Fastpitch players are beautiful. There…I said it. It’s true. “Beautiful” is a big word. It’s used limitedly because of the standard we have tied to it in our culture, and we know that something must be of upmost quality for us to tag that word on it. Because of its limited use, it is put on a pedestal and rarely pulled out of Webster’s to describe something or someone. But what if we used to describe the way a young girl played softball? The word “beautiful” is not a daily softball adjective used out on the field or at lessons like “attack” or “swing hard” or even “aggressive.” It’s a word people shy away from using because of the grandeur of the word and thinking that it only goes with a sunset in the afternoon or a model during a photo shoot. But “beautiful”, is a word that can be used to describe softball players and the standard our sport should hold.
Playing softball beautifully has nothing to do with physical looks (ie. eye color, weight, hair color). No – playing softball beautifully means playing it with poise, playing it with passion, playing it with positivity and calmness. It means slowing the game down in your mind, taking your time in your at bat, playing defense out on the field with head held high and excitement of anticipation for the ball to come to you. It’s being able to control your emotions during the game so that you have that ability to slow down in your mind the ground ball coming to you or how fast your at bat is going.
Softball has a fast pace to the game as it is. When you’re a player, the game speeds up 10x in your mind and everything seems faster than it really is. Ask anybody who has played – when you are out on the field, the game seems even faster because your mind is racing; there are a lot of unsure players, which makes the game go by faster and faster until before you know it, the game is over. A player who is focusing on playing beautifully slows her breathing down, slows her mind down and ultimately, the pace of the game slows down, thus, no matter what kind of mechanics you have, will yield more results because you can actually focus one pitch at a time, one step at a time.
Does playing softball beautifully mean that you’re always going to get a hit and never going to make an error? Not a chance. That’s our game. Our game was designed for you to fail, and if we didn’t fail, there would be no fun in it. However, it’s really when you fail, that your true beauty can actually be seen the most.
So how do we get our players to think this, feel this, believe this? It lies in our coaching and providing the information for them. Teaching them at a young age that they were made to play beautifully and having an understanding of what that looks like and what it feels like.
Can a hit be beautiful? Absolutely. Is a pitch with a lot of movement on it beautiful? You betcha. But those are things we cannot always control when we are playing. As a player, I can control my attitude during the game, my respect for my teammates and my approach at the plate during my at bat. I can control how fast thoughts are going through my head. THOSE are the real things that add beauty to this game. Taking pride in your uniform, taking pride in being a good teammate, and taking the responsibility to make adjustments at the plate or in the circle. Those are things of REAL beauty. Unfortunately, those are the things that don’t go I the scorebook or the news paper article, they aren’t the things of our game that gets all the hype.
Playing beautifully is something (like anything) that needs to be practiced. It will not just show up magically in the game. By being aware of what we look like on the field in between pitches when we are up to bat or on the field, we have a better understanding of what impressions we are giving off. I go around and watch a lot of softball through college and travel ball. The players who are fidgety, always messing with their uniforms, always touching their hair, having fast/quick movements up at the plate or on deck, those are the players I know will not remember the game and it will pass them by very fast. Those are the players, to me, who will actually end up beating themselves. The players who are playing beautifully have calm, slow movements. They are slowing down the game in their mind with these movements, and thus, slowing down the game for their team.
As coaches, we get so caught up in mechanics and fundamentals (which believe me, are very important and need to be practiced), but the idea of playing fastpitch beautifully needs to be discussed. For mechanics, every coach is going to coach something different – where to hold your hands, how to use your lower half, how to throw a rise ball. But with playing beautifully, I think there is a general consensus of what this looks like and what it should feel like to the players.
Most of you, I’m sure, have watched the Women’s College World Series and know who Lauren Chamberlain is. She is, in my opinion, the greatest hitter in our game right now, and maybe when she is done with her 4 years at Oklahoma, one of the greatest hitters to have ever play our game. When you watch her play, look at her approach and her confidence in between pitches. She has a routine in between pitches in her at bat. She’s calm, she is not constantly fidgeting, she is not constantly looking back at her coach and messing with her uniform. All of her movements have purpose and I guarantee she remembers everything about her at bat. She is letting the game come to her. Does Lauren Chamberlain have great hitting mechanics? Yes- without a doubt. But without her approach, poise, and routine at the plate, she would not be able to use those mechanics to their fullest potential. Chamberlain would be a good hitter without her calm approach, but WITH the calm approach, she becomes one of the best.
Playing beautifully takes your game to YOUR next level. It’s going to be different for everyone, and you can’t compare yourself and your results to the person sitting next to you. This idea of being a beautiful player comes with time, it comes with practice and it comes with experience – all of which the idea of “beautiful” is at the forefront of your mind. Act it. Feel it. Know it.
Beautiful – Don’t be scared to use the word, don’t be scared to try to be the word, and definitely don’t be scared to coach the word. All players have that beauty inside, it just needs to be brought out of each one in order for players across the country to play at their very highest ability. Through sports and coaching, lessons are learned – competitiveness, work ethic, determination. These are lessons that when softball is over, allows softball to still stay apart of you. Just like softball is a medium for life lessons, softball should be a medium to make girls feel good about themselves, to feel beautiful. The more beautiful you feel, the more confident you are, the more motivated you are to go out and achieve your dreams and think the sky is the limit. It all starts with an at bat or throwing a pitch, and noticing a different way of moving and holding yourself to resemble being the most beautiful player that you can be.
And that is beautiful fastptich.