Every place has its distractions. No matter where you live, it can be tempting to put off work in favor of something more fun.
If you live in Florida, it’s practically effortless to get enchanted by the beach.
The year-round sunny climate makes it inviting to head out to the ocean and dip your toes in the sand. Yet, when you’re running a high school softball program in the Sunshine State, the beach also poses a challenge to the dedication of your players.
That’s what South Walton High School Coach Bob Hartness discovered when he arrived five years ago.
The Seahawks didn’t have a tradition of softball excellence, and some players weren’t as committed as they should have been.
So Hartness set out to shake things up.
“You have to sell your philosophy. My very first year there was tough. There was 3-4 seniors I had to let go because they didn’t want to work hard enough,” Hartness said. “Our school is literally half a mile from the beach. It’s really tough to get a good softball program going here because everyone wants to go to the beach, which is understandable. But they didn’t want to buy into my program of practicing hard and coming out on Saturdays.”
It doesn't have to be the beach. It could be any number of interests that draw a player's attention away from the field. When all of that gradually started to change for Hartness' players, the results spoke for themselves in the standings.
In year two under Hartness, South Walton was the district runner-up. They followed that up with back-to-back district championships. Last season, South Walton was a game away from making it to states, which was the best showing in program history.
All because the players bunkered down.
“We practice six days a week to get ready for championship play. It took a good year for them to start buying into my philosophy but once they saw that we were starting to win, then everything started to flow into place,” Hartness said. “People started coming in and working harder. Now we probably average about an 85 perfect win rate. So changing the philosophy was key.”
South Walton made the leap to annual contenders by focusing on the attention to details. In a district with a plethora of ace pitchers, Hartness keeps his team sharp with a vigorous daily routine.
“The game is all about fundamentals. We work fundamentals literally every day,” Hartness said. “We talk about advancement. We work on eye training. We work on the mental side of the game. We work on the physical side of the game. We’re always working out to get stronger and faster. But the key to our workouts is to make sure fundamentals are perfect.”
The soon-to-be 50-year-old Hartness doesn’t mince words when he calls himself “hardcore” and an “old-fashioned guy.”
The 16-year softball coaching veteran is admittedly tough on his players, but it’s out of a desire to see them reach their full potential. Hartness is proud of how his players have blocked out those outside distractions.
“I believe in working hard. I believe in being honest with the kids and letting them know where they’re at, not butter cupping anything. Again it took them a little while to get used to it but once they got used to it they understood I’ll do anything in the world for them,” Hartness said. “But at the same token, I’ll jump down their throat in a heartbeat as well because I want them to get better. When I first got there, they never heard of girls going to play softball at the college level. In four years, we’ve signed 14 girls to play at the next level. We’ve improved the program and they’ve bought in.”