She Laced up Her Cleats….
There was nothing but silence, when immediately after her last high school game, the words, “ I am not playing anymore. I’m done. It’s over,It’s too late for me now” cascaded through the kitchen like a roll of distant thunder. Just like that – she threw her cleats and batbag into the closet, took of her jersey and headed for the shower as if today was like any other day. But it was not. In those simple words, a young heart was broken and defeated and there wasn’t a dang thing anyone could do about it.
It was hard to tell if her words, “I am done,” were said out of relief or frustration, and despite 1000 thoughts running through my mind, I simply kissed her forehead and said nothing biting back tears. It had been a rough year. A painful injury at perhaps the worst time – in the smack dab middle of showcase season, and as she was about to earn a starting position for her high-school, with several college coaches interested in her, seemed to have injured her spirit more than anything. Why me, she wondered? How could she rest NOW, when THIS is what she had been working for all this time? None of this was part of her master plan.
How many hours had she practiced in the last year alone, not to mention all the years prior when the pitching bug first hit her? How many days did she spend hacking it out with her dad in the backyard, getting this pitch and that pitch just perfectly. How many hours did she spend training her body and her mind to be as perfect as she could be. How many nights did she lie in bed dreaming of her idols, and praying that she too could be successful in the circle? Put aside the money spent traveling, and on equipment, uniforms and team dues over the years – how much of her life, her heart, her soul had she poured into this softball thing. And suddenly, “I am done!”
Oh, it started out all fun and games. Rec ball, and then playing on a travel team that her dad coached with a bunch of her friends. And then like it often does, something clicked in her, and SHE wanted to keep going. Keep pushing. She wanted more lessons, more mound time, more competition. As her parents, we wondered if she had what it took and knew we had to let her find out. We fumbled around with helping her make decisions and tried to figure out how to help her move forward. Everything was falling perfectly into place. Hard work was paying off. And then, too much of her pushing herself, too much of what she loved, too many dreams, too damn much–landed her injured and unable to physically pitch without immense pain.
Even worse, was that it seemed like all the fun was gone. I looked back at pictures of her pitching in the years before, and she was always smiling. Always happy. In recent years, that sparkle was gone – replaced by a sense of urgency and stress. What started out so many years ago as a bunch of girls playing in the dirt, spending weekends together eating out of a cooler, laughter, friendship, sleepovers together, meeting up at local fields to practice and a wholesome and healthy good time – had somehow turned into something else.
It all starts out the same, and then suddenly, these kids get swept away and it becomes work, and pressure, and stress and frustration.
And then….”I am done!” “It’s too late.”
They forget about playing for the right reasons, about playing with their hearts – and are somehow conditioned to think that unless they get to the next level, it is a waste of time. Parents too, start thinking that way. Up until that moment when your child tells you she is done. Finished at 17, still very much a child, giving up something she loves.
All you can do then, is let her do what she feels is best. Encourage her to find that little girl in the ponytail that used to hate wearing a belt with her softball pants. You can only sit back and hope that the smell of cut grass, or the sight of brickdust will bring her back to the field. That she will bump into her old glove, still ratchet and stinky, and that she will see how perfectly it fits her hand. That the bat standing in the corner of the room will fall over one day, and prompt her to ask someone to pitch to her in the backyard so she will remember how fun it is to hear the sound of bat and ball coming together. Hope that the day comes when she will lace up her cleats again, and play ball for all the right reasons again.
For us, we are lucky, and that day came. She laced up her cleats again just last weekend. She took on the circle without pain or pressure, laughed with her friends, and found her way back to softball. There were no college coaches there to watch her, just a bunch of girls playing in the dirt together, each of them smiling – having found once again the love of the game, pure and simple.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –