Gone are the days of tournament trophies. You know, the shiny things with a statue swinging a bat on top. I can still remember from age 11-18 playing every weekend with one goal in mind. We wanted a trophy. Our team gave the team trophy to a deserving player, so we all anxiously awaited to hear who Coach thought deserved to take it home.
Don't get me wrong, at younger ages it is about developing good technique and mechanics. It's important to learn the game, more so than win the game, but once you advance to a certain level of play, athletes need to learn how to compete both with their teammates and against the other team.
Nowadays, almost every 16&U and 18&U tournament is an exposure. What are we teaching our athletes with these? Many kids are more concerned with who is in the stands, and if they show well, not the overall outcome of the team. When you know you'll have 5 games no matter what, what is there to play for? I've watched too many games end, and teams aren't even sure what the score really was. Now is this a problem, not because they should be playing because they love to play, not because their team wins, but the problem comes when these athletes go to college.
When girls go off to college, they are used to sharing playing time because coaches wanted to see both Suzy and Sally play shortstop. Many athletes don't show that fire to win over a position, or learn a new position to ensure they are in the line up. There's no inter-team competition, and a bigger problem is that innate desire to compete with the other team. I want athletes that want to win, not at all costs, but win while competing with class and respect.
I did an assignment with my team, when we felt they were lacking the ability to compete, and had them all write the best competition they have been a part of. Much to my surprise, majority wrote about a high school game. With travel ball so prevalent, I'd think most of them would have had a make or break game to write about. Once I reflected on it, it made sense. High school ball has bragging rights to play for, it has playoffs you are trying to make, and once in playoffs, you're trying to make it to state. Every game matters. Why can't we make this be the case in travel ball as well?
I can remember playing in ASA Regionals when I was 13 or 14, and it was exhausting because we played 5-6 games in one day to finish 3rd. That's not what I remember most though, I remember every one of us wanting to win to keep playing. I wanted every teammate to get a hit, and as a team we committed to fighting tooth and nail. We came back from a 6-0 deficit to stay alive. We fought hard. Today, with very little to play for (minus your berth to Nationals), this fight isn't being cultivated in athletes.
There's an athlete in college now, who was quite upset she sat on the bench most of her freshman year, but instead of pouting or threatening to leave, she committed herself to doing anything and everything in her power to make sure she wasn't left out of the line-up. Her sophomore year, she started more regularly, and produced offensively. She also learned a new position in order to find a way into the line-up. This is the inner desire athletes need to have to be able to compete.
Coaches, I encourage you to find ways to stimulate girls competitiveness. Make every pitch, at bat, play, game, and tournament matter. We always keep learning, but we also need to keep that competitive fire lit.
| Cat Osterman’s accomplished career as a softball pitcher precedes her, starting with a record-breaking 4 years at the University of Texas and continuing with her impressive Olympic achievements and professional softball endeavors. In fact, she was the first pitcher to register over 2,000 NCAA strikeouts.
After taking home the gold at the 2004 Olympic games and enjoying years of success playing with the USA Softball Women's National team, Cat began her professional career in 2007 with National Pro Fastpitch. She is an inspiration to countless young softball players all over the world. Visit her website at www.CatOsterman.com
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