Written By Renee Ferguson
Listen up softball parents and coaches; here is something that will knock your socks off. During my first year as a college head coach, I had a team that was a little disparaged due to a really rough fall and the transition of their head coach just weeks before the spring season was supposed to begin. I thought to myself…”How do I motivate these girls to get them to fall in love with the game again?” Then I had an epiphany and thought to myself, “By George I think I’ve got it!”
So after an unusually rough practice, I gathered the girls around in a circle to have a little pow-wow. I started out by saying something to the effect, “I want you all to think back to the first time you played softball, and how excited you were when you hit the ball or caught your first fly ball.” Now, it’s at this time when I’m thinking to myself “That’s right Renee, you are drawing them in, keep it going.” After talking to them about the excitement of the game and the excitement of their on the field accomplishments, I eased my way into the big question. The question I THOUGHT would make them remember their love for the game. I remember saying, “So let’s go around the room and share the reason or reasons why you want to play college softball!” And then, I was stunned into silence.
The first answers I heard from the crowd were, “Because my dad said I HAVE to play.” Those words were landed against my ears like a good old fashioned slap across the face…WHAM! I remember saying, “What? Your dad is making you play? Really? That’s why you are here?” This was answered with a resounding, “Yes!” I was, to say the least, shocked. In fact, I think I had to sit down. You see, I never played softball because I was made to play; I played because I LOVED the game. I loved everything about it, from the physical aspects, to the 5am wake up calls (ok maybe not all of the 5am wake up calls) and down to the smell of the dirt on the field. The idea that 18 and 19 year old young women were still playing the game because they felt that they “had to”; absolutely shocked me.
During this pow-wow, I heard one painful story after another about the jerk coach who cut them from the team, or told them they weren’t good enough. My heart hurt for them. But while my heart was breaking for them, I knew I had to be honest with them. I told them, “If you are here because your dad is making you play, then you are here for the wrong reason. And if you are here for the wrong reasons there is nothing I can do to make you a better ball player. Desire and passion give way to learning and being successful on the field. For me, softball is my church (so to speak), it’s the thing that I turned to when I had a bad day. No matter how bad that day was, if I was able to just spend 10 minutes practicing or playing, I ALWAYS left the field feeling better that I had when I got there.” I continued by saying, “All I am asking of you from this point forward is to approach each drill, each play, as you did when you were little, with wide eyed wonder and excitement. Find that little girl in there who originally fell in love with the game and I promise, if you can do that, not only will you be successful but so will our team.”
In short, as coaches and parents we are sometimes blinded by pursuing the win, or pushing our child to continue in a sport they are no longer interested in, simply because we can see the team or the child’s full potential and feel it’s our responsibility to ensure their success at all costs. In reality it is our responsibility to ensure that these girls have a voice and have proper guidance when they are contemplating a decision to either play or quit. This decision will be the one of the largest and hardest decisions a child will have to make; they should be able to turn to their coach and or parents for guidance and understanding. My youngest daughter, who is 12, was recently faced with this very decision and she had a very hard time communicating to me that she did not want to play softball anymore because she was worried about how I would take it. I reassured her that it was 100% her decision and that I would never want to have her play something just because she thought it would make me happy. Tears rolling down her face she told me she didn’t want to play anymore, and while that decision was hard for me to hear, I have to respect her decision. So now, instead of bonding over softball, we will bond over her love of writing stories and I am 100% OK with that.
As coaches and parents there are some things we can do to cultivate the love for the game within our players. The easiest way to do this is by taking time to share stories of your softball player in their younger years, talk about how excited they would get when they were learning how to catch a pop up or the determination on their face when they were being taught how to bunt. As a coach be sure to talk about your proudest moments with your team and how they made you feel at the core of your being. Make practice fun, work on things they may never actually have to do; making a jumping catch at the center field fence to steal someone’s home run away. Work on things they are afraid to do; diving for a ball to give them butterfly’s in their stomach and to instill an excitement in them when they are trying to accomplish something they never thought they could do. Those seemingly small things add up quickly and will help softball live in the hearts of your player(s) forever.
Renee Ferguson Renee has over 30 years of combined playing and coaching experience at the select and college levels. After a 3 year stint as Division I, Morgan State University’s pitching coach; Renee was appointed the Head Women’s softball Coaching position at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Where she lead the Pioneer Softball team to an 8th place finish, in the NJCAA DIII Nationals in Rochester MN after taking the helm only weeks before the 2013 season started. Renee’s goal is to instill the love and passion that she has for the game, into each and every one of her players and students.
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