No Need to Stress
Softball is a game and games are meant to be fun. That is until your daughter starts thinking about tryouts, cuts or whether she’ll make the varsity team next spring. The more she worries about it, the more anxiety she’ll feel. She may dwell upon it at school, home, through the winter recreational games and workouts. This self-induced pressure builds to the point that she becomes extremely jittery when she even thinks about the upcoming game or workout, let alone when they actually are going on. So, what in the world can parents do to help their daughters overcome this avalanche of angst?
Give her support, love, praise and encouragement.
The Biggest Thing
The single biggest thing you can do to help reduce this pressure is to NOT make matters worse by adding pressure to what she’s already feeling. I am referring to what I’ve written about in the previous “Levels of the Game” articles. If you haven’t read those and your baby girl is struggling with this battle, please at the very least read the sections on how to be a great softball parent. Give her support, love, praise and encouragement. Skip the car-ride home lectures about everything she does wrong. And remember that she is NOT intentionally trying to fail. She wants to succeed far more than you want her to. If not, you may want to seriously think about that for a few minutes.
Other Things You Can Do
If she has really been working hard at the game by taking private lessons, practicing with her club team, going to ALL the optional workouts possible, etc., then you may need to make her take a break. I wrote about that too (Breaks: Why Your Daughter Needs Them) and cannot overemphasize the importance of taking mental and physical breaks.
Try this: Relax. Take deep breathes and calm yourself down.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe she has NOT been practicing at all. In school she must do her homework and study if she wants to be her best on the day of the test or exam. Preparation defeats fear. Whether studying for a test or practicing for a game, that preparation should build her confidence to do well. You may seek opportunities for her to take lessons or get some practice time in even if it’s nothing more than loading Wiffle Balls on the batting tee for her in your garage. You don’t have to coach her, just be there for her in a relaxed environment where nobody’s watching or criticizing. It is important to note however, that she has the desire to practice. Making her practice is not the answer and will only cause additional problems.
Another thing you can do is to think about how you’re behaving around her when the topic of softball comes up or before games or workouts. Do you find yourself anxious and nervous? Do you catch yourself constantly giving her pep talks? Do you think she’ll sense the fact that you’re all worked up about it? Might that add to her pressures? Try this: Relax. Take deep breathes and calm yourself down. Talk to her about anything except softball. Smile and before she heads off with the team tell her something like, “Have fun baby!” During (and after) the game keep that smile on your face and relax. Have fun. These days will be over oh so soon and before you know it you’ll be walking her down the aisle.
Through the Eyes of a Coach
I certainly cannot speak for every coach. Speaking for myself, I thought it would be useful for the parents to have a better understanding of what I am looking for at the recreational games and workouts over the winter. I have touched upon some of my thoughts with a few of the parents already as well as some of the players. These are also the things I looked for during the fall workouts:
Accolades any one player receives means nothing if they sacrificed the success of their team in order to achieve them.
Attitude: Not pouting, putting their head down, throwing a bat, helmet or glove after failure, doing what is asked of them without disrespect or second guessing, accepting their roles on the team, their spot in the batting lineup or position on the field, the practice of good sportsmanship, etc.
Effort: Hustle at all times, running out ground balls, pop-flies or dropped 3rd strikes, working hard during practices, being dedicated and making the workouts as scheduled, etc.
Focus: Paying attention to the other team while they warm up, blocking out noise and going through mental exercises and routines while on deck, keeping their minds in the game while on defense, being relaxed but not goofing off, etc.
Team Players: This is extremely important to me and is critical to the success of any team. Softball is a team sport. Prima donnas and those players looking focusing on individual glory should play tennis, golf or another such sport. Accolades any one player receives means nothing if they sacrificed the success of their team in order to achieve them. Supporting a player who comes into the game for you, striking out – running to the dugout – and cheering for the next batter, keeping your head in the game and supporting/cheering for all of your teammates who are still in the game, playing a position that is not what you feel is your regular or favorite position, non-starters being ready to enter the game at anytime, NEVER giving up on your team, etc.
Athleticism: It can’t be taught. Some girls are more athletic than others. Some girl’s coordination hasn’t caught up to their bodies yet. Some are fast, strong and/or quick, while others aren’t.
Possible Positions: From a defensive standpoint the more positions a girl can play, the more options a coach has for the team. Flexibility is very important when dealing with sickness, injuries or long days.
Game Smarts: Does a player have a broad understanding of the game and how quickly is she able to learn all those little things that can change the outcomes of games? This is often tied to the number of games she has played and at what level.
Hitting Potential: As the saying goes, “If you can hit, we’ll find you a spot on the field.” But, I included the word “Potential.” A girl may not currently be a successful hitter, but if she has good hand-eye coordination and either strength or speed, then she has the potential that a coach can work with to help make her a good hitter.
Coachable: Simple. If a girl cannot be coached, then she is in my eyes of no use to the TEAM. I would rather lose with a group of lesser talented girls who have good attitudes and are coachable than win with a handful of prima donnas or players who refuse to even try the methods I am teaching.
Finally, I am looking for girls who are having fun playing the games and working out. After coaching nearly 30 girls for 2 months this fall I have never been so excited about the indoor (dome) league before. It’s a chance for me to watch ALL OF MY GIRLS make use of the skills I’ve been teaching them. The girls are playing multiple positions, trying a lot of new things batting, getting game experience and in some cases introduced to a much faster game than they’ve ever played before.
And here’s the kicker: I EXPECT THEM TO MAKE MISTAKES AND FAIL SOMETIMES. If they aren’t, then they’re not being challenged enough. I want to see how they handle them. Do they learn, adjust and overcome them? If a player makes a mental mistake, does she do it right the next time in the same situation? If a girl swings a couple bad pitches, is she more disciplined her next at bat? And regardless, the frequency of mistakes and failures tells me what we coaches need to practice on during the coming months.
A coach can get more excited about a girl who strikes out, while taking beautiful strong swings than a girl getting lucky with an ugly hack at the pitch. A coach can appreciate great footwork by an infielder getting to the ball, even if she misses it. A coach can appreciate a pitcher struggling some because she’s trying some new pitches and/or to hit her locations, even if hits and walks a few batters. A coach can appreciate a girl who is a joy to be around, because she’s always smiling and supportive of her teammates regardless of her results on the field.