PSU Softball Book Club

From front: Penn State softball pitchers Ashton Mensinger (12), Madison Shaffer (6), Madey Smith (18), and Jessica Cummings (1) pose with their books in the Softball Building on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

Everyone on the softball team knows that assistant coach Sarah Sigrest loves reading. So no one — least of all the pitchers, who also like to read — was surprised to receive books from Sigrest at the final fall workout session.

Sigrest, they said, took the time to pick out books that would resonate with them, both individually and together.

And now those books are having an impact.

For pitcher Madey Smith, who had recently recovered from an injury over the summer, Ben Bergeron’s “Chasing Excellence: A Story About Building the World’s Finest Athletes” helped her to look differently at life’s circumstances.

“I finished it when I was home over winter break and I really enjoyed everything it contributed. This book was very motivating,” Smith said. “Basically one of the things [Bergeron] talks about is grit and how everyone needs to have grit in order to be great.”

Like Sigrest, Smith said she also enjoys watching and reading motivational materials. Smith said she’s gotten a little more into reading thanks to Sigrest, and is looking forward to reading a similar book after finishing Tim Grover’s book “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable.”

Sarah Sigrest portrait 2

Assistant softball coach Sarah Sigrest reads one of the books on the bookshelf in her office in the softball building on Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017.

Similarly, fellow pitcher Madison Shaffer said she read Jen Cincero’s “You Are a Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life” in a day and a half, despite having never really read a motivational book before.

“I was a little – not skeptical of them – but I’d never read a book like this,” Shaffer said. “And then coach [Sigrest] gave them to us right before Christmas break and she picked them out specifically based on where she thought they would help us the most.”

Sigrest, Shaffer said, “knows all of us super well. For me, I get in my head a lot, so I need to know that you’re not going to be perfect one hundred percent of the time and it’s okay, it’s like ‘What do you learn through your mistakes of trusting through the process to get you where you need to be?’”

Just as Sigrest had hoped, Shaffer quickly found personal connections with Cincero’s book.

“I like this book because there’s like a whole chapter dedicated to talking about your personal faith. So it was called ‘The G Word,’ and I try to like, live my life through my religion, that’s something that’s very important to me,” Shaffer said.

The book, Shaffer added, talked “about ways to be a better person, trusting in someone [and] trusting in yourself while also trusting in something greater than yourself.”

Shaffer now wants to continue reading similar books, too — particularly if her teammates have enjoyed them.

“I want to read ‘Relentless’ next cause I’ve heard a lot of good things about that book,” Shaffer said.

After her introduction to motivational literature, Shaffer has a theory.

“I think that different books, they give you different ideas about different mindsets that you can have. Like with this book, it was, ‘You have to trust the process [and realize] a city wasn’t built overnight.’ I hate that analogy, but truly….I responded with it,” Shaffer said.

According to Timothy Morris, an English professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and part of the Sports Literature Association at UTA, an organization which studies sport in literature and culture, books can have a connective comforting impact.

“Books provide athletes what they provide any reader, I think,” Morris said via email. “They give a sense that we're not alone, that others have faced the same problems and challenges. They open up sympathy to the experience of others.”

PSU Softball Book Club

From left: Penn State softball pitchers Madey Smith (18), Jessica Cummings (1), Madison Shaffer (6), and Ashton Mensinger (12) pose with their books in the Softball Building on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

For walk-on Ashton Mensinger, “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown, showed her that there’s a difference between vulnerability and shame.

“So, vulnerability is really being able to go out there and express all your feelings and not block anything out, and understanding that what you have now is always enough, and it’s building off of [what you have now] and moving forward and use that to your advantage,” Mensinger said.

The team, according to Mensinger, has talked a lot about the potential benefits of vulnerability.

Mensinger believes that bonding over books has given the team a new edge.

“I think it’s really going to help, because like [Shaffer] said, there’s different mindsets in all these books, and I think yes, a lot of playing softball is physical, but then there’s also that mental aspect and that can be the difference that sets us over the edge and makes us a championship team.

Mensinger was previously unfamiliar with Brown’s works — Brown is one of Sigrest’s favorite authors — but believes she’ll read more of Brown’s books if Sigrest recommends them.

Jessica Cummings enjoyed reading Gary John Bishop’s “Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life,” but for the rest of the team, the fun started when Cummings first saw the book’s unusual title.

“And it’s really funny because it’s very different, title-wise, [it’s] something unexpected for me. When I pulled it out, it was super humorous to everyone because it would be totally something I would never pick up myself, but I really did [like it],” Cummings said.

Determined not to judge a book by its cover, Cummings found that Sigrest’s pick especially resonated with her.

“There was a lot of stuff that resonated with me, both on a personal level and as an athlete, but on a lot of stuff that we’ve talked about in the culture for our team and trying to change the culture and ‘championship mentality’ and things like that,” Cummings said.

Cummings said there were some aspects that really hit home for her and others.

“I’m like ‘Wow, we’ve been talking about that as a team so much,’” she said.

In her book, marked with a bookmark given to her by a teammate, Cummings found the vignette-like structure particularly interesting.

Cummings, calling herself a “perfectionist,” also found meaning in a chapter titled “I expect nothing and accept everything.”

Cummings found that mentality particularly applicable to her life as a pitcher.

Rather than just restraining the books teachings between their covers, Cummings believes the lessons in all of the books have more value than just pages and paper.

“We’ve definitely done some talking,” Cummings said, “I don’t know that it’s so much about the books specifically, but we definitely spend a lot of time talking about mentality, and I think we have a different mentality than we’ve ever had in the four years I’ve been here.”

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