Success Is Inevitable When You Do The Work
The wind blows across the softball field, caressing the hair of the girls who are standing firm on the ball field and waiting for the next play. The field lights snap on, as darkness introduces the night on this warm summer evening. The smell of freshly cooked hotdogs and popcorn accompany the breeze, forcing a smile on my face, as it’s a reminder that the softball and baseball seasons at Smithville are in full effect.
My eyes catch the image of my eleven year old daughter, Ashley, bent over with her hands and softball mitt resting on her knees, her black visor pulled tight and covering her eyes from the setting sun. Her pink and white socks pulled tight up to her knees and her pink jersey is neatly arranged and resting on her trendy black and pink shorts. She looks tiny and fragile out there.
My heart aches for her, because I know she wants to do so well tonight, to contribute to a team victory. This is her second year playing softball and she’s grown to love the sport. She adores her teammates and coaches and looks forward to every practice and game. Her team, the Pink Bandits, are 11-1 this year and playing for the championship, it’s a big game tonight.
My daughter, Ashley, is nervous because she’s not played well the past few games. In fact, she is in the midst of a slump. She struck out or was thrown out during her last six “at bats”. She recorded a few fielding errors that allowed teams to score against her. She’s beginning to get down on herself and question her abilities.
As a father, all I can do is encourage her and provide her with the resources to succeed. We both decide that a softball camp at Indiana University will help. She loves the camp and learns a lot, but she still remains in a slump with no hits and one error in her next game. She’s distraught as the Pink Bandits approach the final game, the championship game.
I search for answers for my daughter, because I want her to succeed so badly in a sport that she loves. I want to help her contribute to her team as badly as she wants it, so I practice with her. My daughter accepts the challenge willingly as we meet out in our back yard and play catch for hours under the hot sun. I throw her pop flies, line drives, and grounders. I begin to throw balls to her faster and harder. Her glove snaps as the ball slams into it, she never blinks. She zings the ball back to me with a smile. She’s gaining confidence.
Next, I put her in a batting cage and pitch dozens of balls to her until I could hear the rhythmic crack of the bat as Ashley confidently connects with each ball over and over again. She’s ready, or so I hope.
I can feel my heart pound in my chest as the game begins. The Pink Bandits play their final game against their rival, the Orange Crush. They split their last two games and are evenly matched. Any team could go on a hitting streak and the game would be over quickly, so it’s important that our girls keep the Orange Crush’s rallies to a minimum.
In the 2nd inning at bat, the Orange Crush receive an early out, but then two girls get base hits, placing them on first and second base. Their next batter approaches the plate, one of their best hitters. I feel the pain in my stomach knowing that this play is critical and if the Pink Bandits can hold them off, they can escape a pending rally.
“Crack!” the sound of the ball connecting with the bat reverberates across the ball field. The bright yellow ball soars into left field towards my daughter so fast it looks like a streaking yellow bullet. Ashley moves towards the ball and I hold my breath as the ball disappears in her glove with so much force that it almost rips the glove off her hand. She caught it! I can see the look of surprise on her face as she realizes the ball stays in her glove. She instinctively pulls the ball out of her mitt and drills it to third base, holding the runners at their bases and keeping them from scoring. I leap out of my chair full of pride and tears welling up in my eyes for Ashley. She looks over at me with a smile and gives me a thumbs up. The third out comes easy and the Orange Crush are held from scoring that inning. Ashley runs to her dugout to high fives and hugs from her teammates. It’s hard for her to hold back a huge grin as she accepts their praise.
Ashley steps to the plate for her first at bat, full of confidence from her spectacular catch the previous inning. She looks at that pitcher, crouches in her stance, and grips the bat tight as the first few pitches sail past her. The next pitch, Ashley swings and connects with the ball sending it out to left field at an angle that makes it impossible for the left fielder to catch, Ashley makes it safely to first base! The next batter is up, and Ashley steals second base. She steals third base on the next pitch and scores when the batter grounds out on the next pitch. I watch with pride when Ashley’s foot plants on home plate and she saunters back to her dugout to more high fives and hugs from her teammates. I can see the relief in her body and the joy in her eyes as she enjoys a wonderful summer evening chalked full of memories and success. The Pink Bandits go on to win the championship by two points ending a great season with Ashely contributing to the win.
Ashley learned a powerful lesson during the last week of her season. She was in a slump and that happens in life. Many times it can’t even be explained. She was down on herself with no end in sight, but she didn’t give up and just practiced and did the work necessary to train her muscles, tendons, and mind to react to game situations. Her expression, when she caught that hard driving ball in left field is ingrained in my memory. Her mind was surprised at her body’s reaction. She practiced so much that her body reacted before her mind could react. The ball was safely in her glove before she had a chance to think about it. Her body reacted, because she trained it over several hours of practice and repetition. She did the work and the success eventually came. Slumps are inevitable, but so is success if you are willing to do the work. Are you willing to do the work?
The season is over now and Ashley and I head outside to throw a few balls back and forth. I expect we will just toss a few balls for fun, but Ashley has something else in mind. “Hey Dad, can you squat down to catch for me, I want to learn how to pitch.” I smile as my knees crack in pain when I squat down in a catcher’s position. I envision countless hours of practice and work with Ashley this summer as she prepares for success next season, but I’m willing to do the work, because she is and I’m happy to do it.
“Snap!” The ball slams in my glove hard as Ashley pitches me the ball. The speed of her pitch surprises me, so I look over at her and notice the smile of confidence in her face and the passion in her eyes. I can feel a grin emerge as I turn my hat backwards and prepare myself for her next pitch, this is going to be a fun summer!