Just saw the news that softball (and baseball) have officially been voted back in for the 2020 Olympics. Not too surprised given where they will be held.
Japan is as fanatical about fastpitch softball as the U.S. – maybe more. And they have a gold medal to defend, despite the fact that it’s likely most of the players on that last team probably won’t be on the 2020 team.
I know a lot of people are really ecstatic about it. For me, I’m more “meh.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love watching the games on TV, especially the medal games. It’s exciting to see the best players in the world going head-to-head, and even though the Olympic rings have lost some of their luster it’s still a pretty big stage. And for me personally at least there’s now something interesting to watch.
But many of those who are so excited have a belief that having softball in the Olympics will drive participation and give female softball players something to dream about. For whatever it’s worth I disagree.
I don’t think young female softball players, as a whole, care that much about the national team. Just ask any you know who is on the national team right now. You’ll probably get a blank stare. Or ask who was ever on the Olympic team for the U.S. You might get a couple of good guesses, but beyond the high-visibility pitchers most probably won’t know.
When I’m doing lessons I will often ask students if they have heard of this top-level college player or that high-profile pro. Most have not. They just don’t care. They’re more focused on their own performance.
If participation overall is down I don’t think it’s because there was no Olympic team to aspire to. I would say cost is much more of a factor now. It used to be you could join a team and play all summer for around $500. Now it’s more like $1,500 to $2,000 on the low end, and $20,000+ on the high end for a bigtime exposure team that travels around the country.
That puts softball out of the reach of a lot of families, especially in the current economy. They’ll either find a cheaper sport, or they’ll find another activity that doesn’t cost them as much.
As far as the hopes and dreams go, let’s be honest. There are precious few spots on the Olympic roster to being with. You have to be a top-level college player (current or former) to have any hopes of making it (Crystal Bustos excepted).
It may be an incentive for a precious few. And good for them. But for most, reality will likely set in at a young age as they realize they’re not destined to become one of the greatest fastpitch softball players in the U.S.
I’m glad it’s back in, and I’m glad our sport will get more exposure. But is it a game changer? I don’t think so.