It's about love -- always and everywhere

Casey Stangel is a junior pitcher at Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) who also plays for the SoCal Explosion. Her high school team won the Class 5A state softball championship last season and she has committed to play college softball at the University of Missouri. She will blog for ESPNHS throughout the 2012 season.

Compete: verb--to strive to outdo another for acknowledgment, a prize, supremacy, profit, etc.

Hours before a game, up until the second I put on my cleats, you can find me with my headphones in, mentally preparing. The second I step on the dirt, it is a battle, and I am ready to compete. When you look at the definition of the word “compete,” what do you see? What it means to me is that you are trying to outdo someone else for something. An acknowledgement, a prize of some sort, basically a benefit or reward for your accomplishment.

I am always trying to outdo my opponent and win the battle, but as a player in exposure tournaments every weekend, it can sometimes become challenging. The reason is because exposure tournaments are designed for one reason, and that is to get players scouted by colleges. You go into that setting knowing what games you’re playing, and there is no “prize” for winning. You are just out there showing off your abilities to college coaches, and at the end of the day it technically doesn’t matter if you win or lose because there isn’t anyone looking at your record or giving you a trophy.

So how do you keep that competitive state of mind? How do you stay hungry to win even though you are not being acknowledged for your achievements?

That’s when it gets personal, and you have to find that inner competitor in yourself. You have to challenge yourself so that you constantly want to beat your opponent.

I felt for a while that these tournaments killed the competitive part of softball, and almost made it selfish. When you mess up you are not upset because someone scored on you, but rather because it made you look bad in front of a coach. And we are all guilty of it. We all at some point lose the competing side of it, because there is a lot of pressure to perform in front of those college coaches.

It is hard to tell someone to be more competitive because the competitive spirit is a fire inside of you that only you can ignite. That being said, the best advice I could give someone is to remember why you play the game. Don’t play to look good in front of a coach, or to make someone else happy; play the game because you love it.

I love that feeling when solid contact is made and I get a line-drive double to score a run. That pop of the glove when I throw the third strike and beat the batter. When I have a backhand in the hole and make a perfect throw to first. Or when I lay out and make that diving catch in the outfield. Whatever give you that feeling, that’s why you should play. That’s where my competitive edge comes from: the simple love of the game.

When you have a love, a passion, for something, you want to be the best at it. To be the best, you have to compete and beat out your opponent. When you go out and play simply because you love to play, and when you compete you do your best, you will feel that reward inside. You will know that you outdid the other team and you came out on top, and that is the “prize” that we are all truly looking for.

Read the previous installment of Casey's blog – on setting goals – here.