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The Real Definition of Hustle

By Dick Smith
Head Coach - University of St. Francis

When I was playing the game as a youth, I used to ride my bike to the ball diamond about three hours before game time. No one else was there and I wondered why. About 45 minutes before game time my teammates arrived, and the opposing team came 15 minutes later. All came walking to the field, shirts out, stirrups in disarray, and in a slovenly manner.

Now, I love the game. I think it’s great. I do not respect anyone who plays or coaches the game who does not cherish it as I do. Unrealistic and unfair? Certainly, to a degree. But then why engage in something if is an unpleasant experience? Too many players and coaches involve themselves in the game and then go through varying periods and degrees of depression and the doldrums in general. They simply ain’t havin’ any fun.

During this past season I was at field and watched a team get off a bus. Slovenly? A compliment. Hustle? Not a hint. They played in the same tacky manner. The team was there for something other than softball; the coaches exhibited a similar attitude.

Hustle is something we can control. The demands we make of our teams must include this essential element, but our teams must be made aware of our definition of the word.

Do we merely want out teams to jog on and off the field, run after errant softballs, and talk it up during play? This is the more common definition, and most players understand it as such.

My definition of hustle includes many things. The first is PRIDE in appearance and conduct. A spirited, hustling team will come to the field dressed sharply, on the run, and will enthusiastically be looking forward to the impending competition. Equipment will be in prime condition and will be handled with care. If not clean, the bench area will be immediately groomed and prepared for equipment and players. Personal gear will be dealt with in a like manner by all.

As the well-prepared, hustling team takes to the practice field, it will do so at a slow trot, which gradually increases in pace as muscles being to get warm. Team stretching begins with enthusiasm and gusto, after which there is sprinting and throwing.

Other pre-game activities continue with the same vitality up to the time of infield practice. This is equally spirited and full of excitement and zeal.

When the game commences, a hustling team takes to the field at an all-out sprint. This accomplishes several things. It provides a practice run to first base; it gets players in position to receive more practice throws; it impresses umpires, spectators, and the opponents.

When coming off the field, the same hard sprint is used by the players on the hustling teams. This gives them another practice run, more time to get in and take practice swings, more time to watch the opposing pitcher, more time for the coach to relay to the team something he/she may have seen or want to change/commute with the team, and to continue to impress the umpires/spectators.

A spirited hitter will run hard to, and through, first base on all foul balls, routine infield grounders, and third strikes. Why? This is an opportunity to practice running to first under game conditions. Why not use the opportunity? Coaches who allow their players to pull up short on a routine infield out have short-changed their team. Not only have they lost a practice run, but the ball might just be dropped.

Enthusiastic hitters will continue running on all routine fly balls until the umpire signals an out. Not only is it good practice, but extra bases are there for the taking when balls are dropped.

Defensive players can also use routine situations to sharpen skills. A third baseman, for example, on a ground ball hit foul, can go ahead and make a play at first base.  A pitcher can continue with a pitch even though the batter has stepped out. After all, the ump might not have called time, and even if time was called, it is a free practice pitch. An outfielder can practice sacrifice fly technique on routine fly balls and can fire the ball in to bases each time there is a hit. A foul ball down the left field line allows the fielder a free opportunity to round off a ball, charge it, and come up with a good practice throw.

Games provide excellent opportunities to hone skills, and coaches should take advantage of the practice opportunities provided - free of charge in fee or time. They are available every game, every inning, and every out.

Maybe hustle is not the term for all this. Maybe it’s just enthusiasm for the game, the thrills, the competition, the spectacle of watching great amateur athletes compete. I do believe that it all begins and ends with hustle. Add the ingredients of player-coach enthusiasm and love of the game to the soup pot containing hustle, and the recipe for success is complete.

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