By Shannon Smith
Since I home schooled my children, playing sports was one of the few opportunities they got to interact with other children their ages. I loved sports of almost every kind, so I was open to any sport they wanted to try. My now-grown and married daughter began playing softball when she was six years old. Over the next couple of years, it became clear to her that she wasn’t quite like most of the other girls out there. To me, she was a rosy-cheeked, blue eyed, beautiful little girl who hadn’t lost her baby fat yet. To herself, she was either too chubby, too slow, or too clumsy. Some girls taunted her while others shunned her. I noticed that she wasn’t alone. It seemed every team had at least a couple of girls who didn’t quite fit the mold.
When she reached nine years of age, I decided to resurrect my coaching career and began coaching her softball teams so she and every other girl could have a fighting chance. As I looked around at other coaches, it appeared most of us had something in common: we were the parents of the little girls who didn’t quite fit the mold. Because of this, we were also the coaches who understood so well how an outcast child felt. In order to help my girl fit in, I found her strengths and helped her hone them. She had an incredibly strong arm, so she learned to play third base, catcher, and became a pretty solid pitcher. Because of her realization of her strengths, she became more confident as her teammates cheered for her rather than jeered at her.
Through the years, these same girls who were once laughed at became girls who found their niches and worked hard to perfect them. Off the field, they were the less-than-popular ones. On the field, they were part of something bigger than appearances-they were strong links in the chain that comprised their teams. Even through the tough years of puberty, these girls all found they had something to offer and it was because of this that they felt bigger, better, and larger than life when they did something good on the field. Playing sports put them in an “in” crowd, no matter what they looked like or where they came from. Being an accepted part of a team gave them a sense of pride and this pride propelled their confidence to allow them to achieve more than they thought they could!
Toward the end of my daughter’s softball years, we had a team that was comprised of roughly half “popular” girls and half “not-so-popular” girls. However, when we stepped on the field, we were as one and they knew they were all equals in the eyes of the coaches, the umpires, and their teammates. Out there, they were all “somebody”. I had a core of girls who had grown up together playing ball and for some, the ball field was the only place where they felt they truly fit. It was the last game of the season-the championship game-and it was my group of girls against a tough opponent. Our “star” pitcher was absent that night and our opponent’s “star” pitcher (who happened to be popular, well-known, and terrific at her position since she played varsity softball) could have intimidated our girls, but our girls didn’t let that happen.[adToAppearHere]
They had come to know that when they stepped on that diamond, every single girl had something special to give on the field and was proud to be a part of our unit. Because of the confidence these girls developed over the years playing softball, we won that underdog championship game. That chunky girl of mine walked out with an air of confidence and threw a shutout. We won that game 1-0, and the winning run? It was scored by one of those other underdog girls who just happened to develop into a fast runner. She got a hit, stole second base, stole third base, and scored at home on a wild pitch. Two girls who developed solid self-esteem through ball were the ones who walked off the field as big winners that night![adToAppearHere]
Because these girls grew up together playing sports, they all found their strengths, were mentored by supportive coaches, and were part of something bigger than themselves. They developed the confidence to hold their heads high. Being part of a team effort really does level the playing field (so to speak) for all girls to feel good about themselves, supported by other girls who might not have called them a friend off the field. Girls in sports grow to know that they can do and be anything they want to be, not only in the game of softball, but in the game of life.
About the author:
Shannon Smith is a former Supermom who now enjoys freelance writing, business consulting, and helping clients plan their cruise vacations. When she’s not bogged down with a million things to do trying to give her kids the best opportunities possible, she loves taking occasional naps (ahh!). She raised and home schooled two successful children singlehandedly while getting her honors degree day and night, working full time, and coaching at least two sports-one for each child-simultaneously year-round. But at the end of the day, she’s just “Mom” and that’s the best title of all.
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Sources: brainyquote.com, Wikipedia, fciwomenswrestling2.com, FCI Elite Competitor, photos thank you Wikimedia Commons.
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