DEFINITION: Belonging / verb / 1. be the property of. 2. be a member or part of (a particular group, organization, or class). 3. (of a thing) be rightly placed in a specified position. (dictionary.com)
Through every step up in your athletic career you face the fear of wondering, ‘Do I belong?’ Sometimes that doubt creeps into your mind due to people mentioning it or you just truly aren’t sure. I believe one of my biggest assets throughout my career was my mental toughness- having confidence, but not letting it ever waver too high or too low. The moments of finding you do belong are some of the greatest moments of your career, but the process of wondering if you do can be some of the toughest. There are 4 distinct times I’ve had this fear, 3 of those times it really didn’t affect me- then the real lesson was learned the time it did.
The first being in high school when it was my time to be the starting pitcher. Although, at this point in my life I was very optimistic and some might say naive. Therefore, I wouldn’t say I struggled with it too much because I didn’t know any better.
The next time being in college. I vividly remember my dad and I watching a Minnesota State vs. Winona State softball game and both of us sitting there wondering if I could ever pitch the way those girls were. Walking on to campus I had zero expectations, I was there to give it my all and see what happened. The first moment I felt I belonged was when a upperclassman catcher told me late in the fall that I was their “golden ticket”. At that point I was plugging myself in as the number 3 or 4 pitcher- so this came as a shock to me. Then finally, after throwing my first collegiate game and getting the win against University of Missouri St. Louis it really hit me. I believe that the combination of supportive/uplifting teammates and in-game experience is what you need to realize you can do things you didn’t even know you were capable of.
Finally, quite understandably, being a D2 pitcher playing in the Pro’s- the last 2 summers were 2 very different ends of the spectrum. When I made the Texas Charge through a tryout I was SO grateful to have the opportunity that anything that followed was more than I could’ve dreamt. That summer was basically a fairytale that I lived each moment day by day. When that season ended and the Charge folded, I knew I wasn’t ready to be done.
All of a sudden, the reality of my career potentially being over hit me again. I wanted it more than I ever had before. That’s when the Chicago Bandits came into play- and being complete candid- where I had one of the weakest moments mentally that I’d experienced through my career. Throughout the offseason I heard some doubters from the outside, that truly crept into my head and affected me more than I thought they would. I usually live the lifestyle of proving doubters wrong, because trust me I’ve faced them throughout every single level of my career (the list would be endless). But this time it was different, I let it actually get in my own head. Throughout the first few practices I was putting so much extra pressure on myself to perform, that I wasn’t being myself. I was throwing just fine but my presence was lacking and I would leave feeling as though I just didn’t do enough.
I was facing a few internal battles here… I was really wondering if i belonged. I was now plugging myself as just a D2 kid, with a torn labrum in my hip, and the team was coming to my hometown to play. What if they cut me and I’m sitting in my house while the Bandits play in my backyard? How awful would that be? I let so many thoughts creep into my head and the worst part was, I didn’t talk about them to anyone.
Finally, one day after practice I approached the coaches asking what they felt I needed to work on. Coach Nuveman turned the question back around on me and I started talking about my pitches, then as I began to realize what I was saying about my pitches wasn’t even really true, I said, you know what I’m putting too much pressure on myself. I told them what I was feeling, I’d only known them for a few days, but I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I’d never felt so vulnerable, I didn’t want my new coaches to view me as weak. I explained that this was new territory for me, confidence was something I usually didn’t struggle with, I never doubted my abilities. Had I doubted my abilities throughout my career, there’s no way I could’ve accomplished what I have. Throughout the conversation it felt like the biggest weight was lifted off my shoulders. The coaches told me that I needed to believe that I was a Chicago Bandit. Somehow, hearing those words were the reassurance I needed, I was a pitcher in the NPF.
From that point forward leaving that meeting, I never looked back. I believed that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I belonged. My confidence grew more and more throughout the summer and every time I took the mound I felt more prepared than the last. I felt like I was at home, a feeling I’ve felt my whole life on the softball field.
The moral of the story is to never let anything/anyone get in the way of you trusting and believing in your abilities. I know it’s easier said than done, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my career it’s that ‘if you believe it, you can achieve it.’ Sometimes we are going to have moments of weakness, softball is a game of failures! Don’t be afraid to speak about those fears and face them head on. I feel that because I was able to get that off my chest (and my coaches were incredibly supportive), I truly feel it changed my entire summer. I went from struggling with my confidence, to having the best summer of my life. It was truly a defining moment in that it was something I hadn’t dealt with before and I needed to work through, I came out the other side stronger! All in all, the feeling of belonging sometimes might take some time. Work hard, be patient, and when that moment comes it’ll all be worth it.
Throughout these photos I see growth, not only physically but mentally. They always say you get better with age and that couldn’t be more true. Yes, you physically continue to get better at your craft- but the true edge is in the mental side of the game where you have lived and learned for so many practices, games, up’s, and down’s- you are ready to face anything.