Life’s Too Short to Play for (or Work for) Jerks
One of the most common tropes you’ll hear about the value of playing team sports like fastpitch softball is that they teach life lessons. You hear about learning how to work in a group, how to push yourself to the limit (and then get past it), how to be dedicated, how to set goals and work to achieve them, how to overcome adversity, blah, blah, blah.
All of that is true. But there’s another lesson waiting there for players that often seems to be ignored. And that lesson is that life is too short to play for (or work for) jerks.
What does that mean? Think of your softball career as a metaphor for your life. It has a beginning, a middle, and unfortunately an end.
It’s like this voiceover from the movie Moneyball says: At some point we’re all told we can’t play the game anymore.
So let’s say you start playing at the age of eight, and you play through high school. The majority of high school graduates are 18, so that’s 10 years.
Continue on through college and you can tack on another four years – or five if there is a global pandemic in the middle of your career and you decide to hang around for that bonus year. So in most cases 14 years at best.
If you spend four of those years playing for a coach who constantly abuses and belittles you, puts you down constantly and believes the louder he/she screams the better you will play that’s either 40% or nearly 30% of your career spent being anywhere from unhappy to miserable.
In work years, figuring a 45-year career, 40% would be 18 years and 30% would be 13.5 years (high school v. college) in a job you hate going to and that makes you feel bad about yourself every day. That’s a long time to be unhappy in your life.
So the lesson you should learn if you are faced with this situation on your team is that you don’t have to just suck it up and put up with it. You do have options, like finding another team.
Because believe me, if you’re in a job like that you’re definitely going to want to find a different one. We spend way too much of our lives working to be miserable the whole time.
Now, at this point I think it’s important to differentiate between the occasional outburst (or verbal kick in the pants) from a coach and an abusive situation. Anyone who ever played for me can tell you I wasn’t beyond bringing the hammer down now and then when my teams under-performed or just weren’t paying attention to what they were doing.
Sometimes that can be a good thing, especially if it is in contrast to a coach’s usual style. We all need a little motivation now and then.
But that’s different than the coach whose only volume in speaking to players is 10, and whose words only convey negative messages. To me, that’s basically a coach who has no idea what he/she is doing and figures if they spew enough venom everyone will be too busy licking their wounds to notice.
It’s like this one time when a team I was coaching took a tough loss in a big tournament, knocking us into the loser’s bracket. In the post-game meeting everyone was waiting to get pummeled I’m sure.
Instead, in an over-the-top voice that clearly showed I was joking I simply yelled “Play better” and made a “crack the whip” gesture. It was a parody of coaches they had seen and played for before – the ones who had no idea how to help their players play better but figured if they yelled enough it would happen as if by magic. They laughed and the tension was broken.
I’d love to say we went on to work our way back through the loser’s bracket and won the tournament, but no that didn’t happen. Not every story gets a fairy tale ending.
Back to the topic, coaches always like to talk about holding their players “accountable.” Another phrase I find simultaneously horrifying and amusing when you are talking about 10-12 year olds, by the way. Adults have a funny way of understanding how young kids think.
But if that is the case, players also need to hold their coaches accountable. Coaches need to lead, not just scream to play better. They should support their players when they are giving their all, even if the outcomes aren’t what they hoped for.
Coaches should understand that the pitcher didn’t walk three hitters in a row by choice, hitters didn’t intend to take that third strike, fielders didn’t plan on booting the ground ball or dropping the fly ball, baserunners didn’t intend to slide too far and get tagged out.
Most of all, that South Park episode aside, players don’t take the field with the intention of losing the game. That stuff just happens.
Instead of screaming insults, coaches should work with players to ensure it doesn’t continue to happen, or give them direction on how to work on it themselves. If that’s not happening, and the screaming continues, players shouldn’t put it up with it.
Instead, they should find another team where the atmosphere is better. Because someday, they may face the same choice with a job, and if they don’t learn to value themselves may find themselves doomed to spend a lot of time in a job they hate instead of one that inspires them and gets them excited to go to work every day.
You only have so much time to play competitive fastpitch softball. Use it wisely.
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