Feb 24, 2022

How do players get a 2nd chance?
Why is developing the “middle 6” the key to winning? Christiana & Samantha’s journey to the WCWS.

As the baseball/softball seasons are underway, it is important that players, parents and coaches understand that it takes more than “talent alone”; hopefully coaches are willing to give players who have “disappointed” in the past a SECOND CHANCE if they heed the suggestions herein; and it’s the “MIDDLE 6” of your line-up and roster that will make the difference between winning and losing.

GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT of your players and student/athletes are the true measures of whether you have a WINNING ORGANIZATION!


Christiana Hamilton (on the left, pitching) and Samantha Walsh (on the right, hitting) each played pivotal roles in leading the Cajuns to the 2014 Women’s College World Series (WCWS). There were many similarities in each of their paths – from high school, to REDSHIRTING, to “rocky” performances early on in softball and in the classroom, to both blossoming at the precise, right moment.

It made me wonder: what “clicked” and how their journeys could help others chase their dreams and achieve their goals? What were some of the common characteristics of each of their journeys that I could share with others to assist them in navigating from high school to college, and getting a 2nd chance (mulligan) when needed?

Both Christiana and Samantha have similar high school experiences:

  1. Both went to small town high schools, Christiana to Rosepine H.S. near Leesville, LA & Samantha to Ingleside near Corpus Christi, TX.
  2. Both were four year starters and the best players on very accomplished teams.

Both Christiana and Samantha REDSHIRTED the 2012 season.

Both struggled during the 2013 season.

Both had “magical”, comeback seasons and moments in 2014.

Christiana REDSHIRTED the 2012 season rehabbing from an ACL injury; in 2013, she only appeared in 16 games with a 3.60 ERA and only 32 strike-outs. Compare that to her COMEBACK/TRANSFORMATION in 2014: 41 appearances, 1.56 ERA and 187 strike-outs.
Samantha too REDSHIRTED the 2012 season; in 2013, her Batting AVG was .244. About halfway through the 2014 season, something clicked and it carried over into her 2015 numbers/hitting statistics.

In high school, they were both extremely talented who did it all; in high school, Christina was the star pitcher but also had a .510 batting average with 12 home runs and lead her team to a district championship as a freshman. Samantha played both basketball and softball and also lead her team to multiple district championships.


Once in college, it required more work and more perseverance than ever before AND WITHOUT INSTANT SUCCESS. The talent and desire to compete and win was still there — it just took a new mindset and a new plan to nurture & develop that neither had been exposed to before.

The clip from Miracle (Coach Herb Brooks) reminds us that if you rely solely on your talent, you will often fail because talent only gets you so far. Learning a new pitch like a change-up or getting tighter spin or getting better at commanding your locations takes more than talent. It takes practice and preparation and attention to detail.

Coach Brooks also understood that dwelling on pedigree or past championships that got you to your present opportunity would not be enough if you are not willing to push and work with devotion and discipline to achieve something “bigger” — the next championship.


Take the typical top 10/12 players (or starting line-up) at many mid-major softball programs—

  • the top 2 will be super motivated/star players and usually be low maintenance and follow the protocols without lots of supervision.
  • The next 4, with the right motivation and direction, will learn with time and grow with experience and perform up to their potential with strict protocols and direct oversight and supervision.
  • The next 2-3 are marginal — with constant attention and constant prodding and lots of continuous pep talks and motivating, they will contribute sporadically and will accomplish something of value occasionally, especially if they “feel like it”.
  • And the last 2-3 are wasting everybody’s time.

Focusing on the middle 6-7 who most “need” the oversight and direction and counseling is critical. Christiana and Samantha were in that middle 6. They certainly had the talent & ability and the competitive instincts. We worked hard on their willingness to learn our protocols then retain and apply those skills and mechanics —and we simulated scenarios over and over again that required them to be able to work and perform under stress & pressure with their teammates.

The difference between winning and losing in post-season can be directly linked to those middle 6. Any coach can win with the 12 super stars; but a team with only one or two stars NEEDS those middle 6 to blossom AT THE RIGHT TIME, and that only happens with attention to detail, in the development and orchestration of their skills and in the way you prepare their minds to compete.

Some coaches rely on relatively simplistic plans and when the plan doesn’t work, they say “the players are not tough enough”. We were way beyond that mindset of failure then finger-pointing.

The responsibility for success with “US” starts with DEVELOPING A DETAILED PLAN OF HOW TO WIN then extremely preparing our players to execute it by creating a format and environment to teach the players the necessary skills. Our practice and game plans required a mental commitment and focused concentration on precise and structured techniques to help our players perform and carry out their assignments on game day.

Every regular weekend series was just dress rehearsal for NCAA REGIONALS, SUPER REGIONALS & the WCWS. After every regular weekend series, we would assess our development and modify the plans and get back to work.


The real task of a leader is to help people through the troubled times when they are struggling and to provide them with HOPE and a clear path/vision/plan to solutions. It’s not to finger-point and tell them “you are not tough enough” or make them run sprints or put them on the bench.

When you recruit and sign players with great physical talent but not a lot of background in training and competing in a sophisticated system, and they do not adapt well and get frustrated and lose enthusiasm — instead of giving up on them, and doing “that finger-pointing stuff”, allow them time to mature and grow into a higher level of competition with your oversight, direction and detailed plans.

Keep investing, personally nurturing, and influencing their development as they transition from high school super star to learning the role their new team needs them to play. Coaching is the ability to condition the athlete’s mind and to train them to think as a unit/team with total concentration, intensity & skill.

IT’S ABOUT DEVELOPING PEOPLE — not discarding them or finger-pointing.


Simply discarding people because they don’t FIT a predefined, specific MOLD or you don’t like their personality/opinions nor their ideas & mannerisms, or because they make others feel uncomfortable is an ADMISSION THAT YOU CANNOT LEAD.

IT SENDS A CLEAR MESSAGE telling others that YOU ARE INCAPABLE OF DEVELOPING and helping people “IN THAT MIDDLE 6” in your organization to learn and grow and get better.


The MOMENT I think it “clicked” for both Christiana and Samantha was on Saturday, March 15, 2014, when we swept Oklahoma, the defending National Champions, in a double header. Christina pitched both games limiting Oklahoma to just 5 hits in 14 innings. And Samantha played her best, most complete softball (offensively and with some incredible plays defensively). Read the full recap here.



I text them both separately for this article and 7 years later looking back, I asked each of them simply, “WHAT CLICKED”? Remarkable how similar their answers are:

Christiana’s text on the left and Samantha’s on the right.


We all need 2nd chances. For any players looking for a reboot, here is a list of 15 ideas to consider:

  • Let go of the past, live in the present (RIGHT NOW). We hear it in your vocabulary. Use the PRESENT TENSE.
  • Every experience in life is a learning opportunity, a unique experience. Articulate to your coach what lessons you have learned.
  • LOSE THE NEGATIVE ATTITUDE and use the power of positive thinking. Tigger or Eeyore?
  • What’s your WHY? Write it down. Share it with your teammates and Coaches.
  • Accept accountability & responsibility for your current situation —OWN IT.
  • No finger-pointing and whining and blaming.
  • Get GRITTIER (read the article on GRIT in Coach’s Corner).
  • Control the controllable. Focus on the things you can change.
  • Let’s hear your detailed plan of action to get better. Be specific.
  • Create/write down and present a daily routine. Start by making your bed every morning and rewatch the video in Coach’s Corner of Admiral McRaven.
  • Demonstrate your ability to CONCENTRATE ON DOING.
  • FOCUS on the attention to every detail of your task and get rid of all of the distractions (the joy of LESS).
  • Act with integrity; do what you say you are going to do; honor your commitments. Keep doing what you know is right.
  • Work with DEVOTION & DISCIPLINE (reread past article on this topic in Coach’s Corner).
  • Show gratitude (reread 5 components of GRATITUDE in Coach’s Corner).

Everyone deserves a 2nd chance especially if they demonstrate that they have learned and grown from their past experiences AND that they are committed to a GROWTH MINDSET and being an eternal learner.


About the Author

Mike Lotief coached 17 successful years as either the head softball coach or co-head softball coach with his wife Stefni Whitton Lotief at the University of Louisiana from 2002-2017 with an overall coaching record of 731-176 (80.6 winning percentage). Every season, the Ragin Cajuns softball team advanced to the NCAA tournament and also advanced to three (3) Women’s College World Series (2003, 2008, 2014) and from 2012-2016 advanced to five (5) straight NCAA Super Regionals. Coach Lotief produced over 40 All American selections and his 2017 team lead the nation in scoring and was ranked in the Top 10 in home runs, slugging percentage, on base percentage.

The coach is a cancer survivor (twice) and was the first person in the U.S. to receive the Pro Trach device. Mike and Stefni spearheaded and raised the funding to build the new softball stadium in 2009 and the new softball indoor hitting facility in 2015. They are proud parents to Chelsea, who played softball and graduated from the Univ. of Louisiana in 2018, and Andrew, who is a junior at Louisiana studying Mechanical Engineering.

Previous Articles in this Series
More About Mike Lotief