What Happened to My Softball Player?

Just last week, we received a fan question on our “Ask the Coach,” forum.

And it was a good one. One, that each of us as parents of athletes have asked ourselves from time to time. For years, (or months) our daughter was amazing, and then suddenly – one day, she seems more like a middle of the pack player. Did her talent fizzle out? Has she lost interest?  Is there something that she needs that she is not getting from her coaches, team, or from us as parents. After all, the parent is the #1 coach. Parents set the tone for sports in their children’s lives and THEIR dedication and commitment is passed down to their child. It’s only natural to question whether we are doing something wrong when it comes to preparing her for competition.

The question came in as follows:

I have an 11 year old who has played Softball since age 5. She loves the game
and each year we have seen her progress and get better. This
year something has changed, her pitching speed and accuracy is not
coming along like the other pitchers on our team and she is just a
little slower. She went from being one of our better players to more
of a “middle of the pack” girl. She is still excited and happy to go
to practice and we have not slacked off on lessons, etc.. Do you think
I should mention to her what we are seeing?

So, in a nutshell  what has happened to my daughter? Seems like just yesterday, she was a superstar. Today…not so much.

One of the most obvious things, that is often overlooked – is that between the ages of 10 – 13 (on average) girls hit puberty. (Yes, its fun to remain in denial that this can happen so young)

But, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this pubescent growth spurt is just as dramatic as those that occur in the first year of life. And for girls, who hit the growth spurt at the onset of puberty, often growing 3 – 5 inches in a year, the result can be clumsiness, lack of ability.

Science proves that as the bones become heavier and larger, and the physiological changes of puberty (even pre-puberty) brain functions, and motor skills can drop off dramatically. Add a new and ferocious mix of hormones and physiological changes to the brain to the equation, and it is perfectly normal for girls between the ages of 10 – 13 to be a little off-kilter.

After all, their bodies are going through a heck of a lot of changes – on the inside and out, that consume most of their energy. (This can also explain the need for MORE sleep, and an increase in appetite.) This also explains why it is so important for parents of athletes to make sure that their child gets enough sleep, and eats a well rounded, balanced diet. The good news is that as puberty comes full circle, your daughter will likely start excelling in her sport again. Or, she may just find that her body is more suited for a different position on the field.

Another reason that performance dwindles, especially in specialized positions such as pitching or catching – is because the muscles become deadened. According to Livestrong, developing children need to increase their muscle mass and overall strength to continue improving in their sport to coincide with their growth.  Sometimes, changing up the basic routine of softball pitching and batting lessons and fastpitch practice by adding agility and conditioning training can help to boost their performance MORE than the general pitching lessons can. Sometimes, the body just NEEDS other, new things in order to continue to excel and step off the plateau.

It’s also important to consider this. And this one is tough. When children start a sport so young, and seem to be the superstars at 6,7, and 8 – it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will STILL be the best at 13. Oftentimes, it is those girls who seemed lacking the most at 6, 7 or 8 years old,  who come out of the woodwork during puberty and truly blossom into athleticism. A lot of changes occur quickly in adolescence.

And for pitchers especially, there are TONS AND TONS of girls who could pitch 10U, and even 12U – whose skills seem pale in comparison to others when they get to 14U and 16U.  And there are tons of amazing pitchers out there, who are not able to reach the bar to play collegiately. This by no means indicates that the girl should stop playing, but is just evidence on how important it is to round out our softball players during their young careers!

Should you say something to your child? 

If your daughter seems to be more of a middle of the pack kinda girl, BUT STILL ENJOYS the sports, goes to practice willingly and puts forth 110% effort – the answer is no. Chances are they are doing their best, and by questioning it, you will only lead your daughter to believe that they aren’t good enough. Innuendos that lead to such things are very hard to be erased once they are put out there. Maybe it is you (US as the parents) who need to reevaluate our thinking, and find different ways for our daughter to be on top. Or, accept them exactly as they are. Especially if they seem to be enjoying fastpitch softball, and practicing hard.

The real key, is that if she still gets enjoyment from the game, chances are she will continue to play. And anything we can do as parents to promote longevity in athletics of any kind is important. So smile, tell her you love to watch her play – and continue to support her.

On the other hand, if your daughters does not seem as interested, is goofing off at practice or doesn’t want to go – then maybe a short break is in order. Sometimes, there is nothing quite as a little break to disrupt the monotony and get a child to have a renewed interest in their sport of choice. You can also introduce her to other sports in the meantime. And by all means, take parental inventory and make sure that you are not pushing too hard, or causing her to suffer from burnout.

Just be patient! Our daughters are constantly changing and growing. What was yesterday, may never be again. But tomorrow, may be even better. Accepting them along the journey is one of the most important things we can do to help our daughters self-esteem and confidence.

Got a question you want us to write about?  Hit us up on anonymously on our website at the ASK THE COACH tab!

 

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