LSU Softball head coach Beth Torina has led the Tigers to Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series in three of her first five seasons and has quickly become one of the game’s most respected coaches. In this podcast she shares how TIGERS is an acronym for their championship culture and how they build an elite mindset in their players to give them the best chance for success. She also shares part of her routine for being at her best on game day as a head coach.
You can engage with Brian Cain (@BrianCainPeak) and Beth Torina on Twitter @BethTorina and LSU Softball @LSUSoftball.
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Cain: Hey how are you doing? Brian Cain your Peak Performance Coach here with the Peak Performance Podcast. We’ve got LSU head softball coach, Beth Torina, fresh off back-to-back Women’s College World Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Beth, thank you so much for taking time to join us here on the podcast.
Torina: Thanks. I’m happy to be with you guys.
Cain: If you would could you talk to us a little bit about at LSU you guys are the Tigers and in your softball programs “Tigers” is really the acronym that you use for the core principles of your program. Would you talk about Tigers and how you use that with your softball team.
Torina: We had this genius mental conditioning coach that directed us to having this Tigers standard. Is that what you want me to say?
Cain: No I want you to talk about how you use it.
Torina: Tigers – trust, integrity, grit, energy, relentless, selfless. I think the coolest thing about it is that all of our players could tell you that instantly which is something that we were missing before. Now they understand the standards. They can define the standards. I think that’s step one to being able to do anything is having a good understanding of it, knowing it, being able to define it. You can’t live it every day if you don’t have a clear picture of what it is so I think that has been huge for us.
Cain: Excellent. Beth, what is the mental game to you as a head coach in the SEC in one of the top programs in the country.
Torina: Well I think if you look at the season my team just had everybody had written us off somewhere midway through the year. We played five of (to me) the toughest people in our conference, the toughest people in the country right in a row. Two pitching staffs with ERAs right around one. So we had six games, virtually back-to-back weeks, with two pitching staffs with ERAs around one so our kids were just absolutely beat down. I mean going up to the plate and failing or having to compete against that time and time again was a huge toll on our kids’ mentality.
I think a lot of the reason why people had written us off was because of our mentality at that point. I don’t know if we put enough credit into what these kids have to go through to play day in and day out against the best of the best. I think we had to climb out of that hole not as a fundamental team but mentally as a program. I think once we did that and got confidence at, you saw where we ended up.
Cain: How did you do that? What did you do as a head coach to help them get that confidence back and crawl out of that hole and finish as strong as you did?
Torina: Well we went back and looked at some things and I think we got a little bit caught up in worrying too much about what everyone was going to do to us instead of what we were going to do to them. I think we tried to play – we always talk about our strengths first but I think we were so worried about how are we going to beat this pitching staff, how are we going to do that, that we missed the point of “let’s play LSU softball.”
For example in EP we would hit three rounds of what we thought we were going to get from the other pitcher. Well we went back and we said “you know what, let’s make sure that every day we’re hitting around with just fast balls and letting our kids just come out of their shoes.” Let’s make sure that we haven’t forgotten how to put a ball under the fence or how to square something up, what that feels like, because we’re challenging them so much to like “oh let’s make sure we can hit that drop ball on the outside corner this kid is going to hammer us with or the change up.” Instead let’s also remember what it feels like to square something up. I think we kind of got lost and forgot that.
So we added that back in and made sure we were doing things every day that they were confident about, things that were feel-good things. We don’t always have to give them the hardest drill in our repertoire. Sometimes we give them a drill they’re really good at and let them feel good about it. So we made some changes there and I think it really helped.
Cain: Love it. One of the things I’ve seen you do – and I don’t know if you’re even conscious that you do it, I think we’ve talked about it a little bit – is in the third base coaching box during the SEC pyramid they panned on you and there was a lot of good deep breaths each pitch. Is that something that you’re intentionally doing as part of your routine to keep yourself in the moment and in control?
Torina: I thought you were just making fun of me with that.
Cain: No I was awesome. I thought it was awesome. I’m going to start teaching that. You’re going to be the model for all head coaches to follow.
Torina: I can tell you one thing I do as a head coach is I try and stay as consistent as possible. I try to not ever get too high or too low. A lot of people will ask me all the time “you’re never smiling over there, you’re not doing anything.” Well I try not to react to things. If I’m not going to react when we’re up 10 I’m not going to react when we’re down 10. I think our kids just always know what they’re getting from me. That’s something that is really important to me.
I think I see it all the time that a coach is arguing so hard about the pitch before not being a strike or not being strike three that they forgot to focus on the pitch that is coming and now we give up a homerun. We just argued it should have been strike three and we’ve now given up a homerun on the next pitch because we’re so focused on the pitch before.
I really try and just be present. I try and say the same – I tell myself in my heart before every game that I can be full of emotion but act emotionless. That is one of my things that I try and tell myself all the time is that I can act emotion-free. I can be passionate and I can have a lot of emotion but my actions have to be free of emotion and more intelligent instead of knee jerk and reactive.
Cain: Love that. Full of emotion but act emotion-free. That is fantastic. Last question I have and then we’ll open it up to the crew here. Beth, you’ve worked in college softball now a number of years and had a chance to work with and be around a lot of mental game sports psychology coaches. Some of the coaches that are with us here this weekend are trying to decide “do I want to be a baseball or softball coach or do I want to go be a sports psychology coach.” What advice would you give to somebody kind of just getting started in the field of the mental game to help them connect with and serve a coach like yourself who is a head coach in the SEC?
Torina: Well we’ve been around some different people and I think one thing that’s really cool that you do, Brian, is that you really know our kids and you know their names and you take the time to learn about it. I think while you probably give a lot of the same advice to different programs around the country you really make it specific to our kids and you understand them. I think that is a huge key in making them buy in.
They’re probably not going to buy in to somebody that just says blanket hitting but they might buy into it and say “Bianca, I really saw you doing this and I think this is going to really work for you.” I think they are going to understand that a lot more and buy into it if you know something about them.
Every time you’ve come and visited us (or even if you’re on Skype) the first thing you do is know the kids’ names. The first thing (even if you’re on Skype) you’ll recognize “hey I see you in the front row there, Landry, what are you doing.” I think you do a good job of making the kids buy in. It’s great to have all the information. It’s worthless if your kids don’t find it valuable.
Cain: Awesome. Fantastic. Thanks Beth. Let’s open up to your questions you’ve guys have got for Beth Torina who, by the way, does have a French Bulldog.
Torina: Yes I do.
Cain: His name is Rosen which is fantastic.
Audience: You were talking about keeping your emotions kind of even. Do you have a preference of your players? Like whether they are up and down? Is it individual or is it something you like to keep consistent through the whole thing?
Torina: I tell them the same thing. They’re allowed to be a lot more emotional than me. I like our players to be individuals. I think their own personality needs to come out. I think that is a big part of the fun of being on a team is having a whole bunch of different personalities working towards one goal. So I encourage individuality within the team concept.
But I think whatever they’re going to be – so if they’re the cheerleader, if they are the top step and they are the one that is leading the Tigers cheer, they are doing it whether we are up 10, down 10, whether they just struck out or made an error whatever it is, if that’s them then that’s them. If they are the person that is more focused, more intense, then no matter what happens – we’re the last pitch to go to the College World Series – you are still the one that is intense and focused. You can’t suddenly become the cheerleader. So you just have to be who you are.
I think all of them bring something great to us. We don’t need everyone to be a cheerleader. We don’t need everyone to be quiet. I think you’ve got to just groom your individuals. I think consistency is huge.
Cain: Awesome. Another question.
Audience: You talked about Tigers – trust, integrity, grit, energy – can you go through all those?
Cain: I got them. I’ve got to have those. I can show them to you. I’ll give them the resources and stuff.
Cain: Is there anything else you wanted to ask more specifically about how she uses them maybe?
Torina: I’ll tell you one cool thing we do with them is every day we nominate a player of the day after practice. They have to nominate them according to a Tigers trait. They can’t just say like “Cindy pitched really good today and I like her headband.” They have to be able to say like “I trusted that Cindy was going to make pitches today because she’s worked hard” or “I know that Connie struck out in the first inning was it was really gritty for her to come back and get the game winning hit, she has been relentless.” So they have to use the Tigers traits in their speech. They can’t just say it. So that is something where we’re reminding them daily to live it and use it is in that.
Cain: Beth, one of the things that I think you are one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around at doing this is creating a motto for the year whether it’s take the next step or whether you had the Top Gun planes or the one penny. Would you talk about some of the mottos that you’ve used for those individual years and kind of your process for coming up with those?
Torina: Kind of like your total immersion we kind of total immersion our staff and come up with the things that we think our team is going to need for the year. We really just sit around and say “what are we trying to get out of this group, what do we think are red flags, what are things that we’re trying to ensure don’t happen and what are the things that we think we’re missing?” So we’re third twice. I know this is just conversational. We’ll be like “we’ve got to win another game, we just need to win one more game to get in the championship series and see what happens.” I think our question will be amongst ourselves of what do we have to do to bridge that gap to win one more game. I think we sit a lot and talk about the things that our team needs.
We’ve had some really cool ones. I think everybody’s favorite has been the power of one. The player of the day got a penny and they would bank them in a bank on the wall that slowly builds up the power of one. It was cool because it was power of one, one team coming together as one unit, but it was also like how small is this one little this, this one detail that you can do, this one penny, yet it adds up to this big huge season where you’re finishing in the College World Series.
We did whatever it takes one year and it was all about having the it factor. That was our first year at LSU. I love this one too. Every day there was a word and it had an “it” in it like “commitment” or “attitude.” Something like that. The kids also identified their own personal it. Like what is it for you that makes you tick. “I’m going to crush it, I’m going to live it, I’m going to earn it,” whatever it might be. That was one of my favorite ones just about the it factor.
I have some genius assistants that make the coolest stuff. This year they got puzzle pieces for the player of the day and the puzzle piece had all these people that had the it factor in their life – Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, people that you would think like they just had it when you watched them play and watched them do it. They had it. So just trying to teach our kids about having that it factor. That was one of my favorites to do.
Cain: Awesome. Beth, fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time, energy, and attention. I’ve got to ask this question as I do since this is a podcast, as I ask for all of our guests, the last question. What do you know now that if you could go back and talk to the 21-22 year old, young, just getting started coaching, Beth Torina, what do you know now you wish you knew then?
Torina: I think staying true to yourself. There is no point at it’s bigger than the game. There no point at let’s figure out what you do well. I think just staying true to yourself, doing what you do well no matter who you are up against or who you are facing. I think I’m hit in the face with that lesson every single year all over again. Just staying true to what you do well. It’s the same game. They don’t change the length of the bases or any of that stuff since I’ve been around it. So just keep being true to yourself.
Cain: Awesome. Beth, thanks so much for taking the time, the energy, and the attention out of your busy schedule here. Scratch Rosen on the back for me and Dominate your Day. Thank you so much.
Cain: Alright we’ll see you.