Sports can mimic life. Some days are glorious, most days not; some days are smooth sailing and some days a grind. But what are the real, enduring life lessons an athlete gains from playing softball?
- Practice Makes…Better
It’s not about being perfect. It’s about getting better and improving. Effort will be rewarded. Softball is a game that requires hard work, to make the investment necessary week in and week out to become an elite player. It requires pain and sacrifice including getting up early and home late for tournaments. To be the best requires a phenomenal work ethic.
- Focus on What You Can Control
All you can do is focus on your effort– and not the outcome. Focus on what you can control, not what is out of your control. Softball teaches self-reliance and personal responsibility. In the big picture of life self-reliance means motivating yourself to get the job done… whatever it is. Getting to practice and games on time, completing practice drills effectively and taking responsibility for equipment, etc. are all excellent life lessons.
- Let Go of Mistakes
Struck out at your last at bat? That’s ok, you’ve just given an opportunity for the girl on deck to take care of that RBI for you and you’ll get another chance in a few innings. That line drive went past you? Shake it off and get the next out. Mistakes cannot define you as an individual or as a team.
Successful athletes brush off mistakes. They acknowledge them, they learn from them and then they move past them. They put mistakes in the past and don’t dwell on them hurting overall confidence.
- Keep Learning
We’re constantly learning – from our successes, but also from our mistakes. Softball can help athletes recognize that even the best players are constantly learning and working to get better. It’s an approach to life that serves us all well.
- Being Positive Takes us Further
Positive Coach Alliance’s ‘Emotional Tank’ analogy to a car’s gas tank is an important one to remember. Just like a car’s gas tank, when our emotional tanks are full, we can go further. Not only should coaches and parents fill their athletes’ tanks, athletes should also fill their teammates’ tanks.
How can athletes fill teammates’ emotional tanks? First and foremost, they should try to avoid some natural tendencies (frowning, sarcasm, being overly critical, etc.) that contribute to emotional tank draining. Research shows that optimal performance occurs when people receive about 5 pieces of positive feedback (tank fillers) to every 1 criticism (tank drainer).
With a full tank, an athlete is more likely to push even when exhausted. How many times do you see people give up or not give all they have because they are tired then let their body convince their mind that they have nothing left to contribute for that day? Pushing through and giving all you have on a day when you are tired says a lot about your character. The easy thing to do is ‘give up,’ but softball makes you push even when you are feeling tired.
- Celebrate Success
Sports teach us to celebrate success – large and small. We all know how to celebrate winning the game, but sports can also help us learn to celebrate the smaller goals we set for ourselves, and see ‘winning’ in a whole new light. Nothing is more fulfilling than the feeling one gets after a job well done. Softball allows her to work hard and then see the results of her efforts.
- Become a True Team Player
Softball should teach our athletes what it means to be a true team player – someone who contributes 100% yet cooperates and collaborates with teammates to help bring out their best as well. Be a ‘Triple-Impact Competitor’: make yourself better, make your teammates better, and make the game better. This would be great to apply to adult relationships.
- Win and Lose With Dignity
Sure, good sportsmanship is an obvious one, but it’s also apparent that some players (and parents) have a harder time with this than others. From winning and losing to striking out without losing it, we all eventually learn that sometimes you just must suck it up and move on.
It’s sometimes called ‘honoring the game.’ Our athletes should learn to both win and lose while respecting themselves, their teammates, their opponents, the officials and the organization that organized the event. As an adult, how we define ‘game’ changes, but we should always win and lose with dignity and respect.
- Determination and Perseverance
Some days your athlete will need to learn to overcome adversity through sheer determination and perseverance. Never give up and never give in no matter what the score or what the count!
- Patience & Controlling Your Emotions
With perseverance comes patience; patience for teammates and their attitudes and personalities, patience for her parents who may judge her performance; patience for herself…recognizing that mastery of this game is a journey that some days requires taking one step back to go two steps forward tomorrow.
Emotions can make you do things you normally wouldn’t do. Being able to control the emotion can be extremely difficult, but if you can keep the emotions from influencing your decisions you will find this skill to be very beneficial in life. Softball teaches to play the game with heart, but not let emotions take over and control your game.
- Accepting Direction & Being a Good Listener
Softball teaches your athlete to take direction from her coaches in not only learning the proper way to play the game, but also picking up the signs during the games. A good listener has an advantage in being successful.
Playing softball cultivates the power of concentration, particularly in high stress situations.
- Goal Setting
One of the greatest life lessons sports teaches is the importance of setting both personal and team goals. Perfection may never to achieved, but the striving to get there is the lesson that lasts a lifetime.
- Everyone Starts With the Same Count
In softball, everyone starts with no strikes, no balls, no outs and no runs. Everyone starts out on the same foot. In life, we all have the opportunity to become a success. Some of us may start earlier or later or with bigger challenges than others but we all start with the same count.
- Coaches Matter
There’s the head coach, but there’s also a first base coach, and a third base coach. They’re all there to give you direction. They’ll also let you know whether it’s a good idea to run to the next base. Every successful person needs a great coach in their life. The coach is there to give guidance and to help make wise decisions. Choosing the right coach and deciding whether or not to heed that advice can make all the difference in your leadership development.
- When You Connect With the Ball… Run
At some point the athlete will connect with the ball. She must be willing and able to immediately run once you hear the crack of the bat. In life, opportunity will eventually present itself. When it does, you have to be willing to run with it. Don’t hesitate. Run!
- Having the Best Tools Doesn’t Guarantee Success
There are players who come dressed in the best gear. They’ve got the new uniform and the expensive bat. They look like they’re ready to play the game… until they’re on the field. Then you see them drop the ball, make a poor throw, or make an inadequate swing. The gear really didn’t matter.
The same holds true in life. You can have a great education and the best ‘tools’ in the world. If you don’t know how to properly use those tools, you won’t accomplish what you desire.
- Practice the Correct Techniques
Softball players know if they want to improve, they’ve got to practice. More than that, they’ve got to practice the proper things. They’ve got to perfect their form. They’ve got to make sure they’re doing the practice right.
In life, learn from great role models and leaders. Learn from what they did. And then make your own path.
- Dealing with Pressure
Often it’s the decisions we make under pressure that define who we are professionally and sometimes personally. The pressure we place on ourselves to perform during a softball game is not all that different than the stresses and pressure the athlete will face in the future. The lessons learned from the pressures of softball can help the athlete to learn how to manage her emotions and improve her focus on whatever the immediate task at hand might be.
For example, when the athlete is at the plate, she must keep her mind on her hitting approach, and not be distracted by thoughts of what will happen if she doesn’t get a hit right then. Or if her mind wanders after hours without any action, inevitably it will be that moment that a ball rockets her way. In life, losing your focus or buckling under pressure creates different problems. This is why learning to deal with pressure in ways not controlled by your emotions or feelings is a valuable life skill.
- Learning How to Separate Softball Life from Personal Life
It is very difficult to leave the softball action at the field and not take a bad day home with you after a game. Softball can help an athlete be successful in life, but it can also cause her to be anxious and emotional when it’s not going well. Without proper boundaries, softball can contribute to strained relationships or an erroneous view of life.
Some are natural leaders, but softball has a way of bringing it out even in those who are normally followers. Lead by example.
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