you coach? Why do you coach the way you do? What does it feel like to be coached by you? What's your definition of success? 

We have a bible study at UW and we're reading "Inside out Coaching". To answer the questions, "why do you coach", and "wdo you coach the way you do", the FCA bible study challenges coaches to understand themselves and their upbringing. Every person parents and coaches the way they were parented or coached, unless they make a conscious decision to change. This is a tough fact to swallow, especially if there are hurtful things in our past when our parents or coaches failed us. 

When I look at my past, I can't help but be amazed by my mom. Her grandparents were all born in Italy and Poland, and didn't speak English. Her parents, Grandma Helen and Grandpa Joe, worked in factories on the Southside of Chicago, and didn't have much more than an eighth grade education. The turnaround for our family, came when my mom chose to be the first one to go to college. She earned a four year RN degree, and eventually her master's degree in nursing, all while raising two girls, supporting our family and battling through a divorce. Her grit, selflessness and character are amazing. She changed the trajectory of our family and our lives. She sacrificed to send my sister and me to a Catholic high school, and always stressed the importance of faith, family, education and hard-work. 

I have a high level of respect and appreciation for anyone who overcomes tough odd in their lives, and accomplishes things that have never been done. The trailblazers are the most inspirational traveler. Anyone can walk through a door that's already been opened, and follow a crowd down a path that many have walked. It takes someone special to forge a new path, and go places that have never been seen.

I witnessed turnaround number two as a student-athlete at DePaul University in Chicago. While getting recruited by the Blue Demons, the team made its first two NCAA softball appearances, and was knocked out without a win in both. Our class wanted to make history at DePaul, we went on to earn two sweet sixteen appearances before advancing to the Women's College World series for the first time in program history in 1999, finishing tied for third in the country.  

This was a life-changing moment for our team, the student-athletes and families, and the program for years to come. Despite being a cold weather school in a small conference, over the past 15 years, DePaul has advanced to Women's College World Series four times. Clearly history has been changed and a winning legacy has been forged in that program. When I read books like, "How Children Succeed" by Paul Tough, it's no wonder that the education system in the US is making drastic curriculum changes to stop focusing so much on facts, figures and concentrated skills, but rather develop grit, character, and the ability to persevere through adversity to help children succeed in school, their careers and life. 

The final turnaround that I've witnessed has taken place here at Wisconsin. I'd like to say that I'm talking about our softball program, but we certainly aren't there yet. Yet one of the biggest reasons my family and I chose to leave Chicago and take a chance on a struggling Big Ten softball team, was the story of coach Alvarez's 1994 Rose Bowl Championship team. After 10 years without a Bowl appearance, new football coach Barry Alvarez turned Wisconsin football and the entire athletics department around with a Big Ten championship, a trip to the Rose Bowl and a momentous win over UCLA. 

This was a seminal moment in the success of UW athletics. The 1994 team's ability to win the Rose Bowl filled the stands here at Camp Randall, and started the push, excitement and influx of money that allowed for all of the amazing facilities, gear, budgets, and staff that we enjoy today. The success that Badger football, and the entire Wisconsin athletics department has had over the past twenty years can be traced back to this 1994 Rose Bowl team that over-achieved, made history, and put Wisconsin on the map. Beginning in 1994, Wisconsin has advanced to six Rose Bowl games. That's an amazing winning legacy, created and sustained right in front of our eyes.
One of the former players from the 1994 Rose Bowl team talks about why that team was so special. "I think of the type of guys that made up the lead¬ership of that team and just the character of the team," Saleh said. "I don't think everyone was highly touted coming out of high school.  Everyone had to earn it; nothing was really given anyone. We just had a group of guys who really liked football and, in general, we were good people; we had a good work ethic."

Coach Alvarez's book, "Don't Flinch" talks a lot about the turnaround for Wisconsin football, and the rise of a powerful and successful athletics department with a family atmosphere. 

Volunteering at Heartland Farm Sanctuary

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Nov. 6, 2013

In this week's Badger Blog, senior Mary Massei writes about the team's trip to Heartland Farm Sanctuary and impact volunteering has on the team and the community. 

This past weekend our Badger softball team had the opportunity to volunteer at Heartland Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless farm animals in Wisconsin. Heartland also reaches out to the youth and works with young adults with disabilities. Their farm allows the youth to get away from their every day lives and assist in doing barn chores. 
As a program, we thought it would be a great idea to take just a couple hours out of our Saturday afternoon to help prepare this organization for the winter months.  By working together as a team, we helped clean up the barn, interact with the animals and build multiple chicken coops. Usually when you see the softball team covered in dirt it's from stealing bases but this time it was from putting hard work into manual labor helping out a good cause within the community. 
Volunteering at Heartland showed me more than that we can handle tools, but it showed me that our program is capable of doing big things when we all invest and join together. For some of the girls it was their first time even stepping foot on a farm, but when assigned a task, everyone put all of their effort into it. We may have been out of our element and had to deal with some adversity, but that didn't stop us from seizing the moment and getting the job done. 
When I see the team working hard doing volunteer work together, it reminds me of how blessed we are to be a part of this program. It may be just a couple hours out of our Saturday afternoons, but our services truly impact the community and organizations we help out. 
ON WISCONSIN