I grew up around sports. My dad played baseball and softball while coaching football, baseball, and softball, and while also refereeing basketball. My brother played football and baseball. I played softball. My mom played softball when she was younger, but was one of our biggest supporters after my brother and I came along. I'll be honest.
At first, I could've cared less about sports. I spent days and nights at the field running around with the other kids. The only reason I decided to start playing softball at 7 years old was that I was tired of waking up early on Saturdays to watch my younger brother play. So I made him have to get up even earlier than he had to so he could watch me play.
My first season was a joke. I spent more time volunteering to be the odd man on the bench than wanting to play. My second season rolled around and I was more excited to play because I realized the best kids were put on the best teams when they advanced to the next age group. At some point during that second season, I found love and happiness in softball.
Fast forward a few years and you'll find sophomore year version of me. My team had just lost an important game and after our coaches had finished talking we circled up to say a few last words to each other. And as we broke it down, I felt someone grab a fistful of the back of my jersey and yank me backward. My coach's furious face stared into mine and the words coming out of his mouth were the exact moment softball was no longer fun and enjoyable.
"I hope you're satisfied and sleep well tonight knowing you blew this game for us. I don't understand why it's so hard for you to block a freaking ball with the tying run on third base."
I will never forget those words and the feeling in my heart as I walked away. I've never been a crier or a quitter, but that night I cried. A lot. I begged my parents to let me quit and never step back on a field again. I begged them to let me move somewhere else to avoid ever seeing that coach again. They didn't and I walked into practice the next week with a smile on my face like my coach hadn't just broken my heart days before.
Fast forward to senior year when an important decision was in my way. I could play one last season of travel ball and hope someone was looking for a last minute signee, or I could say goodbye to softball after my senior season and graduation. I spent weeks talking to my parents, who refused to weigh in, saying it was entirely my choice.
I talked to my coaches, who all told me they thought I had potential to play college ball but ultimately I had to ask myself what I wanted. I spent a few nights lying in bed considering my options. Once I decided, I spent a few more teary eyed nights talking to myself trying to find the words to tell my parents, and biggest supporters, I would not be looking to further my career.
Finally, one afternoon I came home from practice and sat my parents down with tears running down my face and apologized to them. I told them I loved softball but did not see myself playing in college. I was so afraid they would be upset with me for throwing away all the time and money they invested in me over my career over this crazy idea that I wouldn't fit in on a college team. To my surprise, my big, burly, unemotional dad's eyes started to water as he looked at me and smiled.
"I think you've made the right decision."
He went on to tell me he had noticed the fire inside me die over my last two seasons, "I could see your heart really wasn't in it anymore." Looking back, you can see my lack of heart and passion just through pictures of me playing. There were fewer smiles and less happy memories, as my final game came closer.
I've come to realize over the last year or so that I'm not the only one who lost their love for the game because of a coach. After talking to many friends, teammates, and even strangers, I've noticed it's a very common thing.
Some coaches think winning a game is more important than producing athletes with class, character, and life skills to use on and off the field. I'm sharing my story in hopes that we as athletes, parents of athletes, friends of athletes, and supporters of athletes can change this trend! If you know a coach who tears athletes down instead of building them up, say something! Don't sit back and let one person destroy someone's love for the game.
I should mention that I ended my career on a high note. I broke numerous school records and also became the first person from my school in well over a decade to be places on the Tennessee All-Mid State and All-State softball teams. I may have started playing as petty revenge on my brother, and I may have had more than a few rough patches along the way, but I am happy with the way I finished. It proves hard work pays off, no matter what.