I played fastpitch softball from the time I was eight until I was eighteen. I’m only twenty years old now; those ten years were half my life. Parting ways with the sport has been one of my hardest breakups, and sometimes I wonder: what was the point? Why did I spend ten years getting good at something that would be over so soon? What is there to show for it?
- I learned discipline and commitment. Which are not only important for people who end up being the best, but for me – being my best, and for anyone who will be part of a team (athletic, professional, or otherwise). Commitment is going to every optional practice and strength/conditioning workout, even when you don’t feel like it. Discipline is continuing to go even when no one else on your team does.
- I learned how to lose (and how to win). With a few exceptions, I played for many teams that were… not quite dominant. I learned to play because I loved softball instead of loving softball because it was something I could win at. Sometimes you win at the things you love; sometimes you don’t and I think that’s ok. The ability to guarantee yourself a ‘win’ doing something isn’t necessarily a good reason to do it. There’s a difference between losing because you didn’t try hard enough, and losing because, that time, you came up short. I learned that I didn’t have to give up my drive to win or my competitive nature to be ok with losing – I just had to realize that my life is defined by something bigger than a win/loss record. (And I’m so thankful that it is!)
- I learned how to be a loud (as-needed) introvert. I have always tended toward the quiet, but on the softball field, I could take command – yelling how many outs, where to throw the ball, calling off a teammate when I had a better angle on a fly ball than she did. For most girls I played with that was such a small, insignificant thing – a no-brainer, but for me it was a big deal. With time, like most things do, it became comfortable. Sometimes on the field, I’d realize I was yelling – in front of a lot of people – and it would always make me smile.
- I learned to “believe in myself.” Playing collegiate softball is most young players’ dream; although professional softball does exist, today’s collegiate game is the height of most softball careers. I never believed that that could be me, until my sophomore year of high school when my coach told me that I had what it took – from that point on, I had the confidence that I could do it. And although I’m not still playing, it’s not because I wasn’t brave enough to pursue it and not because I wasn’t good enough. In the end, after talking with several coaches and evaluating college options, it wasn’t the right thing for me; but because someone believed in me and helped me to believe in myself, I was given the gift of choosing to walk away from softball instead of having to wonder for the rest of my life if I could have taken it to the next level.
- I learned that these lessons continue to mean something even off the diamond. In high school, our coach gave all of us on the Varsity team a copy of this card. These were the basics, the things to get stuck in your head and keep you grounded during each game. I kept it in my bat bag all season, and today it’s stuck in a pocket of my planner. These bullet points were important for us as a softball team, and I’ve found that when I use softball as a metaphor for life, these are the things that I still struggle with and need to remember today.
I wrote this because sometimes I need to remind my hyperlogical self that just because being finished with something hurts, or because it ends without a traditionally “transferrable skill,” it doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing. No, I haven’t thrown any curveballs recently. My hands aren’t calloused anymore and the scars (and tan lines) on my knees are finally fading. My sprint speed isn’t anything near what it used to be, but it’s ok. All the work, the time, the sweat and tears I put into those things weren’t for naught. I wouldn’t be the me I am today without them.