An Open Letter to Team Sports Folks: Please Don’t Sacrifice the Virgins!

Katie has never participated on a team sport.

Yep. Totally true. She thought she might do soccer but on the free trial day, she was clobbered in the head and never went back. She kind of likes basketball but not enough to commit. Instead, she’s been a dancer and an artist. Now fast forward to sixth grade and sports are happening at middle school. Her friends are on all kinds of teams but still nothing really called her name.

Then I had a great idea: what about softball?

We have a great league with a terrific reputation, plus I could walk while she practiced so we would both be “working out” at the same time. C’mon, I pushed, let’s give it a try. She acquiesced. Of course, that’s where the story gets interesting.

Our great local league sacrificed a virgin.

It started with the web site. Apart from figuring out how to register, there’s no way to know what we are really signing up for! When should I expect practices? When are games? I know they can’t commit to exact days and times but a little expectation setting wouldn’t hurt. Katie also had to attend a “pre-team selection screening” (my term not theirs). That was scheduled for last Saturday. Fine.

We arrived at the screening and immediately told the folks there that we were virgins: we have never done anything like this before and didn’t know what to do. They told Katie to warm-up. Hmmm, what the heck does that mean? Jumping jacks like Jack LaLanne? Throw on a blanket? We didn’t recognize a soul, we just looked at each other – lost. Katie was nervous as hell but to her credit, she hung tough. Finally, a woman spotted us struggling and she got Katie involved.

Then the actual “screening” began. Katie got in line and waited to do her first task: fielding a ground ball and then catching at first base. She was able to stop the ground balls just great but disaster hit at first base. Mind you, my daughter has never even held a glove before that day. The only reason she knows anything about softball is because the Giants won the Series and we made her watch every darn game. Otherwise, she knows nothing.

She caught the first ball.

Amazing. She used the glove and managed to catch that first throw. But the second one was well-thrown, fast and hit her full on in her stomach. The whole place gasped. She stood strong, tossed the ball home and walked off the field. Then, very quietly, she started crying because it hurt so badly. I managed to get her off the field and to the car without any fanfare (she was already humiliated, she so didn’t want folks to know how badly she was hurt).

I got her home and at that point, I think I was crying harder because I felt so damn guilty. I couldn’t believe I put her through that. I couldn’t believe they were making someone who had readily admit she sucked, said she was inexperienced, acknowledged she should be “last pick” on the roster, I couldn’t believe they would put her through that. To top things off, she got hurt. It was one super-crappy parent moment. Eventually we ate some lunch and Katie started to recover. Then she blew my mind.

“Mom, let’s go buy a softball,” she said.

“Really?” I looked at her completely shocked. Yep, she wanted to get a ball and head to the school to practice. So we did. We got two used balls, some cleats, went to the school, and started to practice using that glove. I could not have been more pleased with her. And she’s still practicing!

So the teams haven’t been decided yet and hopefully we’ll have a good season and a great “team sports” experience. But officially I implore team sports teams to make space for the virgins! Here’s what we need:

  1. On your website or brochure, tell us how things work. About how often are practices? When are games played? Where?
  2. What are the volunteering commitments?
  3. What kind of things does the child need to buy? Uniforms? Shoes? Equipment? What should we NOT buy until we talk to our coach first?
  4. Are novices welcome? And if so, can we get a “pass” on the tryouts because we are likely to get hurt or humiliated in front of our future team members.
  5. Please, please make sure you don’t use league code on things regular people read. I don’t know what a 12U is – just go ahead and use the extra words so we new folks can understand.

First impressions matter and taking time to help us understand not just the rules but also the culture is so important! We really want to join you and I know you want us.

In the meantime, we’ll get ready to play ball!