My small girl is one heck of a softball player. It is remarkably safe to say these are genes she did not inherit from me. In fact, I just learned to catch a few weeks ago. She, on the other hand, has been doing so for five years. Yes, five. She turns nine in a few weeks. I’m not entirely sure she wasn’t born knowing how to catch. Either way, she loves the game, has been intuitively making ‘shortstop’ plays for a few years now and can hit.
She chooses to play in her ‘off time’. By this I mean, when other girls are playing with Barbies, learning to dance, or one of the other myraid ‘girl’ things I did growing up, she is asking her dad to pitch to her. Or play catch. Or throw her ground balls.
She has a stance at the plate that I just love. Even from a distance I know it is her…a tap of the plate with her bat, a slight wiggle of her bottom, a deep bend of her knees and bat up. Unfortunately, in the past three weeks, I haven’t been seeing it. You see, this year, Delaney’s team moved up to ‘kid pitch’ from ‘machine pitch’. This move brings with it a slower pace to the game and a level of uncertainty as the girls pitching are still getting used to the movement. Their control isn’t always perfect.
And sometimes the batter is going to get hit.
And sometimes that batter is your child.
Three weeks ago, Delaney took a hard pitch to the ribs. I heard it. I felt it. I think every parent with me felt it. As tough as my girl is, the tears flowed and she was out of the game for the inning. At the moment she was due to be up to bat next AND was willing to go back in, the umpire called the game.
I was devastated – knowing she would spend from that moment until the next game in fear of approaching the plate. And she did.
Her next at bat saw her standing further from the plate than ever before. With every pitch she jumped…terrified the ball was inching too close. For three weeks, we coached, consoled and navigated her terror as it grew to something that was nearly visible each time she approached the batter’s box.
This past weekend, I broke. As Delaney waited for her turn, the batter in front of her took a ball to the elbow and came out of the game. What was before a timid walk up to bat looked more like a death march. The first pitch was a ball. The second a strike. The third was mere centimeters from her head and she barely ducked in time. Before my eyes, all 53 pounds of her dissovled. Her shoulders caved under the pressure of trying to hold her arms and bat without shaking. As she inched forward, her face crumbled in terror and embarrassment that she couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. The rest of her at-bat was a blur. In moments she was on my lap, refusing to remove her helmet, her body shaking as she tried control the sobs.
That’s how I felt. This is a game my girl LOVES. And she is quick to tell me she is NOT afraid of the ball, but rather, afraid of being HIT by a pitch.
“Mommy, there is a difference.”
True. Her defense hasn’t changed. She still has a rocket of an arm and can turn plays at shortstop. But going up to bat gnaws at her. How to help her overcome this fear?
Shift her focus. Give her something to think about while she is at bat that supersedes the fear.
Jeff and I talked: money.
So I bribed her. For the next game in this tournament (naturally after she had calmed down, taken a break and focused on other things with her friends) I offered her $20 if she hit the ball. ”Really??” Her eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. I actually saw a sparkle. Yes, I offered her $20 if she could overcome her fear, swing the bat and hit the ball.
“What if I get out?”, she asked.
“If you swing, hit the ball and they get you out at first, you still get your $20.”
“What if I hit it foul?” she countered. (now I knew she was getting in to it)
“I’m not paying you $20 for every foul ball, but I will give you $5. You just worry about swinging.”
And she did.
Instantly, I recognized the stance: the wiggle was back. Her confidence was peeking out.
She swung and she missed. It was the first swing in three weeks.
She swung and she connected. FOUL. (DAMN IT!! I wanted it to be FAIR!)
And then she struck out. Disappointed. But $5 richer and a bit more confident.
And? That $20 is still on the line for the next game.
My softball girl is coming back to the game she loves.