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Game of Confidence
The greatest thing you can have in any sport is confidence. Don’t try too hard, but push yourself to your limits. Find out just how far you’re willing to go to achieve success, and while the hardships may last throughout the process, the end result will prove to be worthwhile. I guarantee it.
I know this because I was chosen to spend my Sophomore year on Varsity softball for the first time. A great accomplishment in itself, but being chosen doesn’t exactly mean you’re “the one”, yet. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a Varsity player. I thought they had what they needed, and I’d be the duplicate, expendable. I lacked confidence, you see. Going into the room where so many had been let down before me was one of the most nerve-wracking yet exciting moments of my life. The coaches were lined up and seated in student desks, somehow all the more intimidating as they eyed me from the door until gesturing for me to sit. I sat.
“We’d like to see you move up to Varsity this year, Kayla. I really like your arm, it’s definitely one of the strongest I’ve seen out there,” said from the head coach of Varsity, the one who I’d simply call “Keller”. We didn’t use “Coach” or “Mr.” anymore, maybe a quirk unique to our school. This would be one of the few statements I’d receive from him that was in the form of a direct compliment. Most of the time, he would just want to see the best in us, and compliments were hard to receive over improvements that needed to be made. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is the golden girl.
“Thanks,” I had said quickly with a grin. I smiled because I was nervous, and it seemed like the thing to do. My breath still came heavily as the all of us enrolled in tryouts had been fully engaged in the last test: conditioning day. A straight three hours of pushing limits. That would prove to be a reoccurring theme throughout the season.
Keller continued with almost an amused expression, “There’s always things we can work on, and I look forward to seeing you improve and have a great season. Could you call in Andi for me?” The other coaches smiled at me without having said a word, but I knew my old coach, Mr. Thurin, was proud that I had graduated from his JV team. So was I.
Taking my cue to leave, I nodded and offered another “thanks” in gratitude before moving quickly out the door in disbelief. Everyone else was in the middle of another round of push-ups, but they paused and all eyes were on me. Someone said, “Well?”
I let the moment draw itself out, watching their faces build with the suspense of silence and not knowing. “Varsity!” I finally exclaimed with a pump of my fist, and a roar of cheers erupted in the hallways of the school. My confidence jumped up a notch, however small. There were still more things in question. Like playing time.
The first day of practice arrived the very next day. Three of my old teammates, also Sophomores, had moved up along with me. Katie, Rowan, and Andi. I played with each of them on a select team over the summer, and we had grown to be great friends through the sport itself. We stuck together in the beginning, being the youngest. We were the new kids on the first day of school, and everyone wanted to know just who we were and what we could do. We could feel the pressure. My confidence was trembling.
Imagination of all the things that could go wrong is one of the biggest factors to hold you back. I had been so preoccupied about what would happen should I make a mistake that I lost the fun in the game. There was absolutely nothing to worry about. They’re right when they say to just play how you know you should, how you’ve been taught, and the rest will follow. None of us new kids made a fool of ourselves that day, as we had been dreading, but instead we made friends. As I had learned from previous years, a team is as close as a family.
As practices grew in intensity, I had been working like I wanted to be the last man, or woman, standing. The upperclassmen settled for the occasional goofing off during practice, while us younger kids continued as if we had a role to fill and expectations to follow, even if that meant taking theirs. It’s not the same as a competition. We worked well together, we encouraged each other, and we genuinely wanted the best from one another. Instead, it’s a determination to play the game and to contribute your skills for the team. I had it, and I was rewarded.
The first game arrived against Kenosha Bradford. We were not expected to win, as Bradford had just moved up to be ranked second in the state instead of third. Our coach explained that it was a good thing, that there was absolutely no pressure on us at all. All we had to do was play the game. Simple, right? Maybe we could surprise someone. If nothing else, I surprised myself. I was starting at third base.
Third base is a fearless position that most don’t understand. You’re close, dangerously close, to that swinging bat and the power behind it. Not to mention, most people are likely to hit it your way, and hard. I’ve always been that fearless player. If the coach tells you to move in and take away the bunt, you do it, even knowing that the batter could very well pull back and swing. The bruises physically hurt, sure, but you’re playing softball. If you’re not willing to sacrifice your body to make the play, you might as well start playing golf.
At the end of the day, we lost, as was expected. But while our record took a hit starting at 0-1, we did not. Lingering on the loss would take a toll on our work ethic for the practices and games to come. That wasn’t something I could afford.
I continued to give each practice my all. I couldn’t say for certain that everyone has that mindset. Most people dread practice throughout the day, while I’m the one waiting for that final bell to ring and release me to play. That was just something I was born with, and I’m sure there are others who share it with me. It’s a drive, a passion, to do what I love.
I can’t fully explain what softball means to me, because it’s so much more than words alone. Your teammates are your family. Everyone understands each other, everybody contributes to the perfect team chemistry, and each loss or win we experience, we go through it together. There’s not many opportunities out there for a person to feel that connection, but through a team, you feel it every day. It brings you higher.
Even so, my confidence was running in circles, going nowhere fast. I was in one of those famous slumps that seem to afflict most players throughout their career. My hitting and fielding abilities were being questioned even when I knew I was fully capable of what was expected of me. I knew this sport was right for me, but was I still right for it? I suffered a tough loss dwelling on the answer to that.
When there’s a ball driven straight between your legs, just where your glove should be, it’s nothing less than embarrassing. It happened twice. Or what about a ball overthrown to first, far out of reach, with extra bases gained by the opposing runner that should have only had a single? That, too, happened. But a ball that is struck into the catcher’s glove with a smack that marks strike three will make your stomach lurch, because you failed to give even an attempting swing. Unfortunately, that also happened twice. All in a single game.
I could feel the heavy disappointment hanging in the air around my coach, and it was an immediate weight forced onto my already slumping shoulders. It was dragging my down, with no intentions of lightening. My confidence, at that point, had shattered. The one coach I’ve truly looked up to did not have a compliment for me that day. Instead, he was silent. The silence was overwhelming.
The next day of practice came with dread. We would run for our mistakes as a team, and I knew I took the fault for the majority of them made. It’s a heavy weight to bear when you know you’ve let someone down, and I expected nothing other than more silence from the rest. I was wrong. They picked me up, and we went through together. The pain, the sweat, the tears, were all shed as a team. I could breathe, again.
The recovery from that game was still slow, but I have not given up since that point. They believed in me, Keller believed in me, and that’s what mattered. I no longer questioned myself, and nobody else did, either. Keller was proud that I had gotten my first hit, a double, against the game facing Muskego. We lost, but it was a victory. I couldn’t stop smiling, and that smile has not left my face since. I guess you could say my confidence took a leap of faith. Believe you can, and you will.