One of the words I most frequently heard at Texas A&M from head coach, Jo Evans, was “COMPETE.”
Competition fuels desire. Competition adds drive. Competing has become somewhat of a lost art for this generation of softball players, and one that I hear from many college coaches that is a characteristic they are searching for in their future athletes. Nowadays, more often than not,competing is a quality that is having to be taught, instead of being innate.
When I use the word “compete” I am referring to that inner fire that burns to go out on the field and beat the team in the opposing dugout, to compete for a position and to compete against yourself to see just how good you can really be.
Competition is one of those lessons that sports builds in you, if you allow it. However, being around the softball fields at the select and college levels, I see fewer and fewer girls who are showing up and just flat out competing when they are out on that field.
Competing is one of the biggest things college coaches are looking for in players right now. Many times, they are claiming that it is a quality that is missing In recruits across the country. Some coaches will even take that desire to compete over a player who has better talent. It’s that competitive nature that makes you a great teammate and allows you to be a player that other coaches and teammates would want to go to war with. It’s not always about the player who has the most talent; it’s about the player who has talent and has a fierce competitive drive that runs deep inside of her.
Competing for a position
Now this form of competition isn’t as basic as competing against other teams. This one is a little bit tougher because it involves competing against your own teammate. This is specifically tricky with girls because most girls don’t want to hurt other girls feelings. Having competition at different positions around the field is so important for a team’s success because you get the very most out of your players. If there is no competition for positions, players can get complacent and never really grow. Competing for a position pushes both players to become the best they can be knowing that if they perform better than the other player, then they get to start in the big game. Competing for positions is a big reason why college teams will carry more players on their roster than a select team.
Competing for a position is THE BIGGEST lost form of competition, and I will tell you why. There are more select softball teams across the country than there ever have been before, meaning there are more options; and if someone is not happy with playing time, it’s very easy for them to pick up and leave and go to another team where they can fine more playing time. I’m sure you know them, the typical team hoppers who leave because everything just isn’t right. They always have different excuses for leaving the team, but in general, the biggest reason people leave teams is because their daughter isn’t getting enough playing time. So let’s think about this for a second. By allowing your daughter to change teams based on playing time, you’re telling her that she doesn’t have to earn that spot and compete for that position because if we aren’t getting what we want, then we can go find it somewhere else. The easy thing to do is pick up and leave and find another team so your daughter can play. The hard thing is to challenge up and stay on the team to earn that spot. I promise, in the long run, she will be better because of it.
If a player isn’t playing…I guarantee there is a reason for it other than the coach just simply having favorites and/or not liking the player. If I am the player who is not playing, I am going to find out why I am not playing (by asking the coach myself, NOT my parents) and then work hard on whatever the reason is when I am practicing. Maybe the reason you are not playing is because you are not clutch with runners in scoring position. Maybe the reason is because you make scary throws to first base on a ground ball. There is going to be a reason, but there is NO reason not to go work hard on whatever it is it may be. But here is the catch: if the player is NOT making the changes to become a better player, then WHY would the coach put them in?
Earning a spot can be difficult; earning a position can be challenging; but earning a position is one of the most rewarding things that can happen to a player. If you’re not getting playing time and you think you’re working hard enough? Work harder. Do you think you’re putting in a lot of time? Well put in more. Want it more than that other person. Eventually, you’ll get it; but it’s not going to come easy. A big part of competing for a position is taking advantage of your opportunities. For example: maybe a player doesn’t start but she is called upon to pinch hit with a runner at 3B and less than 2 outs. Does the player cave in this situation? Or does she get mentally tough to embrace this opportunity and make the most out of it by hitting a SAC fly and getting the RBI?
Another example of making the most of your opportunity is if the player who plays defensively in front of you makes an error, and your coach calls your out to go play in the field. The first ground ball that comes to you, do you boot it? Or do you make the play cleanly? TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES will be a way that you earn your spot and catch your coach’s attention. If you are NOT taking advantage of opportunities, then why would your coach want to play you? To take advantage of opportunities, you must be focused, you must know the situation and you must be mentally strong to believe in yourself. Someone might make an excuse after not taking advantage of your opportunity such as, “well I didn’t come through because I don’t get to play as much as the other players.” This is just an excuse for not coming through, and it doesn’t apply. If you’re putting in the practice time and fall into the trusting mindset in the game, you will be better served to take advantage of these opportunities physically and mentally.
Don’t teach your daughter the wrong thing – that if you’re not happy with something, it’s okay to pick up and leave. Teach her work ethic by teaching her competition within her position. Make sure you have a coach that is teaching this same philosophy, because maybe your daughter is the one at the “starting” position. Is she being pushed? Is someone right there next to her at practice pushing her with every swing and every ground ball? If not, then I can guarantee she will not become the best player she can be because there is no one right there next to her breathing down her neck wanting to take that position. That is pure competition.
Competing for a position will prepare her for college. The ultimate goal of any college team is to win, a coach’s livihood at his/her schools depends on it. So you better believe that the best players will play and that coaches want this friendly competition out on the field within their team so players are day in and day out pushing each other. If your daughter is not preparing for it now, she won’t be ready for it when she makes it to the next level, whichever level that may be – high school, all stars, league team, college. Encourage competition, don’t shy away from it. Teach your daughter that if she wants something, she has to prove a point and send a message by working harder than she’s ever worked before to be named the game day starter.
Lastly, an important thing to remember for this kind of competition is not to give up. Anything can change. Maybe the person you are competing with stops working hard, but you continued to work your very hardest and you end up beating them out at the end of the season. If you want it bad enough, you will work hard enough to achieve your dreams. If you don’t put in the work or make the changes, that tells me you never wanted it in the first place. Every player wants playing time, but it should always be earned. The reward is getting to be out on the field come game time. Passion, or lack of passion, is shown when competing for a position. How bad do you want it?
Is there competition at your position? Are you being pushed by your teammate? Are you pushing your teammate? Are you caving when you have opportunities? Make the most of your opportunities…be so good they can’t ignore you.