Danielle Lawrie Talks Preseason Training
With youth softball players soon returning to fields across the country, we thought it a good time to check in with our favorite expert, Danielle Lawrie, a former two-time national college player of the year at the University of Washington, to get her advice for young players preparing for the season.
We reached her between snow storms, at her home outside Boston, where she’s been living with her husband, Drew, and their 1-year-old daughter, Madison. During a wide-ranging, 30-minute conversation, she shared her thoughts on specialization, sport-specific training, cold-weather play, nutrition, and more.
Q: Let’s talk about younger players, those 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds who are starting to get serious about softball. What would you tell them about off-season training? How did you prepare when you were that age?
A: Honestly, at that age, I just played different sports. I also did a lot of stuff with my dad and my brother (Oakland A’s infielder Brett Lawrie). We trained together, but it was never regimented. Playing different sports allowed me to feel fit throughout the year. I was in great shape for softball season because I’d been playing basketball all winter, and I was in shape for basketball because I’d been playing soccer in the fall.
Q: A lot of kids feel pressure to specialize at an early age, to pick one sport to play year-round. How do you feel about that message and what would you say to coaches or parents who might be encouraging that behavior?
A: I think it’s stupid. Sorry, but that’s an honest answer. One of the worst things you could tell a 10-year-old athlete is that she has to play one sport. Nobody really knows until they get to college how hard it truly is to play a sport and do only that 24/7. To tell a kid who is 9, 10, 11 years old that this is all you can do, by the time they get to be 16 or 17, they’ll be burned out because it becomes a job. For me, I used basketball as an outlet. I used soccer as an outlet. I used those other sports to take my mind off how much pressure I was putting on myself in the game of softball.
Q: What sports did you play growing up?
A: I started out playing soccer. Then my parents got me into Tee-ball for a little bit. After that, I started taking on more track and field as opportunities came about in school. I also played high-level basketball from the time I was in sixth grade. I even ran cross country a little bit in high school. That was the worst. I hated it. But, as an athlete, it’s great to test your mind in all those different areas. For me, running cross country or running the 400 meters in track were the most mental races I’ve done in my life. So there are experiences you get by playing different sports that help build your overall confidence and mental toughness in a way you couldn’t if you just focused on softball.
Q: Sounds like your daughter, Madison, will be trying lots of sports?
A: Totally. I’ve heard people say that it’s so competitive nowadays with college softball, you have to specialize. But my opinion is the best rise no matter what they play; you know raw talent when you see it. I want my daughter to be able to play all different sports, have different friendships, build different relationships, understand her body in all these different ways of competition. It’s actually pretty sad that people take that away from their kids. I would have quit (softball) if that were the case back in the day for me.
Q: What exercises did you do to get ready for the softball season?
A: I never picked up a weight until I got to high school. I started when our basketball team would use P.E. class to lift weights as a team. It was supervised lifting and we had specific exercises — a lot of squats, lunges and body-weight lifts. Lots of core work, which I think is always good and helped out big-time with softball.
Q: Did you prefer working out by yourself or in groups?
A: I think it’s always better to have someone to train with, whether that’s your parents helping you, a sibling, a teammate — anybody who can hold you accountable. I’ve seen a lot of young girls getting trainers if they aren’t softball-specific, which I think is a great idea. Or some facilities have training sessions where they can do groups of softball players, baseball players, things like that. It’s always a good idea to work out with others if you can.
Q: What do young players not do enough of in the off-season?
A: Conditioning and core work. I don’t think a lot of people understand how important it is for athletes to have good core strength. Also, nutrition. A lot of parents aren’t on their kids about what they’re eating, or showing them proper ways to eat, and that’s sad. I think visiting with a nutritionist – just so you can get a grasp of what’s going to fuel your body to perform the best – is a good idea.
Q: How did you like to condition? What was the best way for you to get into softball shape?
A: Running sprints or foul poles. For me, it was a lot of running poles for time — getting my heart rate up, coming back, getting a minute to rest and bring my heart rate back down, then doing that over and over again. I’d finish with some core work. I did a lot of that at the UW on my own after I pitched.
Q: You grew up in British Columbia, Canada, and played your college ball in Seattle. I have to imagine you’ve played in some pretty bad weather, especially early in the season. Any tips?
A: Sounds simple, but make sure your body is warm. It’s super important to get a really great warm-up, especially if you’re pitching. A lot of people think they’re too tough, that they don’t need to wear sleeves or don’t need to layer their clothes when it’s cold. Don’t be an idiot. Keep your arm warm. Wear sweat pants. Wear a sweatshirt if it’s cold. Because one wrong thing happens to your body, or you tweak a muscle, and that could be a couple months off your season. A lot of times, if it was really cold, I would even jog to the fence and back during an inning just to keep my legs warm.
Q: We get a lot of rain early in the year in Washington. What about playing in wet weather? How did you handle that?
A: I used rosin all the time. Pitching in the rain stinks, and there’s not a lot you can do when your hands are wet. Sometimes, I would hang a towel from my back pocket – dangle it – so I could dry my hand off between pitches. Or I would keep my pitching hand in my glove where it was covered.
Q: What are some of the other resources, in addition to school, gyms and private training, you’d suggest young athletes consider?
A: Workout-wise, stuff I love are like the Shaun T workouts, like Focus T25 or Insanity Max:30. Those are all great workouts for softball players. Also, there’s a Washington-based company called FitnessBlender. They’re on YouTube and they put out all these workouts that are good. You can do those sorts of home training videos that don’t involve weights if you don’t have the luxury to go get trained.
We’ll have more from Danielle as the season progresses. If there’s a topic you’d like to see covered, or if you have specific questions you’d like her to address, let us know in the comments and we’ll make sure to incorporate those into future Q&As. In the meantime, you can follow Danielle on Twitter (@DanielleLawrie5) or check us out on Facebook.by