Over a decade in coaching, ensures you meet a lot of people. A lot of parents, a lot of coaches. The softball community is vast, but smaller than you think.
Now that I am approaching the final year of 18U ball, I am blown away by the memories of all the girls I have coached before, and how often they cross my mind. While I thought I would remember those BIG wins, and those heartbreaking losses – the truth is I remember the faces, the laughter, and the dugout conversations much more!
Some girls made me literally insane. They tested and tried every fiber of my coaching being. And yet as insane as they drove me, there is not much I wouldn’t do now, to see them on the field one more time. Oh the memories, of me standing as the 3rd base coach, waving them to run and them just standing there looking at me like they have no idea what I am doing. Doesn’t matter that we have worked on those signs a zillion times…frozen, like a deer in headlights they would stand on 2nd with me jumping up and down like a gorilla. As much as I would want to yell at them, they would run off the field with a certain kind of smile that said, “Woops,” and all I could do was pat them on the helmet and bite my tongue.
I have had girls (yes more than one) that were late to everything. Every practice, every game, every tournament. In fact, we knew they would be late so they were removed from the group text and they were given a text of their own that said everything started 30 minutes earlier than it actually did. And they were still late! And in 14U, I thought it was the parents…but learned quickly as they started driving themselves to practice that it was really just all them all along.
The girls who would swing at that high pitch. Every. Single. Time. Usually for strike 3. The girl or two I have met through the years that seemed to simply lose everything and was the reason I kept two extra gloves and socks in my bucket. The girl who would cry when she pitched and no matter how much I encouraged her and tried to get her to see her awesome, she never quite could get it. She never saw in herself what I saw in her.
The girl who drove me nuts asking to stay late after every single practice to take a few ground balls, who ensured I was late for dinner all the time – just so she could take a few more. What she wasn’t blessed with in talent, she was blessed with in determination.
There was the girl who every time she made an error, would fall down and pretend she was ‘injured’ who I carried off the field many more times than once, more than likely to save her pride.
The girl who way back in 2004 – hit that game winning hit in the state championship after going 0″fer the entire tournament, whose smile and reaction at that moment lit up every single person at the ballpark and made them stand on their feet and cheer no matter which team they were actually cheering for.
The truth is that every single kid I have ever coached has left some sort of impression on me. Each kid that has crossed my path has left me with a memory. I have seen a complete array of personalities on my field – each one bringing something special to the table. And even the ones that drove me the most nuts, that I thought I couldn’t wait until they found another team – have left cherished memories. .
Over the years, some have quite, some have aged out, some chose to be cheerleaders, some are still playing. And when life decides to bless me, I will be at Wal-Mart and hear the familiar “Hey Coach,” and be swooped up in a hug that brings me back to the softball field. They always make me smile. They always make me laugh. They always have a favorite memory to share, something funny they remember, something special to share.
My hope, to all the girls I have coached before – and currently do, is that in somehow, some way – that I have left each of them a little better than they were before they stepped on my field. That I have said at least one thing to them that sticks, that they keep in their mental file and revert to. That each of them looks back and has something to smile or laugh about. That each and every girl that has ever played for me, knows that the impression and gift they gave to me, has been much more than I could ever give to them.
So today, as I sit here and drink my coffee, I want to tip my hat, and hold up my cup to each and every kid that takes on the field and that has left their handprint on my heart. They have made this fast-paced, crazy, softball life of mine one of my most favorite things. How blessed are we as coaches to get to know these girls as not just athletes and teammates – but as humans as well.