Lessons. Practice. Travel. Games. Recruiting. Repeat. The ingredients of elite softball are all in the air. Getting lost in emotions, information and games can be an everyday occurrence. Some days are easier than others. It’s a grind. Always remember there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the benefits of making it through the months ahead of you are completely worth it in the end. As a parent, remember there are other parents going through exactly what you are going through. As a player, remember there are other players going through exactly what you are going through. It helps to remember you’re not alone. It also helps to keep some things in perspective along the way to help you and your family stay sane.
Realistic Expectations: There is a home for everyone.
I feel as though this is tougher for parents than it is for players. Players usually have a realistic understanding of their talent level and they can see through lenses that are not rose colored. When you start to get into elite softball, there is a general understanding and goal that you want to play at the next level. Period. Understand from the very beginning that at the top 25-30 schools, only 3-5 players will be recruited in your year. Putting expectations of only going to those 25-30 schools can be quite a letdown if you don’t make it. Put into perspective the amount of girls vying for those positions and how the probability is most likely higher that you won’t make it to that school. BUT, if you love the game and are invested in continuing your career, you are going to find a better fit at a school that has your name written all over it. Playing with unrealistic expectations makes you play tight, and usually leads to being let down. There is a great home for everyone.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my dad when I was in the recruiting process was to stay humble. I was extremely lucky that many bigger schools were after me. At the time, since recruiting was happening a little later than it is now, it was quite common for schools to send in questionnaire profiles through the mail early in the recruiting process. I would sit down after dinner in front of the TV and fill out every single questionnaire that was sent to me. It didn’t matter if it was a junior college, a mid major or a top division 1 school. My dad’s thinking was that I was not too good for any school. If they were interested in me, I was going to be appreciative and never turn my nose up to anybody. You never know what could happen and you don’t want to completely shut anyone out until you know for certain where you are going. What if you think you are going to go to a big D1 school and you have a major injury? What if you go through something major that mentally takes you out of the game? You never know what can happen. Be appreciative for attention. Stay humble with coaches who are interested in you. Stay humble around your teammates. The same can go for the opponent you are playing. You’re an elite team, but the game doesn’t know that. Go into every game with consistent emotions by respecting every opponent. Respect the game. The game doesn’t know…
Don’t Compare your Experience to Your Teammate’s.
You and each of your teammates will most likely have a different experience in how you get recruited and who is watching you. It takes too much energy to compare. That energy should be put into YOUR skills, mindset and plan. Worry about yourself. If you are doing all that YOU should be doing on and off the field, then what other people are doing should not matter! Be you. Do you. Grow you. YOU are awesome. YOU have your own story.
Make friends, not enemies.
This goes for players AND parents. With every person you come in softball contact with, you never know how much you might be around them in the future. I’ve noticed enemies in the softball world usually come from jealously. At every exposure camp, combine, all star event, opening ceremonies, make a good impression! A good impression could be just that, a good impression or it could be a lasting friendship. You just never know when you are going to possibly play with these people you meet again. You may meet someone at an exposure camp and may end up being college teammates with them. In the stands, be nice and supportive. Everyone you meet is going through exactly what you are going through. Don’t judge. Be respectful and just know that the softball world is a REALLY small world, so make a good impression. People talk, coaches hear. You want what they are talking about to be nothing but positive things about you and your family. With that being said – avoid drama.
As an elite athlete, you are pushing your body to its limits on a weekly basis. You have to pay attention to your body and realize when it’s talking to you and when you need a break. Be honest. Create that relationship with your parents and coaches from a young age where you can gain their trust and you can say “I need to take today off” or “I need a break.” Breaks are GREAT. They absolutely have to happen for your mind and for your body. You live a softball-is-life mentality, but mixed in there, there has to be time with no softball. You create your own balance. Figure out what that balance is so that you can perform the best. You want to love softball, not hate softball because at the end of this ride, softball continues to still pay off in your life – promise!
Own Your Role.
I get it, you want to PLAY; you don’t want to sit the bench. On an elite team, 15/15 girls on your team are GOOD and there are only 9-10 starting positions. The talent only gets better once you go to college. Many times, a player will learn a new position just to find a way on the field. Be flexible and be studious. There are so many examples of players getting to the next level and not playing the same position they played on their travel team and in high school. If you are not physically out on the field, it does not mean you become a spectator to the game. There is always something to learn, to watch, to do. Try to pick pitches. Try to notice pitcher’s tendencies. See if the defense is giving away anything. Create a role and totally own it. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself, you have a team to help, you have a game to win. Championship teams have roles and buy into those roles. This game is not about one person’s playing time, it is about the entire TEAM. Learn to contribute to the team and find a way to be involved in the game. THIS is a team player. THIS is the kind of person a college coach wants to recruit. If you are on an elite team, you will be competing for championships, so find a way to contribute.
Parents – Stay out of it at the field.
Give your children responsibility for their softball career. Give them a voice. If it’s about playing time, have your daughter call a meeting with her coach to discuss what she can do better. Eventually your daughter will have to speak to a boss or another authority figure. Give her practice NOW so she can learn to communicate LATER. Mentor her and help her with what she should say or when she should say it, but don’t say it FOR HER. Once warm ups start, parents should stay completely out of the way. No bringing hot dogs and Gatorade to the dugout. No coming up to the dugout to remind her to keep her front shoulder in on her next at bat. The days of that are over. Elite softball is conducted in a businesslike manner. You’re there to compete; no distractions and you have a job to do. IN the stands during the game, remember you never know who is in the stands WITH you. If you are going to cheer, yell only positive things. (I honestly feel that saying nothing positive nor negative can sometimes be your best bet. Just let them play the game.) If you are going to chat with another parent on the team, make it positive. You NEVER know who is listening. Your daughter is taken as a direct reflection of YOU.
Make good grades.
Even if you are not planning on going to some place like Harvard or Yale, your grades are so important. Your goal is to play at the next level right? Well, at the next level, if you don’t make the grades, you don’t get to play. Create good study habits and make school a priority. Because you are playing at an elite level and have big tournaments every weekend, some of which you are having to travel far, you are going to miss out on things with your friends because school + softball + family are more important. While you may be missing out on a birthday party or going to the movies, your friends are probably going to miss out on playing a sport collegiately. Rent the movie later and send her a birthday card/present to let her know you wish you could be there and you’re thinking about her. I PROMISE, getting the opportunity to play softball in college is WAY better than any movie or birthday party you miss. There is a much higher percentage of those you don’t play sports in college than those who do. Do whatever it takes to find time to study, write papers and do homework because this prioritizing is not changing any time soon once you make it to the next level.
Play on the best team where you can PLAY.
This is tricky, but I am going to give you my mentality on this. I encourage people to play on the BEST (most competitive) team they can possibly play on AND be in the starting 10-11 players on that team that get playing time. It goes no good to be on the “best” team in your area, and all you do is sit the bench. If you are only sitting the bench, you are missing out on college coaches being able to see you in action and gain the experience of competing on the field against top level teams and competing for championships. Again, I know people are going to have different opinions on this, and I am just giving you my perspective. Find a team with a solid tournament schedule. Two things I want you to remember while thinking about this: 1) The college coaches are going to be where the best teams/talent are. 2) Don’t be jealous of the best player on your team, that “best player” is most likely pulling college coaches in to watch. Don’t just think of those coaches as being there to watch that player, think of this as an opportunity to grab some attention and as a mini audition! You WANT that player on your team because she helps you win and she draws attention…especially standout pitchers.
Softball Does Not Define YOU.
Understand there is a difference between performance skills and moral skills. This, to me, is the most important thing a parent can teach a player. The way you teach it is completely up to you. Some examples of performance skills: hardworking, competitive, motivated, confident, disciplined. Some examples of moral skills: unselfish, appreciative, loyal, caring, trustworthy, caring. There HAS to be a balance. When softball is all said and done, all you have is your character…your inner you. This goes for players and it goes for parents. Parents, you are not defined by how your daughter is at softball or the scholarship she gets. Neither is she. She is defined by being a good teammate, a good friend, a good daughter. Start noticing the differences and explaining the differences to your daughter and your team. THIS will help make leaders out in the real world and empower them with a different skill set once they grown into WOMEN.
We are all in this softball world together – don’t lose sight of that. While everyone wants to be on the team that is the last team standing at the championship game, this sport is so much more than just that. Play softball not to just eventually grow to pitch 70mph and hit 20 bombs in a season. Play softball because it grows you together as a family and each individual as a family. Along the way, be genuinely excited for teammates who get the big hit, the big strikeout or the big verbal commitment. Remember karma is a real thing. No matter how good you are, never stop learning. Never stop being appreciative. The schedules and commitments can get a little crazy, but always remember to take a step back and see something bigger than the scoreboard. Big things are ahead of you….