Dena Tyson is a former All-American at the University of Washington and today is a successful Corona Angels head coach at the 18U and 16U levels, knows what it takes to manage the athletic and academic loads that come with being a student-athlete.
In today’s blog, she talks about what why being an All-American shouldn’t be your goal but, instead, what you as an athlete should try to control in having All-American qualities.
Dena is the daughter of legendary Corona Angels head coach Marty Tyson and competed at the University of Washington from 2002 to 2007.
She was part of Husky teams that made the Women’s College World Series three times (2003, ’04 and ’07) and as a senior for Washington in 2007 was a 1st Team All-American and was a selection to the World Series All-Tournament Team.
Be sure to check out her previous blogs too including Being a Team Player, Barfing, Mediocrity & the Top 1%, How to Deal With Failure, How to Deal With Riding the Bench, How to Pick the Right College and How to Balance Life as a Student Athlete.
I keep getting asked a certain question: What does it take to be an All-American?
This question bothers me a lot, but I understand why people ask it. Of course, everyone would love to be an All-American but it shouldn’t be your ultimate goal because it is not controllable?
There is a group of people who come together and make those decisions and their decision-making process is outside of your control. I’m sure there is a rubric that they use when making those decisions and I totally respect their decisions, but that process is something that no one can control except that committee.
So, when you ask what it takes to an All-American, let’s change that question to what qualities do All-Americans have?
I have seen many girls who are “All-Americans” in my eyes, but it just didn’t happen for them.
The best way I can address this question is to walk you through five key differences between my first three years and my All-American year.
Let’s get into it!
Difference No. 1:
During my first three years, I never wrote down goals for myself. Before my senior year started, my Dad and I sat down and created goals for my last year in college. My No. goal was to be an All-American.
I know I just said don’t make that your goal and I stand by that because your goals should be focused on things you can control. I always wonder what would have happened if I didn’t become an All-American. Would I have been crushed? Would it have ruined me?
Thankfully I will never know the answers to those questions. You walk a fine line when you tie your goals to things that are outside of your control.
Difference No. 2:
I never put much effort into my training during my first three years in college. I trained just enough to make sure I didn’t get in trouble. I didn’t believe in “max out” days.
I believed that conditioning was a waste a time. The way I saw it, the farthest I would ever have to run was when I hit a home run and I got to jog that!
During my All-American season, I realized that I needed the weight room to help me with my power and strength.
My first three years I usually led the team in doubles. My All-American year I led the team in home runs. Coincidence? The year I “maxed out” the ball started flying out of the park.
That season I realized that conditioning was more mental than physical. Once I developed the mentality of refusing to lose or quit, I was able to push through when I needed to.
And that is exactly what happened that season.
We were picked to finish 7th out of eight teams in the Pac-10 that year and we ended up finishing 3rd in the country. That’s fight!
Difference No. 3:
My first three years I didn’t believe in “team chemistry.” I came in and punched my timecard and moved on. My last year, I understood the importance of being a good team captain, making sure to limit the drama and making sure we all stayed focused on the goal.
My first three years I didn’t believe we needed to be friends. My last year I realized that at the very least we needed a strong level of mutual respect as teammates. When you go into the trenches you want to feel like you can trust that person next to you.
On my 2007 team, I believe we exceeded everyone’s expectations because we genuinely cared for each other.
Difference No. 4:
I didn’t believe in extra work my first three years. I felt like softball was already taking 20 hours a week from me and I was not willing to give it anymore time!
My senior season, I understood that the extra work was needed to focus on and fine tune some of my deficiencies.
For example, I struggled hitting inside pitching my whole life so every morning of my senior year I would do one full bucket of inside/out, one full bucket of outside and then two full buckets of inside.
I understood that I couldn’t get this kind of personal work in during practice because practice was more team focused. Most people don’t like to work on their weaknesses because it can be frustrating, but All-Americans do and they love doing it.
Difference No. 5:
Saying that I cut corners during my first three years is an understatement. During my last season, I did everything that was asked of me,and more.
If my strength coach said do 10 reps, I did 10 reps. During my early morning, one-on-one hitting, I had to hit all 26 balls and could not be a ball short. I knew that hitting 25 of 26 balls was not going to get me to my goal.
My coach would throw live to me and I had to hit every single ball in that bucket or I felt like I cheated myself! We did not have buckets like you are thinking. Our buckets were 55-gallon trashcans full of softballs.
All-Americans practice with intent!
During those early morning hitting sessions, I never took a swing without thinking that there was a runner on 3rd and I had to get my job done. If I mishit a ball, I would talk to myself and tell myself I was better than that.
Looking back at my career, I always thought that players that practiced with that level of intensity were crazy for doing so much. Now I realize they just had the qualities of an All-American.
These are the five differences between my All-American season and my college career before it.
They represent the changes I made to my work ethic and my thought processes that led to me being an All-American in softball and in life!
Which brings me back to where we started: ultimately, you do not control the outcome of your All-American journey. You can do everything right and still not be selected.
There is a person that is near and dear to my heart that was not an All-American in college, but she was the epitome of what an All-American looks like. She has all the qualities in spades.
I watched in awe when she found out that she was not going to be named an All-American and did not waiver as the emotional leader of her team at the Women’s College World Series.
You see, All-Americans don’t need the recognition to be All-Americans. They are All-Americans because of the way they approach everything they do in their life, not because of the title they are given!