Nope, no thank you. I'll keep playing baseball.
But then the boys on my team started wearing cups and talking about girls, and that idealistic innocence I held onto for so long, dissolved into a self-conscious pre-teen who didn't want to be the only girl anymore.
Seven years later, I found myself sitting at a drab beige desk in my high school library, signing a scholarship to play softball for the University of Texas. So yeah, that turned out OK.
But softball gave me so much more than a college scholarship. It taught me hard lessons, knocked me down as easily as it lifted me up and gave me a life-long group of friends—really, they're more like sisters—I can turn to in times of need.
It's hard to narrow it down, but here's just a few things the great sport of softball taught me about life.
It's ok to get dirty.1 of 10
Playing in the dirt is a prerequisite for softball, and the willingness to get dirty—to shed a little blood or endure a few raspberries, as we like to call them—will do more than just toughen up your daughter. Learning to break up a double play, or dive for that ball at shortstop, is learning to sacrifice for something larger than yourself. It is learning to put yourself on the line for the team and to see it pay off in tangible ways.
Of course, it will definitely toughen her up, too—and in a world of instant gratification, taking a few knocks is not exactly a bad thing.
There's no crying in softball (or in life).2 of 10
I didn't cry when I broke my nose my sophomore year of college. One of my best friends never cried—not once—when she tore her ACL on three separate occasions. In fact, the only time I can remember crying is boarding the bus after being the last out at the Women's College World Series to end my senior year. In that moment, it felt like all the hard work we had put in, all the sweat and sacrifice, was for nothing.
Of course, it wasn't—in fact, that sweat and sacrifice meant everything for all of us. But my point is, playing sports will teach you when and where it's appropriate to show emotion. And that will come in handy years later when you receive a less than stellar annual review or you fall short of the promotion you've been dreaming about. There's a time and a place for emotion, and learning the difference early is key to success later.
Being strong is cool.3 of 10
The best softball players aren't necessarily the tiniest, or the skinniest, or the tallest. In fact, great softball players can come in any shape or size. For every Jennie Finch or Cat Osterman, there's a Stacy Nuveman or Crystl Bustos. The only thing that really matters is how skilled you are at the role you're asked to play. Big hitters need powerful legs, outfielders need cannons for arms and catchers pretty much need it all. If you want to teach your daughter that strong is beautiful, softball is the sport for her.
But so is being smart.4 of 10
Softball isn't just about muscle. Like baseball, softball requires quick cognitive thinking and split-second decision making. One out, runner on second, ground ball to left field—where's the play? Depends on the score and the speed of the runner—and just about 100 other things.
Softball players are always thinking ahead, running possible scenarios and preparing themselves to make the right decision under duress. Sound familiar? It's pretty much like preparing for life.
Braiding hair is an art to be respected.5 of 10
OK, I am not exactly known for my braiding prowess--which is why I have so much respect for the art of the braid. Not only will your daughter have a kick ass selection of hairstyles as she gets older, she's also learning service to others. Yep, someone had to braid my unruly, curly hair. And the teammates that were willing to do it game after game were displaying, in some small way, the heart of a servant and a willingness to help out a friend. Who knew there was so much to be learned from a French braid?
Parents rule.6 of 10
One of the clearest memories I have from my years of softball is my parents and sister schlepping to game after game, tournament after tournament, summer after summer. In retrospect, I now realize my mom would have loved to be on a beach somewhere in Mexico instead of a blazing hot softball complex in Temple, Texas. But she did it, as did my entire family.
In college, they rarely, if ever, missed a home game. And though I didn't realize it then, they were setting an example for the kind of parent I want to be someday, the love I want to show my kids and the kind of devotion I want them to show each other. In fact, those well-traveled camp chairs and that cooler full of cold rags were just about the purest display of love you can get anywhere.
Criticism is tough, but necessary.7 of 10
Let's face it: Sometimes your daughter is going to mess up. And a coach—or someday, a boss—has to break that news to her, even when she doesn't want to hear it. A coach may soften the blow when they're younger, but you can't expect the same as an adult.
Getting negative feedback will teach her to bite her lip, take the criticism and learn from it. Even the best players aren't perfect all the time, so it's essential to use that mistake as an opportunity for growth. Just because she let the ball go through her legs doesn't mean she's a bad person, and I can promise her coach doesn't think so, either (even though it surely feels that way in the moment). So next time she'll learn to get in front of it and knock the ball down. End of story, move on.
Fortune favors the bold.8 of 10
One of the most exciting things about softball for me was the chance to steal bases. I can still remember the heart-pounding suspense as I received the signal from my coach and waited for the pitcher to release the ball. When you're unsuccessful, you feel totally exposed—embarrassed, even. But when you take the chance and slide in safe, there's nothing quite like the thrill of victory.
Life is the same way: Sometimes you have to stick your neck out, take a risk and hope it pays off. It hurts when it doesn't, but when it does? Well, there's nothing quite like the confidence it instills.
Hard work pays off.9 of 10
Listen, I was no Cat Osterman—although my roommate was. I was just a really athletic kid from a small town in West Texas who knew a thing or two about hard work. I rarely saw the field as a freshman, and I always held my breath when the starting lineup was announced, even as a senior. But I knew what I could control and that was my work ethic, the commitment and passion I displayed on and off the field and the example I set for my teammates.
I use those same traits every single day as an adult, and I like to think they've gotten me further than my batting average ever could. Softball instilled those beliefs in me, and the real world reinforced them.