By now I’m sure many of you have seen this video (below) that went viral after last weekend (January 2019 for those reading this much later). It’s UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi scoring a perfect 10 on her floor routine during a competition.
If you haven’t, stop right now and watch this video. You will be glad you did.
While the sheer athleticism and artistry of her performance are incredible, that’s not what drew me to writing about it. After all, this is a fastpitch softball blog, so not much of what she does applies to hitting or throwing a softball.
But if you didn’t notice it the first time, go back and watch it again. Only this time watch her face and see how much fun she is having. (And how much fun her teammates seem to be having watching her.)
That is an element that seems to be missing from a lot of youth and school sports these days – fun. Everyone is so focused on winning, and improving their rankings, and securing the almighty scholarship, and all the other things that seem to go with “getting to the next level” that they forget to be in the moment.
That all-consuming drive to win (or for coaches to prove that they’re better than everyone else) is a lot of what causes the yelling and screaming that takes place on fields all across the country at every level – even with the youngest players. It’s what causes coaches to belittle and humiliate their players in the middle of a game, not to mention the postgame speech.
As I’ve quoted many times, softball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. But it’s kind of hard to have fun if you’re trying your best only to be told you’re not good enough, or talented enough, or smart enough, or whatever enough.
And who is someone who knows that feeling all too well? Katelyn Ohashi herself. The other side of this feelgood story is that she almost quit gymnastics entirely.
She was on a path to go to the Olympics, but the pressure from her coaches, and the negativity from fans and observers, simply sucked all of the enjoyment out of it. Fortunately for all of us, getting off the Olympic path, and going to UCLA, helped revitalize her love for her sport, culminating in a gift to all of us.
Studies have shown that the #1 reason players quit youth sports is that it isn’t fun anymore. In fact, a poll from the National Youth Sports Alliance says 70 percent quit by age 13 for that very reason.
That doesn’t mean practices and games have to be a “birthday party without the cake” as one of my former players once described her high school practice. Working hard toward a common goal with people you value can be fun. Working hard to improve yourself so you can perform better than you did before can be fun.
There is a lot of personal satisfaction in setting a goal and then achieving it.
What’s not fun, however, is working hard and never getting on the field. What’s not fun is constantly feeling like you need to look over your shoulder because if you make one mistake you’re done for the game, and maybe the day.
What’s not fun is receiving a constant barrage of criticism over everything you do, even when you’re giving your best effort. What’s not fun is being embarrassed in front of your friends, teammates, family, etc.
Players need encouragement and support. They need to feel like they can stretch themselves to the edge of their abilities someone constantly coming down on them, even if they fail.
Most importantly, they need the opportunity to get out on the field and try, even if their skills aren’t quite as good as the player next to them yet. Because that’s the reason they signed up in the first place.
When you think about what participating in a sport should look like, remember this video of Katelyn Ohashi. She is the definition of taking joy in what you’re doing. And oh by the way, she was rewarded with an almost impossible to achieve perfect 10 for her efforts.
Then look at your own team. If you’re not seeing the same look from everyone there maybe it’s time to start thinking about how you can make it the kind of experience everyone there – players, coaches, parents, family, and fans – will cherish forever.