As most of you know, I️ was a collegiate athlete and now I️ coach 16 girls that are striving to play softball in college. They’re overwhelmed with the whole recruiting process and I️ find a lot of them and their parents ask me, what’s the point of playing in college? What’s the benefit when I could save what I pay in fees and put it towards her education? For a long time, I️ didn’t know what to say. I️ had a great experience playing at Arizona. I️ did some things that no one else can say that they did and I️ wouldn’t change my decision to walk on there for anything, but what if they go to school and their playing experience isn’t what they wanted? Then what is the benefit for someone who isn’t as passionate about softball as I️ was? Recently, it has been really clear to me why playing at the collegiate level benefitted me, besides the obvious part where I️ got to play the sport I️ love.
The majority of parents say they put their kids in sports to learn how to be a team player or to learn how to cope with failure, which you can definitely learn at a younger and less competitive level. However, nothing has taught me how to cope with failure more than playing collegiate softball. There were times that I️ gave the game everything I️ had and it still wasn’t good enough. When you have been dreaming about achieving these goals your whole life and you fail, that is a hard pill to swallow. I️ wanted to be a national champion, an all American, someone who gets remembered just like all the people I️ looked up to as my heroes wearing the red and blue. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be for me. For a long time, I️ didn’t understand why. I️ did everything I️ could. I️ showed up to practice early, left late, did extra cardio, read sports psychology books, improved my batting average about .200 points, but I️ still didn’t get what I️ wanted. This part of playing at the college level, though absolutely heartbreaking, taught me that just because you work hard doesn’t mean you will achieve everything you want. However, if you truly did everything in your power to reach your goals, then you know it wasn’t meant to be. There wasn’t a single thing I️ could have done differently to make myself better in college and that allows me to understand that I️ didn’t truly fail. I️ still did amazing things and had an incomparable experience, but I️ didn’t get the titles that I️ wanted. This taught me that failure isn’t always you not achieving what you want. I️ know that mine was a lesson telling me it’s not about the titles or the rings or being remembered. It’s about the experience I️ had, the lessons I️ learned, and the person I️ became because I️ always pushed myself to be my best.
Alright, now we are past the somewhat disappointing part (sorry to start off with a downer), let’s talk about some awesome reasons to encourage playing a sport at the college level. Depending on your sport, you usually have a team of over 15 athletes that you spend all of your time with. Obviously, you get annoyed sometimes because you are surrounded by the same people all day every day, but you also build some unbreakable friendships (which is great for some socially awkward people like myself). I️ have some teammates that I️ still see at least once a year even though the closest one is 2 hours away from me. In fact, I️ just went for an impromptu Disneyland trip with Kenzie Fowler, my teammate for 4 years and roommate for 2 years. We both had 9 hours to kill while we were in California and decided to spend it together at Disneyland. When I️ go to Colorado in June, I️ know I’m going to see one of my other teammates Shelby Babcock. Not only did I️ play and live with these girls, but we went through hell together. We pushed through a Neil Willey ladder after doing 8 stadiums, if you don’t know what that is BE GRATEFUL! They were there for me when I️ went through my knee injury senior year. They were my shoulders to cry on when I️ lost my dear Eboney in the middle of my junior season. They were some of the first people I️ told about my engagement, just behind my family and my Matron of Honor. The bond I️ have with these girls is something special that we developed over a four-year period. They were there to pick me up when I️ was down and to celebrate when we overcame anything. It helped show me there are good people who you can rely on besides your family and childhood friends.
Yay for warm and fuzzy feelings thinking about my friends. Not everyone will gain lifelong friends from their experience in college. So why else is it beneficial? College sports are grueling. They take up at least 50% of your time between lifting, running, practices, games, traveling. Then you have to figure out how to balance that with school, having a social life (you know being a normal 18-22 year old), and sleep. This is a lot to balance when you have usually had your parents help you plan out your day for the past 18 years. Now you have to figure out your major, full course schedule (find all the classes you need that will work with your lifting and practice schedule), be mentally prepared for a full practice and conditioning after, try to become a starter, get good grades, and (one of the most important things to me) figure out what you’re going to eat every day. This gets overwhelming, even in your later years when your body gets exhausted from consistently training for multiple years and rarely giving yourself days off. This ability to manage your time stays with you after you hang up your cleats. Even now, I️ am learning a bunch of different things with technology and real estate, I️ am coaching a team, planning a wedding, doing lessons, going to my nephews’ games, and saving to buy my own house. Most people would be overwhelmed being pulled a bunch of different directions at the same time, but I’m balancing it while also fitting in time with my family and traveling all around with softball and to visit family. It’s still nothing compared to what I️ used to do and if I️ didn’t have that instant independence being a collegiate athlete made me gain, I️ would be overwhelmed right now and I️ doubt I️ would be able to do all of this without imploding. I’ve still got nothing on my sister who got her law degree, bought a house, and had a kid all in the same year (she was also a collegiate softball player), but I️ do my best.
There are so many benefits to playing a college sport, but right now I️ will leave you with this one: Nothing compares to representing and being a part of something bigger than yourself. While I️ played softball at Arizona, we didn’t win the national championship, we didn’t go to the Women’s College World Series, we didn’t win a Pac 12 title, but I️ cannot put into words how gratifying it is to button up that uniform and see the school you are representing across your chest. You aren’t just a student there, you are one of the faces of the school. There’s a sense of pride when you walk around and people know that you are an athlete. Not only are you going to school and working your ass off for your degree, but you are working with your teammates (some that will grow to be your lifelong friends) towards a common goal. You’re part of the less than 1% of athletes in the country that make it to the collegiate level. That’s something to be proud of, no matter what school you go to.
I say all of these wonderful things that come with the opportunity to play college sports, but there is a catch. You have to work harder than everybody else that has the same dream as you. This is where I see a lot of young athletes get hung up.The grind to get better is grueling (probably why they call it a grind, duh). In order to get to the next level, you have to be willing to put in more work than every other girl. You have to have better grades, be a better athlete, be a better teammate, make a good impression while you’re in front of your prospective coach. There’s a demanding list that you have to fulfill in order to even be on the list to possibly be seen by the school you want to play for. It’s a lot, it’s damn difficult, but it’s so rewarding.
I️ might romanticize college sports, but it’s hard to not feel a little dreamy about it because achieving that goal was one of my greatest and most difficult accomplishments. I️ had a special experience, and I️’m lucky for that. I️ know a lot of other people that aren’t as satisfied with their experience, but they don’t see all the positive lessons they learned through the adversity. Even though it can be trying, demanding, and heartbreaking I️ would hope that all collegiate athletes want others to experience the thrill they felt or learn the lessons that made them grow into the people they are now. Please, don’t get me wrong, you can learn these things without being an athlete, but it’s so extremely rare.
When I’m older and build my family, I️ won’t push my kids to try to be college athletes, but if it is something they strive for I️ will encourage it wholeheartedly. There are some experiences and lessons that should be taught through blood, sweat, and tears. Trust me, there are a lot of tears. It was the most difficult time in my life, but I️ wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Thanks for reading! Keep it Real!