Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane Blog
It seems like one of the universal goals for softball fanatics is to see their daughters make the high school varsity team as a freshman.
Certainly there are those who believe that if you don’t make varsity as a freshman you stand little chance to play Division 1 college ball. That may or may not be true, but it doesn’t matter because the ones who will be playing at that level on a team that matters are few and far between.
For most of the rest it’s really not about that. It’s more the honor (or ego boost) of seeing their daughters recognized as being better than others their age.
We all love our daughters and want the best for them. And often parents think that means going straight to varsity. Yet I can tell you from experience that it may not always be the best thing, especially in the long term.
Perhaps this is a local phenomenon, but I’ve noticed over the years that the girls who start on varsity as freshmen are often surpassed in performance by other players their age when they’re all juniors and seniors. In fact, many of those straight-to-varsity freshmen eventually wind up losing their spots to kids who judged to be lesser players earlier in their high school careers.
Take the case of one girl who came from one of those legacy families. You know the type – both her big sisters were high school stars and went on to play D1 college ball, so naturally she had to go straight to varsity too. She was a big, athletic girl with a strong arm, so she was put right into the shortstop position.
Funny thing happened, though. By her junior year she was moved to second base while a girl who played a year of freshman ball and a year of JV ball took her place at shortstop.
How can that be? How can a kid spend two years on varsity and actually lose ground relative to others who played freshman ball?
Part of the answer is development. If you have a coach who doesn’t know how to develop players, giving him/her a promising freshman is probably the worst thing you can do to the kid, because that coach will just stunt her growth.
But I think part of it is also kids who go straight to varsity never have the chance to fail. What I mean is they’re thrown right in the crucible of having to win so the team can win the conference or go far in the state tournament. With so much at stake they start playing not to make a mistake or let the team down
– which as we all know is not the right approach to sports.
You have to be willing to take chances – to risk it to get the biscuit. But if you’re a freshman afraid to take those risks you won’t develop, and before you know some kid who played under less pressure and developed more comes along and plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. Then you’re out of luck, wondering what’s happening.
Now, certainly that doesn’t apply to everyone. Some kids are ready to play on the big stage right away. But far more are pushed out there before they’re ready, to the detriment of both themselves and their team. And often it’s a matter of philosophy. Some coaches feel they have to pull up a couple of freshmen each year for “continuity,” which is about as idiotic a reason to do it as there is.
In my perfect world of softball, it would be extremely difficult for a freshman to make it to varsity. She would have to offer something the team desperately needs, like an Ace pitcher on a team with none, or a take-charge catcher, or a hitter who can tear the cover off the ball game after game. She wouldn’t be what so many are – a #7 hitter who gets pushed into the outfield where the coach hopes she won’t do too much damage.
Of course, for some teams the standard is a bit lower. They may be looking for anyone who has actually played the game before. I can’t fault bringing up a mediocre freshman when the rest of the team is sub-par. But if you really want to contend, finding a freshman who can actually beat out an older player should be a rarity, not an every-year occurrance.
For those whose daughters didn’t go straight to varsity, take heart. There’s still plenty of time to get there. Most are probably better off waiting a year or two, so that when they get there they can really make a contribution instead of sliding along or watching their skills (and confidence) deterioriate.
And for those who wanted it and got, be careful what you wish for. You may just find yourself on the other end of the obsession with freshmen.
I’m eager to hear your comments…