Written By Renee Ferguson
A while back I threw around the idea of writing an article debating recreational softball (rec) versus select softball. As I was writing my first draft, the ideas shifted to an article trying to get both types of organization’s to work together instead of looking at each other as competition. I will start by making a confession: I am a select softball kid. I played probably close to 100 games a year from the time I was 14 until I was 20. With that being said, one thing I am sure of is that without my time as a rec ball player, there would not have been any time for me as a select player.
Rec leagues are great. They introduce players to the game, help them build confidence in their abilities, and try to provide an environment where learning the game is fun. Sure, every now and again you’ll get that one crazy over the top coach, who is only concerned with winning and forgets that teaching and encouraging the girls on the field is the reason they are there in the first place. Thankfully those coaches are far and few in between. Rec organizations do their best to ensure that teams are stacked as evenly as possible. They go through great lengths of ranking each player and having drafts to ensure each team has a pitcher or 2 and someone who can catch. These organizations are run entirely or almost entirely by volunteers. Mom’s and/or dads do everything from run the concession stand or clean the bathrooms to coach the teams. Volunteer coaches often are not screened for expertise or knowledge in the sport of softball. They are usually elected by checking a box on the form that says they have interest in coaching. At the same time, there are some sport organizations that have been lucky enough to retain their coaches. in some cases certain coaches stick around years after their daughters have stopped playing – those organizations should consider themselves extremely lucky.
I personally began my softball career at the Severn Athletic Club (SAC) in Severn, Maryland. It was at SAC that I had some great coaches like Mr. Dave Hines, Mr. Gene Becker, and my Dad Jim Rhinehart. All of whom helped me develop a love and passion for softball that has lasted my entire life. I remember plenty of fun things from SAC like the practices, the friends, the team names like the Severn Babes (true story), and the play. While I probably remember the least about the game play, I do remember being in the newspaper, and on TV, when our team was set to travel to Austin, Texas for the Pony Nationals. I remember how exciting it was watching myself on the news. I was in left field rocking my softball uniform and my pink high top converse shoes. It still feels like it was yesterday.
The trip to the Pony nationals was my first taste of “travel” softball. I was in the 5th grade that summer. We went down there any played our little butts off in 110 degree heat. I remember getting injured sliding into third and my best friend Angie, ended up with heat exhaustion and an ear infection to top it all off. After returning home, I think we stayed with rec softball only one or two more seasons because after the trip to the Pony Nationals, the competition from the local rec teams just didn't seem to be enough to keep me interested during the games. My dad must have noticed this because the next thing I know, my dad and a few other coaches around the league joined together to form a team called the Anne Arundel Blazers. The coaches pretty much handpicked the best of the best from all over the rec league and formed one hell of a super team. I bring this up because this is the exact situation that incites anger and frustration from recreational softball leaders.
What I think is forgotten during this time, is that if a recreational softball league is doing a good job instilling a love and passion for softball in their players, then it should be a natural progression for girls to leave the league and move to a more competitive and intensive program. I think when a player leaves an organization it is often frowned upon because it is perceived as a slap in the face or taken personally, but in reality it should be taken and viewed as a huge success. Recreational softball is designed to serve all those who want to play ball, yet what happens to the kid who comes in when she is 14 and has never played? She gets put in right field or sits the bench more often than the more skilled players on her team. Why? Because it is human nature to want to win and it’s the coaches’ job to ensure they give their team the best chances to do just that. But let’s say the above organization had a standing partnership with a select softball team and they willingly handed off more advanced players to the select team- where would that leave the 14 year old new player? Would she receive more playing time or more individual attention from the coaching staff now that their “best” players are gone? Would that girl then be able to advance her skill level at and advanced pace because she was played more than the minimum required number of innings per game? I think we all know the answer is yes. You would see her advance at a much quicker pace if she was, in essence, forced to become a better player because her team needed her to help them succeed.
I think the biggest misconception a recreational league can make, is that by encouraging a scenario where their best players were purposely funneled to a local select team they would be creating a deficit of players within their organization, not only in actual number of players but the talent level of the players as well. Yet in my eyes, I view the above scenario as a win win for both the select organization and the rec organization. Not only does the select team get a pretty good, up and coming softball player, but the rec league in turn creates more openings for the less skilled players to get more experience and playing time during the softball season. Thus, creating twice as many well rounded softball players as they would have by keeping the more skilled players around on their rec team.
In any type of work it is important to build relationships with other organizations that have like-minded missions. Recreational softball and select softball may look extremely different to the average person, but honestly they both are designed to serve the athletes who play for them. Organizations should be willing to explore options and partnerships in order to give their students the best possible chance to succeed at the sport of softball. There is no real lack of interested players; organizations often limit their own numbers because they impose these stringent parameters unto themselves, instead of looking outward to see what the true possibilities are for your players based on the number of like-minded organizations in your service area. Managing board of directors should take time to meet and discuss the ultimate goal of the organization and see if their current model is truly serving every individual as fairly and completely as possible. If the answer is yes, I anticipate your organization will have a fair amount of player turnover because of the opportunities you create for them by focusing on the full and complete advancement of each and every player that step on the field. Embrace it, it means what you are doing is working!
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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