It’s Nationals week. All over the United States, girls – young and older are traveling far away from home to play in what is seen as the most competitive venues in softball. It’s like the Women’s College World Series for travel leagues, whether they play USSSA, ASA or any other type of competitive league play. It is truly awesome that fastpitch softball has grown so fast and so far across the United States. Little girls everywhere NEEDED this. But are we pushing too hard? And what ARE our goals as parents, coaches, and players?
Just this past weekend, I sat at a GSA tournament with a two teams of girls, 12U and 16U. Neither of which were destined for Nationals. This isn’t to say that many of the players on these teams, or girls from the teams we played weren’t good enough for Nationals – many were. But their parents had just chosen a different path. Instead of traveling far away to play ball – they stayed local, and likely ended up on the travel teams they were on because of convenience, or ease, or because it offered an environment the player loved.
Travel ball – as many know firsthand, especially the higher levels you play can become a vicious place for girls where their self-esteem is tested on a daily basis. Where every girl is disposable, and where the hiring of ‘big guns’ that will sit the regular players is always a possibility. I wonder how 9, 10 or even 11-year-old girls endure the kind of stress of knowing that they can and will be replaced should someone better come along and still end up loving the game. Honestly, I also wonder what the big rush is.
While I think it would be a lot of fun to take a team to compete in a world series – I don’t think the measure of success resorts back to one singular tournament. And on a more realistic note – at the end of the day, at the end of the season, at the end of the child’s travel career – when they will start college, how many of these girls are really going to make it on softball? The answer! Not. Very. Many.
First, there just aren’t many full rides for a softball player. If you are looking for an athletic scholarship for your daughter you’d better get them interested in golf or tennis. Secondly, as of right now – most of the 1997 and 1998 girls that have college potential have already been looked at through fancy recruiting and showcase tournaments. And the lists of potential girls are massive! We are talking thousands upon thousands upon thousands of girls looking to be recruited. Do these kids really know what they want in life when they are sophomores or juniors in high school? And can’t a lot certainly change between the ages of 15 and 20.
The truth is that the talent pool in softball today greatly outweighs the recruiting potential.
This is just one reason why parents push their girls to play on feeder and high-end travel teams because the chance of exposure is greater. But these programs can be brutal to the self-esteem and playing longevity of the girls on the team. Not to mention costs. Sure, your child is getting to go up against the ‘best’ competition found between the foul lines. But what realistically speaking – are her chances of getting recruited? Do you risk burning your daughter out before she is 15 just to see that she makes a premiere, select or A-Gold team? Are you doing it for your child? To make them the best they can be? Or are you doing it for yourself or some status quo? To come home and say you played with such and such team, and won?
Not that there is anything wrong with feeling pride and devotion toward a team – and going all the way. It is an accomplishment to be proud of indeed – and a learning experience like no other.
I look at my own 11 year old, and see a child that loves softball like no other sport in the world – that stands out on any field she is playing on as one of the best players out there, who is constantly trying to be recruited by other coaches, who has a seemingly flawless relationship with a 12 inch leather covered ball.
She would likely be an asset to any of the best travel balls clubs around. But she wants to play with her friends. She wants to play one or three day tournaments. She wants to run cross country. She is a straight A student who wants to be a sports therapist when she grows up. She wants to play in the dirt, ride her bike, sleep in. She is content with playing 5 games every Saturday and going home with a trophy. She has nothing but FUN playing softball. She’s just a kid. Would she even be truly able to appreciate the opportunity of playing high level travel ball – would it ensure that she wouldn’t wake up one morning and decide that she didn’t want to play anymore?
And her team, and the teams she plays are very competitive. If I pushed her hard enough – would she be good enough for college one day? Would she earn a coveted scholarship? Or would it burn her out? Would it foster her love of the game, or would it cause her anxiety? At the end of it all, would she be a much better person because of the experience? I don’t know the answer to these questions.
For now, she will stay where she is at until the day she tells me she wants to do otherwise. She loves the game as much as any girl playing Nationals this week and while I believe she would love to be there playing, I have just haven’t felt the pull as of yet to move her up the fastpitch softball ladder.
What do you think? Are we pushing young girls too hard too fast? Are you hoping for a softball scholarship for your daughter?