Lacey Waldrop was the 2014 NCAA Softball National Player of the Year. She was a 3x All-American Pitcher and 2x ACC Pitcher of the Year for the Florida State Seminoles. In 2015 she was drafted third overall by the Chicago Bandits in the 2015 NPF Draft. Waldrop discusses the mental game of softball and how she was able to overcome early adversity in her career to become one of the game’s most dominant players.
Cain: Hey, how are you doing? Brian Cain, your Peak Performance coach here. With this podcast we’ve got a very special guest, Lacey Waldrop. Lacey is the 2014 NCAA Softball National Player of the Year. She was Atlantic Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2014 and 2015 and she was a three-time All-American 2013, 2014, and 2015, currently pitching in the NPF (the National Pro Fastpitch) Softball League, the Major League Baseball for Softball, for the Chicago Bandits.
Lacey, so awesome to see you at camp, and thank you so much for joining us here.
Waldrop: Thank you. It is so nice to be back. I haven’t been back to school since the first football game of the season. It’s always fun to be around the coaches, learn from the coaches they bring into camp, and just teach softball. It’s the best part about coming down to camp.
Cain: That’s awesome. If you’re a softball coach or you’re a softball player – especially younger, not in college yet – the Florida State Softball Camp is phenomenal. It’s my fifth year here and some of the coaches that they bring in here (as you’ve said, Lacey) are just tremendous.
Well, Lacey, we’ve got people following and they want to know your story. Tell us your story from how you got into softball, how you chose to come to Florida State, your career. Because even though you were a three-time All-American, there is always a rough patch, and how you got through that and now where you are today. So take us back to how you started playing softball.
Waldrop: So, I think the first time I ever remember anything about softball was my parents got me just this black wooden bat for Christmas one year and we used to just play in the yard, our front yard. My parents had never played sports really when they were growing up but they would just toss me the ball; we would play in the yard, and I think they realized that I really liked it and I was pretty good even though they were just tossing me the ball.
So I started playing slow pitch first for two years. After that I couldn’t wait to play fast pitch. I was playing ten-and-under slow pitch still and I remember seeing a ten-and-under fast pitch and not realizing that I could have played, and I was like, “Mom, why aren’t I already playing fast pitch?” So it was really nice to get started in that.
My first practice I ever went to they just saw that I was tall, had long arms and legs, and were like, “Hey, we should make you a pitcher.” So from there I started pitching. I went to a pitching coach who was a family friend of mine actually, Rita Lynn Gilman, and just worked from there from the time I was 11 until now.
I’ve been pitching. I loved it. I played in high school. I got recruited a little later, especially than the girls who are getting recruited now. I committed my junior year, right around Christmas, and from then I always knew I wanted to go to a big Division One school – just learn and get better. I came in with kind of that expectation.
I wanted to be really good but I didn’t know how much hard work it was going to take because I had never lived it before going to school. I had pitched in high-level travel ball but nothing is the same as once you get to college and you see that everyone works super hard. Everyone is just as talented as you are and you have to do something different and separate yourself.
Luckily, I had Coach Alameda working with me and she is the one that kind of broke me out of my shell (I would say) because I did not have the confidence coming into my freshman year to be as good as I wanted to be, because we changed promotion a little bit and I was far from home (about 11 hours). So that took me some time to really grasp and get used to. I had to just develop that way.
It wasn’t really until probably mid-season of my sophomore year that I really started to understand the mental side of pitching, trust my pitches, and that is when I really started to become an elite-level pitcher. It took the push from Coach Alameda working with you, working at camps and a lot of the process of just trusting myself and trusting my training and being able to use that on the field when I was playing.
Cain: So you mentioned the word “trust” a lot, Lacey. That is obviously a very important part of your mental game. What would you say is your mental game in the circle?
Waldrop: This has constantly changed. I’m still working on it today. My senior year I had a little bit of lapse in confidence, but I think my mentality is always to go on the mound in attack mode. I want to get ahead. I want to throw strikes. I’m always going to change speed and look to throw off the batter. But first I have to get ahead. If I don’t do that, then I am putting myself at a disadvantage. So I am just going out there thinking, “Alright, I am better than you. You are not going to hit this pitch. I don’t care if I throw it down the middle. I am going to beat you on this.” When you have that mentality, it makes it a lot easier to execute your pitches.
Cain: So you talk about confidence and it sounds like there were times in your career where you were confident, maybe times where you weren’t so confident. Let’s go back to the monster here that you had in 2014 – National Player of the Year, led your team in the College World Series. Did you have more confidence that year? Or did you pitch better? What was different than that year and maybe other ones, do you think?
Waldrop: I think I absolutely had more confidence. It was about the middle of my sophomore season that I really started to understand the competent side of things and stop having that fear of going out on the mound like “Oh, I’m letting my team down” or “I’m not pitching as well as I should be.” I just knew I had to go out there and win.
Before that I looked at the numbers like “Oh, my ERA is too high – I’m giving up too many hits to people who shouldn’t be getting hits.” Coach really talked to me about “Anyone can go out there on any given day and beat you. You just have to know (whether they are getting hits or whether they’re not) you need to win this game.”
Once I started focusing on that and having that mentality that I am going to put my team in the best position to win every single game, then I started to excel. I took a lot of pressure off myself. I was kind of just free out there pitching and didn’t have any cares really because all I was thinking about was this one pitch. I’m going to do everything I can and I’m prepared to do that because I’ve trained for that and I’m ready for it. Just having that mentality (always focusing on winning rather than strikeouts or anything like that) really put me at that level to where I was always competing at an extremely high level and always mentally focused.
Cain: You talk about the mental focus and focusing on the winning of the outcome of going one pitch at a time. If you’re a young softball player listening to this, I think it’s amazing how Lacey is talking about how she was the best player in the country in 2014 and wasn’t always confident. Confidence is not an absolute. It’s not that you have it or you don’t. It’s a sliding scale. Sometimes you have more confidence than others. Being able to break the game down to what you can control and you can manage and go one pitch at a time helps you to perform on the days where you do or you don’t have confidence.
Talk, if you would, Lacey, about how you would go one pitch at a time.
Waldrop: So a lot of that, I’m able to do it because of my breathing and my routine that I go through on the mound. We developed one. What I go through is I’ll get the ball back from the catcher, turn around, take a deep breath looking usually out at the 200 (at FSU it would be the 220) in center field. Coach and I had drawn a little “r” in the second 2 of the 220 that stood for “refocus.” It has probably washed off. You can’t see it now because that was my junior or maybe sophomore year that we did that, but I in my mind know it’s there.
So that is my first thing. Breathe, check the “r,” and refocus. Come to the mound, spin the ball a little bit, get the sign, step on the mound, and then again we drew a little “r” in the top right-hand corner of the plate and I’ll check down and look at that little “r” and say it to myself, breathe, and then go into my pitch. That is kind of the routine that helps me calm myself and say, “Alright, it’s time to refocus for the next pitch and not worry about what just happened.”
Cain: Awesome. Since we are live on Periscope here, Lacey, would you actually show us that routine? Would you step up there and show us what that would look like?
Cain: Fantastic. For the people who are getting this on a podcast, you are going to have to kind of “see” what we see here. But again if you are watching the podcast on this, this video will live in the Brian Cain Inner Circle at www.BrianCain.com/InnerCircle so you can see Lacey’s pre-pitch routine.
So, Lacey, let’s imagine here I just threw you back. You just got the ball back from the catcher. Here we go.
Waldrop: So now I would be looking at 220. I’d look at the “r” and focus and breathe. I’d get the sign over here. I might even take an extra breath, just depending on what just happened. Step on the mound, look at the refocus, put the ball in my glove, take the sign (I probably already said that but right now is actually the time I am getting the sign), look at it, breathe again, spin, and then go through my pitch.
Cain: Okay, so earlier you said that you drew an “r” in the centerfield wall and then one on the plate. Did you actually mean the pitcher’s rubber?
Waldrop: The rubber, yes.
Cain: I was going to say… Okay. Because you looked down at the rubber. I was thinking you were going to look at the plate. Okay. Fantastic.
So what happens if you get a red light? You make a bad pitch or the umpire makes a bad call or you just feel like you have some red light energy. The first question is how would you recognize when you’d have red light energy?
Waldrop: Usually I’d start going really fast. I’d start working way faster than I needed to on the mound and just going pitch-catch-pitch-catch and I wouldn’t really talk to my defense. I wouldn’t breathe.
One thing that kind of helps me get out of that go-too-fast mentality is I’ll get the ball back and I’ll talk to my infielder. Like, “Alright, I am going to get you a ground ball. Here we go. I’m going right at them.” Just little key words like that so they know that I am still focusing on this pitch and then it takes my mind kind of off of what just happened and then into the present of, “Okay, now it’s time to attack.” I do that, maybe take a little bit deeper breath when I’m looking out to centerfield, but still go through the same routine.
Cain: Excellent. Show us your red light release. Show us what it would look like so that the people following can see what that actually looks like.
Waldrop: So I turn around, “Alright, going to get you a ground ball – here you go, Maddie.” (Maddie was our shortstop for four years so she is who I would talk to.) Take an extra deep breath, shoulders up, shoulders down, and then come back to the mound with kind of a new focus.
Cain: Excellent. So the release is really talking to the person next to you and doing the big deep breath on the centerfield wall.
Cain: Fabulous. We’re back around here. Lacey is going to come join us again. We’ll open this up for any questions that you guys have. As they come in, I’ll catch them and write them down and we’ll ask Lacey Waldrop – your 2014 National Softball Player of the Year.
We’ve got a question here from an LSU fan that says, “Get her an LSU Tigers shirt.” LSU has got a pretty stacked pitching staff. They would benefit from having Lacey as well.
Lacey, if you would, talk a little bit about what do you know now that you wish you knew if you could go back to your freshman year and talk to that Lacey Waldrop. What would you say to her?
Waldrop: I think just “do trust yourself early” because that was my biggest thing. I didn’t trust myself even though I was training just as hard. When I came in as a freshman, although I was new to pitching every day, I practiced. I was practicing every day and lifting every day. Although that was new, I was still working hard. If I would have known then that that hard work would pay off instead of questioning “am I doing enough,” then I think that would have been much easier. So it’s all about trust and that is hard to develop.
Cain: No doubt. It definitely takes time. I think sometimes for athletes it takes a little bit of results too, sometimes, to trust the work that they are doing because if you’re always putting in this work and you’re not getting the result sometimes you go “Well, am I doing the right thing?” It’s a rare athlete that can believe that they are doing the right things without seeing the result. As someone who is going to be public speaking and coaching, here is an analogy that I heard from an athlete at Yale University not so long ago that I thought was great.
We were standing there and he says, “Hey, Brian, look at the moon.” I looked up. It was during the day and you could see a sliver of the moon. I said, “Okay, I see it.” He goes, “You know that sometimes the moon is full moon and sometimes the moon is half moon and sometimes there is just a sliver moon like this and sometimes you see the moon in the day and sometimes you see it at night and sometimes you don’t see it in the day and sometimes you don’t see it at night.” He says, “But the full moon is always there – you just can’t see it.” He was a kicker. He said, “That is what it’s like for me. Sometimes I don’t feel that good but I still have to be able to see this inside of me.”
The moon is always there. That confidence is always there. The ability is always there. You sometimes have to trust that it’s there without seeing the results. So there is a nugget for you to take home.
Waldrop: I like that.
Cain: I thought that was pretty good. So, Lacey, we talked about what you would say to yourself if you could go back. If I were to ask you the best purchase that you’ve ever made under $100 that’s had the most impact in your life, what would that purchase be?
Waldrop: Gosh, that is a hard one. That I bought myself.
Cain: Or it could have been a gift that you were given that you think was under $100. A purchase you made or a gift given to you under $100 that has had the most impact on your life.
Waldrop: I think this might not just be one thing but I would say books in general. I feel like you can learn so much from them. It doesn’t have to be about the mental game, but I really enjoy books that are nonfiction that are telling you about how people who are successful got to where they are. I’m reading one right now called Big Magic and it’s about creativity and the creative process and just how ideas come about. I’ve read plenty before about sports, softball, about other Major League pitchers. I’ve read their books. Just the knowledge you gain from learning about other people’s experience I think is pretty cool.
Cain: It’s amazing. I’d say that 75% of the answers that people give on that are books. Victoria Hayward, who you know, who is here – she said it was a FitBit and I thought, “I’ve never thought about that.” I’ve heard that but most people say books. That is pretty cool.
One of the questions that came through: best advice you’ve ever been given?
Waldrop: This is so silly. It all still goes with trust. I think from Coach Alameda, just to trust every pitch. She calls the pitches for us in college, so I think one thing that also really got me to that next level was being able to have her call a pitch and realizing that is not what I wanted to throw at the moment because I already knew “Alright, I can throw this pitch,” and she would be like, “Okay, so shake me off, don’t be scared to do that.” That was one thing I was scared to do. My freshman year I would just throw it instead of believing in it.
I think that was the advice, to always believe in every pitch that you are throwing. If you don’t, then don’t throw it. Throw something else. I think as far as pitching goes that’s really good advice.
Cain: Let’s switch gears from pitching into life. Now you have not only been playing professional softball but you’re also working as a sports personality now for Fox. Talk a little bit about your role there.
Waldrop: Actually, I work in media production at Fox Sports Southeast in Atlanta. What I’m doing is I’m cutting and editing a lot of different features for the show “ACC All-Access.” We talk about Olympic sports within the ACC Football and the ACC. It’s something totally different. I had never done it before I got the internship.
What I like about it so far – obviously it’s really fun, it revolves around sports, but it was something I went into and had no idea about it. It was a foreign language when I was learning it so it was something uncomfortable. When I went into it, I knew that. Then within a couple weeks (a month or so) I started to understand it, knew how to do it, then became good at it (and still getting better) and have gotten other opportunities in editing because of it.
I’m about to start something else that is new and a little bit uncomfortable, but I think that something really important in life is to not take the easy way just because you know you can do it or you become comfortable doing it. Always try to find things that make you uncomfortable because that is how you are going to grow, by doing those new things that you have never done before.
Cain: That is awesome. Some of that you probably have learned through athletics that have helped you now in your professional career.
Waldrop: Absolutely. In work life it’s pretty much the same as being an athlete. You have to work hard in order to get the results that you want. In life anything is like that. Nothing is going to be handed to you on a silver platter. Who knows? If it is, are you going to have that same sense of I really worked hard for this? I feel like if something is just given to you, you don’t appreciate it, so I think that is something that is important, to just learn to work hard. Athletics will teach you to work hard in anything because you know what it takes and you know that as soon as you work hard and you do everything you need to to get to that point, you can trust that you are going to be good at it, whatever it is.
Cain: That is awesome. I heard a wise man once say, “The value that you hold for something is in direct relation (or proportion) to the effort with which you had to give to get it.” Speaking about that effort and having the success and having to give so much of yourself to get something, the question was, “What’s Lacey’s favorite athletic moment?”
Waldrop: My favorite athletic moment. It doesn’t have to do with me, right?
Cain: No. Of course not. This is the same player that – one of my favorite quotes of all time, Lacey – as you think about the answer to this – was your junior year. You and your classmate Maddie O’Brien were both up for National Player of the Year or both finalists for that. I remember you saying, “Geez, even to the moment they announced that I won I still thought that Maddie should have gotten it. I still thought she was going to get it.” I think that shows the great teammate you are and how much you actually love and value your teammate.
So your favorite athletic moment… what was it? It doesn’t have to be about you.
Waldrop: It was definitely my junior year, that magical year that we went to the World Series, Courtney Senas hitting the walk-off home run to win against Michigan and send us to the World Series. Courtney is one of my favorite people that I’ve ever met. She is so humble, so kind, so hardworking, and that season she just put in so much effort. It was her senior year. She had been here, she had been working toward that moment for four years, her whole life, and she was in the box at the right moment and she had worked for it and it all came to fruition right there. That was just something really exciting to see her jumping around excited that she had hit it and we’re all dogpiling at home plate. It’s just something that you don’t forget.
It took us to an amazing level. We set new program records that year. We hadn’t been to the World Series before that in (I think) 10 years. So Courtney’s moment helped to put us back on top and back in the top of college softball.
Cain: That is awesome. Let’s go back to that Super Regional because again the degree to which you experience success is the degree to which you have had to overcome adversity. You played Michigan. They come in here after… I was actually in the dugout with Arizona State Softball. Michigan and Arizona State. I remember Amber Freeman comes up with a runner on second base and Arizona State is down by one and just tattoos a ball to centerfield. We think it’s a game-winning home run to set up Florida State going to Arizona State for a Super Regional, and then the Michigan centerfielder catches it and brings it back in.
Waldrop: I remember that.
Cain: Oh my god. You talk about just being in a state of shock with that Arizona State team. And then the next week Michigan now comes to Florida State for Super Regional so you guys are thinking that “We’re not supposed to host a Super Regional – we are the lower seed.” So you are hosting a Super Regional. Michigan is coming in here. What happened in game one?
Waldrop: They kicked our butts in game one. I don’t know. Still looking back, it was just everything that could have went wrong went wrong. None of us were throwing well.
Cain: Was it 14-1? 17-1? You remember?
Waldrop: I think it was 17-3.
Cain: 17-3 in game one.
Waldrop: It was really bad. The thing was, even though we were getting beat like that, I didn’t see any fear in anyone’s eyes. You could see that by how everyone held themselves even during that game and after that game. Maybe during it we were like, “Man, this really sucks” but afterwards I think I even remember Bree saying to Michelle Smith and Pam Ward (who were here broadcasting our regional) – she was like, “Hey, be ready for a long day tomorrow because we are playing two games and we are going to Oklahoma City.” Just to hear a senior who has been here for so long and has put a lot into the program say that you’re like, “Alright, everyone on the field with me wants this just as bad as I do and we are not going home without going to the World Series. It’s going to happen.”
No one had the fear that “Oh man, we lost so bad in game one we can’t beat them.” We didn’t think that at all. We were like, “Alright we can do this.”
Cain: So you’re the starting pitcher in game one. I don’t know how long you pitched in that game.
Waldrop: I think it may have been three innings. It wasn’t very long.
Cain: Probably your shortest outing of the year and on the biggest stage, in the Super Regional. Then you come back the next day and pitch both games.
Cain: Beat Michigan twice to go to the College World Series. So for the pitchers listening to this and the athletes listening to this, take us through that you have to get off the canvas and you have to go back out there and play for your teammates. It’s on national TV. You have the worst game of your season, maybe your career, and you’ve got to come back and play the two biggest games of your life to go to the College World Series. How do you (1) flush that first game, and (2) come back with a renewed focus for the next day?
Waldrop: It definitely took a little bit of time. Thankfully, we had that night to kind of get over it. We were coming back tomorrow to play the next two games.
Something Coach Alameda texted me that night after it happened was something that really spoke to me. She was like, “Lacey, I need you to do something for me. I need you to look at yourself in the mirror and see what I see. See this great pitcher who has taken us to this spot that we are in right now and see all of the things that you have done and just know how good you are and know that you’re going to be the one in the circle taking us to the World Series tomorrow.”
That spoke to me. I was like, “Alright, my coach believes in me. There is no way I can’t believe in myself right now because she is putting the trust in me to help take us to that next level no matter what just happened yesterday.” So just knowing I had that trust from my Coach and (again) my teammates that knew we were not going to lose either just allowed me to be able to refocus for the next day and just go out there with a new mentality.
I had seen their batters at that point so even though they had hit really well off of me, I knew what pitches they hit well. I knew that I needed to change it up a little more. I don’t know if I’ve ever thrown that many changeups in a game. The next day we threw so many changeups to keep them off balance. You change the game plan up after you play a team one time and didn’t have success. That is what we did and we went out there with a “we’re going to kick butt” mentality and we did it.
Cain: An exact living proof of what we talked about with the winners and learners mentality. You go out there in game one, don’t perform the way you want to, learn from it, make adjustments, come back, and punch your ticket to go to the college World Series.
Lacey, thank you so much for joining us here. For the people that are following, I know you are a fan of Lacey Waldrop. If you want to follow her, her Twitter handle is @LWaldrop_13. Same for Instagram. If you want to follow up with a question for Lacey directly, you want to have her come speak at your school, if you’re a high school principal or teacher and you want to bring in an athlete to speak to your student body about success (phenomenal message coming out of Lacey) her e-mail directly is [email protected]
Thank you for following. Lacey, thanks for coming on. You’re the best. Dominate the Day.