Hallelujah Highway

Celebrating the Journey

Purple Crush~ Kristi

on August 6, 2014

Purple Crush“When we send our kids to play organized sports—football, soccer, swimming, whatever—for most of us, it is not because we’re desperate for them to learn the intricacies of the sport.  What we really want them to learn is far more important: teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship, the value of hard work, an ability to deal with adversity.  This kind of indirect learning is what some of us like to call a “head fake….  [the] head fake… teaches people things they don’t realize they’re learning until well into the process.”  (39)  from The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

I have placed my daughter in sports since she was eighteen months old.  At first, sports practices were spent chasing her on the soccer field in the mommy-and-me soccer program.  Then, we moved into basketball through parks and recreation.  Her first season was spent twirling on the sidelines, climbing the miniature basketball hoops, and trying to scale the curtain that separated the courts.  She would dribble down the court, pass, and commence her signature “baller-ina” antics.  The next basketball season she came back with a vengeance and was the most aggressive player on the court.  She decided she was going to take down anyone—boy or girl, friend or foe—who had the ball.

Over the years we have progressed into AYSO (soccer) and NJB (basketball)—both are leagues that are competitive, but not too competitive.  For some reason, age ten is the magic number where it seems reasonable for more competitive leagues, like club.  At this point, I want her to: enjoy the challenge of sports, have fun while learning the fundamentals, make good friends, and to falling in love with the game(s).  I am committed to reminding her she doesn’t have to be perfect player and developing her into a well-rounded athlete as I am not willing to focus her to one sport despite the teammates that do.

Last winter, she decided that she wanted to play softball.  We signed up at the local grocery store, tried out, and were placed on a team—Purple Crush.  I found the $200 to buy the helmet, left-handed glove, ball, and bat.

The first practice was a shock.  At the end of the first practice, her coach asked the huddle of girls, “What sized trophy do you want?  BIG or little?”  The girls screamed, “BIG!”  I knew participation ribbons and guaranteed playing time was gone.  This was a more competitive league, and Jaylah was entering the sport later than the other sports she has played.

Her coach was intense.  He demanded a level of focus from his players that was not in my daughter’s bouncy, energy-everywhere repertoire.  In fact, I decided when she was in first grade that my job was to enforce “focus” in her seven hour school day and I vowed that I would not scream at her in the after school activities for focus.  Her coach did and it was a daunting task to hold the protective momma bear at bay, especially at the game where he ripped her out of right field and benched her for not paying attention.  Her lips and shoulders sagged in shame as she sat in the dugout.  As a former athlete, I knew this was a valuable lesson, but I wanted to run in to the dugout, hug her with arms of acceptance, and whisper how awesome she was in her ear.

Her U8 (under 8) team was young and inexperienced.  We had two six-year olds moved up from tee-ball and most of the girls were seven.  Almost half of the girls were rookies.  The girls’ practices in the beginning looked like a good blooper reel.  The coach reprimanded the girls for not getting in front of the ball, not putting their gloves in the dirt, for not putting their back foot on the chalk of the back of the batter box, for throws that were ten feet to the left or right.  The assistant coaches ran hitting stations while the coach ran fielding practice.  A mom or dad would catch the pitchers.   Everyone worked hard—parents included—two times a week for two hours.

During the season, we lost more games than we won.  The girls were humble and kept working.   Slowly the girls stopped hacking at pitches that were over their heads and swinging at pitches that were in the strike zone.  The outfielders, my daughter included, started backing up the bases so when the ball was overthrown, a girl was there to chase it down.  The pitchers threw more strikes than balls.  We were improving, but not winning consistently.

The last two games of the regular season the girls bats came alive and we won.  A mom leaned over and said, “This is the perfect time for the girls to peak.”  Despite our peak, playoffs started with a disappointment.  We lost.  In the team meeting after the game, the girls wanted their team cheer to be “Championship!”  The coach snarled, “Yeah, the championship from the loser’s bracket” and changed the cheer.  The parents laughed.

But then, we started winning.  Three games in one long, arduous week.  We gave team after team their second defeat, which knocked them out of the playoffs.  The girls would show up, warm up, hit, field, run the heck out of the bases, and cheer for each other.  We started thinking, “What if we were champions out of the loser’s bracket?”  We were getting closer and closer.

On a very warm, 95-degree Saturday morning, the girls showed up to play a six-inning championship game from the loser bracket.  Our team took an early lead.  4-1.  12-2.  Then, the other team started catching up.  At the bottom of the sixth inning, it was 12-11.  Bases were loaded and there were two outs.  The hitter hit and the girl playing second base caught the ball off the bounce and threw it to first base a few milliseconds before the runner hit the bag.  The throw was slightly off and the girl playing first base dropped it.  The other team won and crushed our ‘champions out of the loser’s bracket’ dreams.

At the team meeting after the game, the coaches and parents put on their sunglasses to hide the welled up tears of pride.  Our girls, huddled together in a circle of softball sisters, had improved so much.  My daughter learned how to throw a ball, which revealed an arm that could throw from right field to home plate with pretty good accuracy, and hold a bat that would not swing at pitches that were too high or too low.  Each girl had their little triumphs and improvements, which almost caused an upset.

I am grateful for the coaches who spent countless hours running drill after drill.  When one coach would yell at a girl, another would step in after, pull that girl aside, explain what they could have done differently, and build them back up.  I appreciate that the girls showed up to every practice and ran the same drills that reinforced the fundamentals with focus.  They played every game with heart and worked on implementing what they learned.  They supported one another with cheers and little dances.   I am thankful for the parents who drove 15-miles further to a field that would have room for all of the stations two to three times a week.  Each parent stepped up and had a job.  Some were snack bar moms and scorekeepers.  Some were team moms and some got the meaningful coaches gifts.  Some sat on a bucket and placed ball after ball on the tee.

This was the season that I have prayed for.  My daughter learned what it takes to be a part of a team with remarkable chemistry that never gave up, worked hard with focus, and had fun playing the game of softball.  Also, she felt the sting of a second place victory, but the satisfaction of knowing second place is an admirable place to be.  This team’s legacy will be the standard to which all other teams will be compared.  Congratulations on your 2nd place victory, Purple Crush!  I am beyond proud of you and your accomplishments.

IMAG0415

A softball sister hug with Coach Dan

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Jaylah and her proud momma (after the championship game)

 

 


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