February is one of the toughest times of year for me. Why? Because February is right in the heart of my offseason; I'm six months removed from my last game and still a long way out from my next one. Offseasons are tough because you are never really "off," and yet there is a need (at least for me) for some sort of mental break.
One of the biggest challenges of my sport, softball, and the more intense workouts that go along with it, is not the physical strain, but the mental. I feel the older I have gotten, I have needed to rely on my "mental toughness" more than anything else. And as a result, my brain is what needs the real break in the offseason. So around the holidays I work out, but I stay away from anything softball-related. Then January comes ... and I always get this feeling of dread. It's like the feeling you get when you walk into a final exam and you know you didn't study enough (not that this ever happened, but I'm just sayin').
The first few workouts back are always the toughest because I set high expectations, and it is almost impossible to be where I was, physically, when my season ended last August. So how do you get motivated to climb a mountain that looks like Everest when you are standing at the bottom? And just as importantly, how do you stay motivated throughout the climb? Well, I wish I could say I have finally figured out all the answers, but I haven't. What I can do is tell you how I, as a professional athlete, am trying to stay fit through a long winter away from competition.
What helps me the most during the offseason is cross-training. I definitely do some softball-specific workouts, but I try to do other sports, too, to mix it up. For example, I try almost every class that looks cool at my local gym. This week I went for spin class (wow, that kicked my butt) and water polo (so fun, even though I am horrible). Both of these were awesome cardio and strength challenges, but because it was so new and fun, I didn't even dwell on the burn of my muscles, or the monotony of the workout. Next week I am going for a master's swim class (who knows) and something called ... Zumba? No clue what that will be, but this Mexican girl loves the idea of some Latin music mixed with a workout.
I also try to get up to the mountains for one of my favorite hobbies, snowboarding. The point is, mix it up. The offseason is about staying in shape, not about being game ready. I can still incorporate more softball-specific movements and training as I get closer to the summer, but right now it is usually 80/20 -- 80 percent cross-training and experimental workouts, 20 percent softball. With each month, I will kick up the latter until it's an 80/20 split the other way by the summer. (Our first series for National Pro Fastpitch is in Chicago, Ill., from June 9-12 -- right after the women's College World Series!)
Every year I find something new from another sport that I can incorporate into my softball-related workouts or recovery. This cross-training strategy keeps me sane. And it keeps my options open if I want to make the Olympics in another sport one day ... especially if Zumba gets in.