Recently, I received a text from a tournament director – inviting my young 12U team (most of them are just 10) to participate in a special tournament. While tempted, because it was local, and priced well – my reply was simply, “Not right now my softball team sucks and we would not be competitive, but surely in a few months we will be there!”
That may sound harsh. In a world where we sugar coat everything to make sure no ones feelings are hurt saying ‘my softball team sucks’ is obviously not politically correct for a coach. But the truth is, that despite their lack of skills – mostly from a lack of experience, I am super proud of, INVESTED in, and committed to my little suck’ish team. (And for the record, I would NEVER tell the girls that)
Here’s the thing. This team is a bunch of girls literally straight out of Rec ball, who didn’t start playing (part-time) until last fall. The danced, and played soccer, and learned to knit and took gymnastics, and did a bunch of different things depending on the season. But when softball season came around, the core group of girls, were in it 100%. They worked hard. They went from kids who not only couldn’t catch a ball – but flinched at the idea of ball coming toward them. They went from a team that was terrified to stand in the box against live arm pitching – to surprisingly winning their little Rec league end of season 10U tournament last fall.
There are some of these girls, that I am pretty sure won’t stick with softball. Even so, my plan is to coach them all UP in the best ways I know how, and to help them build a foundation that they can build on should they continue., And even if they don’t, I plan to leave them with a taste of softball that is sweet, and memories that are fond.
This year several girls joined us. Girls who sat the bench, who were told NO they weren’t good enough to be on a travel team, but who still wanted to, and dreamed of playing. With their aluminum bats and pink Wal-Mart helmets, they show up to practice and games and give 100% of what they can give. And each week, I see them improve. Each week, I see them doing better. Each week, I see them making one or two or three plays in a game that just a few short weeks ago, they wouldn’t have been able to make. And I applaud them. And this is HOW MY TEAM WINS!
Last weekend, we played in a lower level tournament. I knew we wouldn’t win – but for this team, my version of winning is not ending up with a trophy at the end of the day. Winning is being better by the 4th game than they were during the first game.
Winning, was watching them learn the really, really hard way – by getting beat and essentially having the feeling that they would either sink or swim – and WATCHING THEM SWIM! Watching them swim because they didn’t want to sink. And watching them SWIM with smiles on their faces and laughter in their hearts.
Winning for my group of adorable, hard-working, dedicated, extremely excited team, most of whom other coaches would not take (and some woudn’t even return phone calls to after tryouts_ – who were so incredibly grateful and joyous to put on a jersey and be there at the field for an actual tournament, was not striking out looking, and learning when to swing and when not to, and getting the stolen base because they were paying attention and watched the past ball and took a leap of faith and stepped off of first, even without being told.
Winning for me, for my team, this weekend at least – was my third baseman fielding two bunts cleanly and getting the out, and making it OUT of an inning because they got three outs and not because the other team scored all of their 5 allowed runs. Winning was my catcher finally understanding the drop third strike and executing it 3 out of 7 times Wining was those base hits off a pretty good 12U pitcher. Winning was stringing together 3-4 games in the final game of the day, and having a parent from the other team compliment my teams improvement and ATTITUDE.
So sure, my team may suck a little. At least for now. My team is made up of the girls that other coaches didn’t want to take because they looked awkward and were so obviously unexperienced players. My team will lose a lot this year, and we will have parents jump ship because they don’t want to be on a sucky team – and they will go to a ‘better’ team and their daughter will sit the bench and not be empowered to get better. I have been in this gig long enough to know that there will always be those ‘grass is greener’ parents and kids. To some people it’s better not to LOSE, even if winning sacrifices a childs opportunity to play. And that is all okay with me.
My team may suck. We may not be as good as your team. We may be a little behind. But we won’t stay that way forever. We won’t ‘suck’ forever. And one day, we may surprise everyone – but the truth is, I won’t be surprised by their greatness. I have seen it in each one of them all along! So for now, you can snicker behind our backs. You can be happy when we end up in your bracket because you think we are an easy team to beat. You can laugh at our errors, and make fun of us while we struggle. But one day very soon, we won’t suck anymore – and then, you need to watch out.