Playing outside your comfort zone pays off

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.

The sun is finally coming out and the snow has melted off the field -- it’s that time of year again. The second that school bell rings, it's time to ball. With only days remaining until the season starts, I am trying to keep my cool on the outside, but inside I’m bursting at every seam with excitement to get out on the field with my team.

My team has been doing open gym for a couple months indoors, and the only thing on my mind is dirt. The weather here doesn't allow us to practice outside. But with the season right around the corner, our anticipation is rising and our workouts are becoming more intense. My school and our community are very supportive of our team, so I feel pride representing LCHS. Having that kind of fan base makes us feel pretty big-league!

Growing up I lived in what could be called a softball “hotbed" -- Northern California, which is a great place to play as far as college recruiting goes. I was near many top college campuses, as well as some of the top tournaments.

But what if you don’t live in a place that isn't convenient for coaches to come see you play? I moved to Idaho in the sixth grade. When I was younger and wasn't yet focused on playing in college, I just played on a local team with all my friends. I was just playing for the thrill of it back then, but eventually I realized I wanted more. I wanted to be seen by all the best college programs and coaches, so I knew that I would have to leave Coeur d' Alene, and play somewhere where I'd get more exposure.

Get out of your comfort zone

It's hard to leave your comfort zone (your friends, coaches, home playing field, etc.), but I believe it's one of the most important things an athlete can do. When you get to college, you’re in a new place, playing with new teammates and learning a new coach’s style. Learning to perform under uncomfortable conditions teaches you the ability to play your own game and to work well as a teammate. Now, I'm not saying you should switch teams every year, because loyalty to your team is a huge thing. But, if you get to the point where you are no longer being challenged as a player, and you feel too comfortable, it might be time for a change. As an athlete you should always be looking for a challenge.

Seek that spotlight

I knew most college coaches wouldn’t be coming to Coeur d’Alene (population: 33,000) to watch my games. Idaho softball just isn't on the the map yet. So I chose to leave and go play in California, where I could be exposed to college coaches. It was a huge sacrifice for my family to make, but it was completely worth it. I encourage everyone who wants to play college softball to look at their playing situation and ask yourself the following questions:

Am I playing on a team going to the top exposure tournaments?

Am I in a place where I am being exposed to a variety of college coaches?

Each player has different goals. Some just dream of playing college softball, while others dream of playing at the College World Series in Oklahoma City. My goal is to make it to Oklahoma City, so playing in an environment that is high-paced and highly scouted is key for me. If you want to hold that trophy over your head it’s time to analyze your situation and really ask yourself if you’re in the right place to be seen and be scouted. If your team is playing in the local tournament in Tempe, Ariz., then hopefully Coach Meyer from ASU and maybe Coach Candrea from University of Arizona will come. But what if you want to play for Coach Walton at Florida? Or Coach White at Oregon? Then what? That is when you need to start looking at a team that is competing in larger-exposure, national tournaments.

Being on the right team and competing in major tournaments is just one step in the recruiting process. Next week, I'll go into detail about how and when I began contacting college coaches.