Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready To Play!


June 22, 2015

I’m a Softball Mom. That’s my official position as far as Lauren is concerned. My role is to sign her up for the next season, shop for equipment, buy Gatorade and sunflower seeds, sew on her Little League patch, pitch the ball to her in the driveway, and take her down the road to the field. John Fogerty’s song Centerfield is just long enough to play from our neighborhood to the ball field if I’m driving. (When Paul drives, we get almost to the last stanza.)
My Lovely never wanted to play any sports. We would always ask about soccer, softball, tennis, you name it. She never wanted to play. I know why; Lauren doesn’t want to do something new and look like a novice. But she doesn’t understand you have to look like a novice before you can look like a pro. She is my anxious girl, though. Remember? Heart pounding, hands sweating, irrational thinking, anxiety attacks. A 7 year old should never need counseling for anxiety attacks, but that’s where she used to be.
Now she is 10, and anxiety doesn’t come up as often now. One day when she was 9, she announced she wanted to play softball, and try-outs were that day, starting in less than an hour. Her school friends were playing, and Lauren ABSOLUTELY. HAD. TO. PLAY! Forty minutes later, we had called Paul to tell him what we were doing, dug through the storage unit to find Grace’s old cleats, bat, and glove, shoved Lauren’s size 8 feet into Grace’s size 6 cleats, gotten in the car, had a nice convo with a police officer in the Ted’s Kickin’ Chicken parking lot who was as impressed with Lauren’s determination as I was and decided to just give me a warning ticket this time, and ran out to the field just as try-outs were starting.
Lauren knew nothing about softball except that her friends were going to play. She was starting from zero with knowledge and skill. At the end of try-outs, she pointed to one particular coach and announced “I want him!’ I told her that try outs and draft weren’t intended for the players to pick the coaches, but for the coaches to pick the players, so maybe you’ll get him, but maybe not. “No. I want him because he helped me.” We’ll see, Lauren.
She got him. Coach Van sent an email welcoming Lauren and NOBODY ELSE she knew to his new player-pitch softball team. She stared at the email silently for no less than 5 minutes, trying to make her friends’ names materialize. This was not what Lauren signed up for. She only wanted to play because her friends were doing it. I knew she would tell me she wanted to quit before she even started the season. But she didn’t. I think the only thing that kept her from quitting was that she got the coach she wanted. She didn’t realize how blessed she was that having Coach Van also meant she inherited Coach Wendy, too.
Days before the first practice, Lauren stepped on a 6 inch nail. Went right through her sneaker into her foot. I knew she would announce that surely this was a softball career ending injury. But she didn’t. She spent the first 2 weeks of practice wearing a boot and using crutches. But she never quit.
Anxiety is an evil, mean-spirited foe. I mean real anxiety and not just the butterflies in the tummy kind of nerves. You might think you are just looking at a lazy kid who doesn’t want to try. Maybe you are. But maybe you don’t know. Sorry to the other softball moms who might have thought Lauren wasn’t into the game. Believe me, she was into it. And the game was into her; it was slowly bringing her to life. But watching her struggle and not commit to a swing was frustrating. In her first season of ball, I (am almost ashamed to say that I) never told her to do her best. I knew that with her stature and strength, she could slam the ball if she did her best. With those long legs, she could run those bases like lightning. But I knew that the first season needed to be about having fun. The way for Lauren to squash anxiety isn’t to push her beyond herself, but instead to just watch her enjoy the game. Lauren doesn’t want to look like a novice, but even more than that, she doesn’t want to look like a big failure. It’s skewed logic, but to someone with anxiety issues, to try big and fail, is big failing. To barely try and fail, is barely failing. And barely failing was all Lauren could afford when she started. And that’s why I said to Marcey so many times “well at least the girls are having fun!’
Lauren would swing the bat like she was afraid of hurting the ball’s feelings. She would watch good pitch after good pitch zip past her. She had a great ready-position, but didn’t have any hustle. The only ways she could get on base was with 4 balls and a walk. But the longer she listened to Coach Van, and the more she let him help her, her confidence grew and she figured that if everyone else can steal second base, maybe she could too. And if she could accidentally hit a pitch into the infield, maybe she could hit one to the outfield on purpose. And she became one of the loudest ones screaming chants in the dugout, and she had teammates over to spend the night. And eventually she felt like she belonged on that team.
She played on the post-season AllStar team, then when fall season started, you would have never known that 6 months earlier, Nailer didn’t know you ran the bases counter clockwise. At the first fall season game, another mom asked me “what happened to Lauren?” She had stopped second guessing herself and she was ready to play.
So we just finished her second Spring season and My Lovely scored a home run. Like on purpose! She brought in 2 runners, and was upset that it wasn’t a grand slam. And tonight she plays the first game in the AllStar tournament. Anxiety tried to make a comeback yesterday when she freaked out over not having a softball belt to match her uniform. But it’s all good now. She will have her belt and bat-tape and size 10 cleats. Seriously, she is 10 years old in size 10 shoes! And I will make sure to tell her to do her best tonight. But at this point, I don’t even need to. Doing her best is fun for her now.

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