A Pitch on Life

by Olivia Hansen

Growing up, playing softball was my whole life, and not just for me, but for my parents and sister’s as well. I played for 12 years for many different teams at different levels including my local recreational club, various competitive travel ball teams, and my high school team. I made many friends and learned many life lessons that I still apply to my life to this day. I grew a love for softball that could never be replaced as it has led me to be where I am today.

In the spring of 2021, when I was in my last semester of earning my undergraduate degree. I worked, and still do, in an athletic department at my local state college, and due to COVID-19, it was the busiest we had ever been, and probably will ever be. Once the pandemic started to slow down and we were slowly returning to in-person classes, it was decided that most sports seasons would be moved to the spring season. For us, that meant 8 of our 10 teams would be competing at the same time. Life was rough.

After my sister and I stopped playing, our parents regularly had conversations about coaching their own eight and under softball team.  However, that was as far as the conversations ever went. While I was working for one of the college’s softball games at the scoreboard, I got a text message in our family group chat from my dad that simply stated, “We are coaching a 12u team.” It turns out, the league was short of a coach, and they reached out to him to see if he was interested. After he agreed to coach, he asked me if I wanted to be his assistant. I had never thought about coaching before, but this seemed like a great opportunity because I definitely did not have enough experience on my plate. So, I officially became an assistant softball coach for a 12 and under softball team for the local recreation league that I grew up playing in.

My first season went very well. We had two girls who had never played before, so I had to figure out how to not only coach the team but teach some of its newer members how to play it as well. I also found that through coaching, I had to word things in different ways due to the lack of knowledge the girls had. I learned a lot more about softball than I knew at the beginning of the season.

After I graduated that May, I decided to take a gap year before starting my master’s program. I felt this was the best decision for me because I was burnt out on school and I needed to focus on myself. I was not sure which degree to pursue because I didn’t know which direction I wanted to go in life. I didn’t know what was the right path to take, or where I wanted to be in the future, I just didn’t know.

The following fall season, my dad was again asked to continue coaching the 12u team. But due to work conflicts, he could not commit to managing the team, but he suggested that I should become the head coach, and he would be an assistant when he had time to spare. Since I now had experience in coaching a team, I was not as nervous as I was in my first season. I had enough knowledge of the game, all I had to do was actually manage the team, which meant making decisions and dealing with parents. I was also able to convince one of my old teammates to be an assistant as well. We knew that we worked well together, and we knew the game enough to make do until we found a rhythm.

I then had the pleasure of coaching one more time that next spring season before I started my master’s program. I had the greatest time coaching and I intend to go back once I have completed my schooling. Coaching softball taught me many things about my community, the game, and myself.  While I was coaching, I realized just how important recreational sports leagues are. Growing up in one of those leagues, I loved being involved in them and how easily available they were to everyone. However, my perspective on recreational sports has shifted to how integral they can be in kids’ lives. It’s where they make friends, take a break from school, learn how to work in a team, and maybe, if we (as coaches) are lucky, gain a love for the sport. I want these types of programs to always be available for the community because of the positive effect they have on future generations.

As an athlete, when you are playing the game, you tend to see the outcomes that you want to see. If there is a close call, of course, you are going to say that the call should go in your favor. If a different call is made, you may go on a rant to your teammates about how wrong the call was made. But, as a coach, you have to make sure that your athletes are not overstepping their boundaries. It may be different in other sports, but in softball, players do not argue with umpires. Even coaches rarely argue with them, but if they do have a disagreement, they are usually asking for a second perspective. So, when I made the transition from player to coach, I had to change the way I made the calls on the field that I thought was not right. I had to instill in my players that they were not to argue with the umpires and that it was my job to do so. This was one of the trickier aspects of coaching that took me longer to get a grasp of. I leaned heavily on my assistant coach and had quick conversations with her before speaking with the umpire.

Through coaching, I also learned more about the game in general. I learned new rules, mostly ones that are once-in-a-lifetime rules, but mainly strategic management of the game. Because the girls were so young, there were limits on the number of innings a pitcher can pitch within a week and players had minimum play time requirements that needed to be reached in a game. With 12 girls on the team, this was a challenge that I had never faced before but was able to quickly grasp, mostly due to my prior knowledge of the game. How I went into a game as a player versus as a coach is very different now. This includes my mindset, strategy, and the outcomes I wish to see.

As I stated earlier, I have, and always will have, the mindset of an athlete. This affects how I go about my life, and my perspective on how to approach and deal with conflict, work, and relationships. Coaching made me more aware of how I interact and go about working with others. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to coach a softball team and pass along my love of the sport to a whole new generation. I hope that they continue to grow not only themselves but into wonderful players as well. I have gained a new appreciation for the sport that can only be gained through the lens of coaching. Working with these kids gave me a clearer perspective on life and what I aim to do and give to the world. I want to be able to grow my community and continue to allow it to be a safe space for those within it. And because of this experience, I am now positive that continuing my schooling in public administration is the right path for me. I know now that this is what I want to do, where I want to be, and where I belong.