PRAYING / PRAYER: The OCA Lady Eagles, including Hannah Hayworth, middle, pray together after a high school fast pitch softball game between Oklahoma Christian Academy and Crooked Oak in Edmond, Okla., Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman  ORG XMIT: KOD

If you have been watching the show Pitch lately (and if you haven’t, you are missing out), you are probably noticing Ginny Baker going through some issues that you have dealt with yourself. Yes, she missed the school dance so she was in top shape for travel ball tryouts. Yes, being fully dedicated to her sport causes her some trouble in the romance department. Yes, her family atmosphere growing up could feel strained at times since she felt closer to her dad than her mom. But having the level of determination that you need to really succeed involves making sacrifices (this is true in more than just softball). If you want something badly enough, you won’t let anything interfere with your aspirations. Like Ginny, many of us who aspire to play softball at a very high level “miss out” on a lot of the experiences that others would consider “normal.” Is there a way to balance? When are we giving up too much for the sport we love?

I know this comes as a surprise to many of you (is there a sarcasm font?), but I have always been pretty artsy and a little unique. In high school, I had a very hard time trying to integrate the side of me that loved reading, writing, painting and weird music (by your standards) with all of the elements it takes to become a great athlete. To me, they were two totally different identities. In fact, I remember being almost embarrassed that I played sports because that kind of wasn’t cool with my artsy friends. So I really felt like I lead a double life. I didn’t fit in with either crowd. I wanted how hard I worked at pitching to be a secret. This all seems very silly to me now, but priorities change.

Aside from feeling like I didn’t belong, I did miss a ton of social events for tournaments and work (did I mention I also worked while playing?: not a choice my dad was happy with). I can only ever remember going to one graduation party and I definitely didn’t have my own. I remember being at the graduation party and feeling like I was in a different universe. I thought, “is this what other people do all of the time?”

In college, my quirky personality and academic side was embraced by my professors and teammates. I felt at-home nearly right away. No more split identity. I was proud that I was part of a softball team AND the literary magazine. While my non-athletic roommates partied away, though, I had early lifts and practices, 48-hour rules, and a lot of homework that I had limited time to do. So, in retrospect, do I feel like I missed out in high school OR in college?

Not at all.

At the time, I remember feeling like I was missing some experiences. I do remember feeling like I sacrificed time that I could have spent being a teenager for innings and repetitions. But what did I get in return?

-The ability to work well with others and share a vision (team)
-A scholarship
-A closeness with my teammates in college that I had never known was even possible
-The thrill of being Valedictorian for my college
-Quality time with my parents

Do I think that any high school graduation party or time spent with friends in high school could compete with pitching to help my team win the MAAC Championship? Definitely not. Am I still even in touch with ANY of my artsy “friends” from high school? Not at all. If I could do it again, I think I would have even put more into softball. I would have played volleyball and tennis too. I would have let the sports become a bigger part of my identity and not worry so much about what a normal experience should be. You are an athlete. You are not “normal.” I think that is why so many employers in the real world love to hire athletes. Athletes get it. We work hard. We understand the value of “team.” We understand that we have to sacrifice to achieve big goals. Despite the fact that many college graduates report having trouble getting a job, I haven’t seen that happen with any of my recent college graduates. They are valued. They have jobs immediately.

So how do you know if you should keep pushing and keep investing more time into pitching or if you need to balance things out a bit? Don’t worry, I am here to help:

1. If you have any aspirations of playing at a Division I Level: You need to be in a very elite group here. Be prepared to spend as much as 6 hours a day playing softball in college. You will get used to sacrificing “normal experiences” for softball experiences. If this is your goal, you obviously need to spend some time throughout the year resting your arm or playing other sports, but you should be fully committed to your goals and not concerned with whether or not you are missing out with your friends. To prevent from feeling burnt out, though, schedule some fun things like concerts, small trips (museums, amusement parks, zoos, etc.) and “friend time” that doesn’t interfere with big showcases, clinics or other important parts of the game.
2. If you have another sport or interest that is beginning to look like a career: You probably need to back away from softball a little. I have a wonderful young woman whom I am still in contact with that was a good pitcher, but AN AMAZING singer. I mean, like you have never heard. She put time in with vocal lessons and exercises the same way you would with pitching. When she really started getting leads in lots of plays and performing at notable venues in the NYC, it was clear that theatre was where she should be devoting her energies. Does this sound like you? That makes softball more of a side gig for you.
3. If you are under the age of 14: I think it is absolutely crazy that some coaches ask you to specialize in one sport at a very young age. This is pretty much a recipe for getting injured. It is also a really good way to burn out really young. You don’t have to start specializing at 14 (most of my best pitchers still play multiple sports all the way up until college), but you should start turning on the heat in terms of your work ethic and the time your are committing to getting better. If you don’t do it, someone else will, and you will eventually meet that player on the field.
4. If you just want to play local travel and don’t want to play in college at all: You are kind of in a unique spot. You are not going to be missing a lot of social events to go to tournaments out of state. You can probably strike up a pretty good balance between your social life and your pitching life.
5. You are hurt or recovering from an injury: Way too many people try to come back from injury too quickly. It is always best to proceed with caution to help avoid reinsuring yourself. Make sure that you are fully cleared by your doctor, your PT, and any other expert you might consult before throwing yourself back into the game.

I hope this helps. I want to make sure that you have experiences as a child and teenager that help you to develop. I want you to avoid feeling stressed and burnt out. But I also want you to be the best pitcher that you are capable of being. I don’t want you to have regrets on the field or off. If you used to love softball but are beginning to feel like softball is becoming a complete chore for you and is NEVER fun anymore, you might want to talk to a therapist or life coach to help find out why. You don’t give up on something you love.