My two daughters, aged 11 and 8, played with an 18U softball team this summer. Now, we had talked about trying softball previously at some point, but of course figured that would be (at least mostly) at age level, and thus (at least mostly) at skill level. This being the year it is, however, the combination of a) pretty much everything else canceling completely on us, and b) the consequent need for more players to make a viable 18U softball team in the first place, made this arrangement work the way it did. It was a first for both of our girls, and we tried to set their expectations…optimistically, but also soberly. Full fastpitch play, among other players up to twice their age, starting from little more than a cursory introduction to throw-and-catch at home…well, let’s say we were prepared for it to be the very definition of “a growing year”.
And it was. But not for the reasons I was steeled for. It was actually the very best kind of growing year, due largely to the attitudes of the older girls toward the younger ones.
See, I wasn’t prepared for them to be superheroes.
Before the first practices, trying to empathize a little bit, thinking about what it would be like to be a high school senior softballer, with years of effort invested, suddenly faced with the prospect of perhaps that final season being no season at all, for reasons entirely beyond the possibility of control…well, frankly, it would seem very understandable to be frustrated by having to scale back so much, and suddenly to be playing alongside wide-eyed newcomers not yet out of primary school, in order to be able to play at all. Not the way you dreamed it, for sure!
It’s not like I was expecting anyone to be snippy or rude or anything like that, but I gotta say that I just wasn’t quite prepared for how far the other way these girls went. All the older girls went out of their way to welcome and work with the younger ones, with encouragement and patience, good will and trust.
And it was clear this was their choice, too. What I saw was authentic encouragement and mentoring, at every practice and pretty much at every turn. It wasn’t rote or plastic “attagirl”s; rather it was real encouragement, dozens of little things, with suggestions for improvement and challenges to do better–because they believed the younger girls could do it.
And it wasn’t just encouragement on the softball skills, either. Toward the end of one of the last practices, my 8yo got hit by a pitch, and you could tell both that it hurt, and that D didn’t like it that it hurt; her cry was mostly of frustration, and D wears her frustrations pretty openly. The older girls first immediately made sure she was okay, then gave her all the space she needed, and then welcomed her back with encouragement once D had composed herself. (Which she did…rather faster than she usually does.)
This episode was like a miniature clinic in how to be classy and respectful. The way the girls handled it was perfect; no adult could have done better.
Speaking as a dad, it is hard to overstate how meaningful and important that is to me: not only for my girls to be on the receiving end of such class and respect, but for them to be able to see, first-hand, how well it can be done.
To the older girls* of Homer Softball: thank you for your time this year, for your attention and encouragement, and for helping to show my girls what class looks like.
* In highlighting the older girls, here, I mean to take nothing away from our wonderful primary coach, whose carriage and comportment is very much the same, and seems to have made a similar (and welcome) impact on my girls.