Being a redshirt senior, I have had a lot of time to look back and reflect on my experiences throughout my career. I have had the time of my life being a Seminole and am confident in saying that I am sure a lot of people enjoy their collegiate years playing ball. The “you” you come in as – a bright-eyed, 18-year-old freshman – is only the beginning of becoming the 21 or 22-year-old woman you end up leaving as. Everyone has their own journey but there are a few things that many people can relate to that might help make the transition of growing up a little easier.
Keep learning and keep growing
Looking at the freshman version of myself, I thought I knew who I was. I thought I knew what I liked, what I was good at, and I thought that I was confident. The first practice I stepped on JoAnne Graf Field, I realized I barely knew one thing about the strategies of the game. I didn’t understand cut-off formations quickly, base running reads didn’t just click, and I struggled with finding myself as a hitter, which I was sure was the strongest component of my game. As I reflect on my experiences, I would tell myself, and tell all you young players that it is okay to be overwhelmed, it is okay to be unsure. This is when you learn, this is when you grow. Your freshmen year is a transition of finding yourself as a player. Some of you may start and make an immediate impact on your team, some of you may not, but that alone does not define the rest of your career. Players often arrive at college, previously being the best player on their travel ball or high school team. Don’t let the expectation of playing time dictate your attitude to learn or how to be the best teammate to those around you. Embrace your freshmen year and take advantage of each opportunity you get.
Success is never final and failure is never fatal
I have heard this expression so many times before but never quite understood it until last season. My first year back playing after my injuries, I let the way I played dictate how I felt. I would have a game where I went 3-for-4 and would be in a good mood afterwards with my parents, knowing they would be proud of me. Alternatively, I would have an 0-for-3 game and be upset, not wanting to let my teammates and coaches down. My attitude and demeanor would change. Needless to say, that was not fun for anyone. Not until the last year did I realize the way I played did not have to dictate the way I felt or the way I acted. I would go 4-for-4 in a game and not act much differently than I would when I went 0-for-4. Sure, I was not the most pleasant, up beat person after a tough game, but if the team won, I was definitely satisfied. In the moments of failure I learned that every at bat is an opportunity to change your circumstance. You can never rest on your laurels in times of success, just as you cannot go 1-for-4 and be angry, because the next at bat is an opportunity to help your team and change your day to be 2-for-5, which is a good day at the plate. This game is crazy in that sense. You can feel so defeated and that you’re letting your team down, but then get another opportunity two innings later to change it all. Never become satisfied and never become defeated.
Embrace the pressure
Freshmen year is a time to just go out and play. People do not know much about you yet. There may be talk if you were one of the best recruits in your class, but coaches do not yet know your strengths and weaknesses at this level. Take advantage of it. Being on a big stage, sometimes freshmen get nervous and fear failure. Don’t. This game is full of failure. Embrace the opportunity to succeed and work so hard that you never accept failure, but learn how to deal with it.
It’s all about winning a pitch
I have practiced this mentality the last two seasons. I have learned that every at bat and more importantly every pitch is crucial to your team’s success. Think about it… If you compete every single pitch, you are going to be tough to beat. I love the phrase “win the pitch” and “win the moment.” The word compete has been my one word for this season. I never want to take a pitch off in an at bat. If you take the risk of missing even just one pitch, it could really hinder your performance. If you take off a single pitch in each game you play, that is about 50+ opportunities in a season you are missing simply because you weren’t mentally present. That is not a risk I am willing to take. Granted, I did not completely understand and grasp this concept until I gained some experience and knew what “wasting an at bat” felt like. Once you feel the pain of regret about something you can you control, you realize you do not want to feel it again. You learn and you grow from it.
I wish that I had the experiences and the advice that I do now back when I was still an impressionable 18-year-old trying to figure it all out. But if I knew it all then, I wouldn’t be writing to you now. Looking back I would tell myself to embrace each opportunity and to never get so caught up in outcomes that you forget to enjoy the moment and have fun. I would tell myself to push through bad games and not get so frustrated if at-bats weren’t going my way. I was really hard on myself my redshirt sophomore year and games stopped being as fun. I won’t let myself get back to that point. I would tell myself to embrace the pressure, embrace the expectation and the target being on your back. Embrace people knowing your strengths and weaknesses and use this to make you better. I would tell myself to compete, each game, each at bat, and each pitch. If you compete every time you get the chance, you will be happy with how things turn out when looking back on the experience. You never stay the same, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. Make sure you are moving in the direction that you want. Lastly, I would tell myself to have fun, these moments and these teammates are not something you are going to experience forever. Every teammate you ever play with has something they can teach you about the game or about life. Soak it all in because these will be some of the best years of your life.