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STATE COLLEGE – Penn State’s softball team coalesced this spring around a non-traditional team-building exercise that helped bring a sense of calm during a tumultuous time of uncertainty.

The activity didn’t include a softball, bat or weights. Rather, it centered on an aspect of the sport that doesn’t require strenuous activity: Leadership.

“We started a book club this season, so we kept our book club going,” Penn State coach Amanda Lehotak said. “You had to read a chapter, and then you would submit questions. That was kind of nice because it was anywhere from 40 (minutes) to an hour, and it just allowed them to kind of open up about what was going on, how they were feeling about the pandemic and the season ending.”

Entering the year, Lehotak implemented a book club for the first time in her Penn State career.

“We were very blessed that we had the book club,” Lehotak said. “We used that to build on keeping them engaged and giving them a different outlet through it… I’m glad we did, because I think it really just kept us connected, and it kind of was everyone’s sense of normalcy.”

The Nittany Lions read two books centered on leadership.

Penn State freshmen and juniors read Joshua Medcalf’s “Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great” while the sophomores and seniors tackled Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”

The lessons learned from both books, Lehotak said, weren't only applicable to on-the-field situations. As her players’ lives were upended by the suspension of the season and they were forced to retreat to their homes, both books provided examples of how to confront and face adversity. Furthermore, they’ve helped mold a positive mindset Penn State players hope to deploy when life returns to normal.

“They liked it in terms of using what we learned in the book club to not only on the field, but off the field and in everyday life, and their internships,” Lehotak said. “For our seniors graduating, going off to jobs.”

Lehotak said the four seniors on Penn State’s roster this spring (Amanda Grieco, Christa Wagner, Hannah Shields and Destiny Weber) will not accept the extra year of eligibility the NCAA recently granted all spring sports athletes.

Instead, they will transition to the post-undergrad world.

“I’m very proud of my seniors,” Lehotak said. “They’re not going to (return) because they are all done, graduated and have jobs. They’re pretty phenomenal young women, and we’re very blessed that most of our kids graduated in four years and all have jobs lined up.”

Shields and Grieco are set to enter the medical profession. Shields will begin nursing school in August, while Grieco will begin her medical career upon completion of her board exam.

Lehotak said she’s spoken with both players about the importance of their profession, which has been further highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think anyone in the medical profession would rather be helping because that’s the kind of people they are,” Lehotak said. “So I think they’re more antsy to get in and do their part, which I think goes to show just how selfless all of those people in the medical profession are. They’re kind of just ready to go.”

Although Penn State’s softball season was cut short, players still gleaned valuable insight this spring through the inaugural book club that will serve them well once they return to the diamond. While the book club was well-received, there was one critique, Lehotak said, players shared.

“Their only negative feedback was they wanted to do it in the fall so that they can practice more of the leadership skills in the spring,” Lehotak said with a laugh. “It was really good feedback, so we’re going to do another book club, but we’ll start it in the fall.”