I grew up in an athletic house. My mom played softball and loved baseball, and my dad was an ex-NFL player who announced for the NBA but was a better baseball player than anything. Naturally, my brother and I were enrolled in some type of sport every season. My brother’s childhood sports resume included soccer, basketball, baseball, football and track while I played softball, baseball, soccer, basketball, field hockey and was a cheerleader. So yeah, we were busy.
Our schedules were jam packed, as it wasn’t unusual for us to play two sports at once. As a kid, I would go from a softball game to cheerleading camp and from field hockey practice to fall ball.
I often look back on my former athletic self and am amazed by how much I learned through being an athlete.
When I played field hockey, my coach hated me. I mean, HATED me. Field hockey just wasn’t my priority – I was captain of the cheerleading squad at that time and had cheerleading practice in the evening after field hockey. I would slack off during field hockey to conserve energy for cheerleading. If I had to spend five hours a day in practice, I’m sure as hell going to pace myself.
I learned that not everyone is going to agree with me or even like me. My coach resented the fact that I was a cheerleader, a problem I faced often at that middle school. But she was still my coach. I had to listen to her. I had to tuck my ego away for two hours while she treated me like shit. I learned not to take it personally when every single girl on the team got some sort of award at the banquet besides me. I learned to not let it bug me that I was forced to share a uniform with a 6th grader when everyone else in 7th grade got their own. I learned to support my team – taking long bus rides only to find myself sitting on the sidelines for the entire game. I also learned to find teammates who supported me. The ones who would give me a pat on the back every time she yelled at me to show me they care. The ones who refused to laugh when she made fun of me.
Not everyone is going to like you. Shake it off, and find the ones who do.
I had my first leadership role in cheerleading. When I was in 7th grade, my coach announced that they were taking applications for captain and co-captain. At this point, I had six years of Pop Warner and one year of middle school cheerleading under my belt. Despite my experience, I was hesitant. I wasn’t the best. I was very strong and a good dancer, but I lacked solid gymnastics skills. In short, I was good enough. Good enough to be in the front row or breeze through tryouts, but not the best. My friends urged me to apply so I made my speech and hoped for co-captain at best.
No one was more shocked than I was when they announced that I was the new captain. The experience taught me how to be a good leader. I learned how to be a superior to my friends without being a pushover or asshole. I studied all of the rules of football so that I could call the appropriate cheers. I worked my ass off in the gym… always pushing myself to work just as hard as I expected my teammates to work. I learned that being the best was not important in being the leader. I was good enough to be a good example, but my real talent lied in my personality and ability to empathize. I became the one girls came to when they were upset with my coaches or co-captain. I learned how to listen to my teammates while sticking up for my leadership team. I learned that it’s much better to be loved than feared. That if a team likes you as a person, they will respect your demands. I had to represent our squad during awards at competitions, which meant that I had to be graceful both in victory and defeat. I learned that no matter how fair or kind you are, someone will always doubt you. However, you can’t let the opinion of a few undermine the praises of many.
Being a leader isn’t about being the best. It’s about knowing how to relate to, and motivate, your team.
While cheerleading was my passion, softball was what I knew the best. I played some sort of ball (tee ball, baseball or softball) for twelve years straight. Towards the end of my career, I played both in the fall and summer. It was the sport that I was best at. I had very strong arms due to lifting people all day in cheerleading, so I rotated between pitcher and catcher for awhile. Finally, I found my home at third base. I was a very smart base runner who loved to steal, which, combined with a good arm, made me a great third baseman.
I loved softball. I was good, but I soon learned that there was always a way to improve. I was a lefty, and once I mastered my left side, my coaches started pushing me to bat righty. I hated bating righty… I was already a good hitter! Why change me? I spent many practices being secretly pissed at my coach until I realized what he was doing – trying to make me a switch hitter, which I eventually became.
The last few years in softball were very “full circle” for me. I spent them with my old tee-ball coach as my coach. He knew me, which meant he could challenge me. He would urge me to steal bases that clearly weren’t safe so that I could test my limits. He made me play first base so that I could understand how important it was for me to throw perfect lines to first. He stuck me in the outfield or had me hang out on the bench to show me that the team could carry on without me. My last three years were my favorite. I no longer felt like the best. I constantly pushed myself to find new limits. I mentored newer players so that I could help them instead of intimidate them. I learned that it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been playing, or how good you get, there’s always something to learn. Always be a student or mentor. I was a sponge – constantly trying to absorb every lesson. I worked hard, and we won the championship three years in a row.
You’ll never fully master anything. When you feel like you’ve learned all there is to learn, test your limits. Break your routine.
My time as an athlete taught me how to do something just for the fun of it. When I was in middle school, my cheerleading squad was very good. We worked very hard and were incredibly competitive. I was doing well and started practicing with the high school over the summer, fully planning on continuing. That’s when something clicked in me. I was at the high school one day when I went up to a friend of mine and asked if she wanted to stunt. She politely declined, saying that she was just observing. I shook it off and grabbed someone else to work with when I turned around to find that same girl working with someone else – a high school senior. I suddenly became so uninterested in cheerleading and quit. I didn’t want to live in this world where we are constantly choosing talent and seniority over friendship. It wasn’t fun anymore. Not only did I quit cheerleading, but I refused to try out for softball as well. I wanted to stay in the rec league – where I was learning and having fun. I chose not to be competitive in sports anymore and make more time for theater.
I often think of that moment I quit cheerleading and decided to just play rec softball. In my improv world, a lot of my friends are now concentrated on “making it”. On Harold’s & House Teams, ass wiping and climbing ladders. They lost the fun and became manipulative. Some let their egos take over and went from being this kind and caring student to a prick with a false sense of entitlement. And I’m just disinterested in that. Yes, I am taking all the same steps as they are, so this may sound hypocritical. But I’m earnestly more interested in learning and loving it than kissing ass or using people. I seek out teammates and mentors that I trust and love to be around, not just ones that I find intellectually stimulating. I’m far more interested in following my softball path, where I learn to switch hit and mentor, than my cheerleading one, where I get stabbed in the back and burn out. I would ultimately love a career in comedy, but that’s not why I do it.
I do it for the love of the game.