Welcome to Boot Camp!

Your alarm sounds at 5am. You grab a drink and run out the door on a cold, gloomy morning. The bed felt so warm that it was almost impossible to leave.

Because you had so much work to do last night, you were unable to find that bed until 2am. As you stagger into the misty morning, the joints ache, the muscles are sore. It’s just another morning like the last morning, where you will sprint, lift weights, or do all sorts of other things that your body resents at that time of day.
Welcome to college softball. For most players, it is one of the best experiences of their lives. For a lot of college freshman, it is overwhelming. They had no idea. Some make it through that first season, some don’t.

One of our Certified Instructors described that first year as sheer exhaustion. Up at 5am to lift weights, classes from about 8am to noon, practice at 1pm, grab a meal in there somewhere, finish practice, run to mandatory study hall that most schools require of freshman, hit an extra class or two, find time to do laundry, then an evening meal, now homework, and suddenly it is 2am. The lack of rest and consistent nutrition affects the immune system and you experience strep throat twice that semester.
Things will get better, right? The same forces that were at work when you failed the run test, required by most teams, were also at work when exhaustion and a lack of focus caused you to badly sprain an ankle or knee. The problems compound.

You are homesick, you just want to cuddle your dog or get a hug from mom or big sister, but you are stuck here, a thousand miles from home. The upper classmen seem to have little sympathy and a few seem to enjoy watching your struggle. “This wasn’t what I expected!”

If college softball looks like happy players chanting in the dugout, and it can be, realize that you are seeing one part of the picture. As soon as this game is finished, many of them will grab the laptop and get right back to classwork. Athletes have to take the same tests, turn in the same assignments, and meet the same deadlines as everyone else. Do you have any idea of how many regular students, non-athletes, drop out of college that first semester because it is such a shock? You have twice the stress. And, don’t expect any special treatment because you play softball. A lot of professors really don’t care.
It gets even more challenging when you are getting on a bus or plane on Thursday to go to the upcoming weekend series, missing all of your Friday classes, yet having to make up that work. You return from the weekend series in the middle of the night on Sunday with so much to do that you are not sure where to turn. No time to rest because you also have a mid-week double-header that will take you out of class for another day. You still have to make up that work or that test.

Fortunately the NCAA has limits on the amount of hours that an athlete can be expected to practice, meet, lift weights, and so forth. Unfortunately there are a number of schools who simply ignore those limits or set up “voluntary” practices that you do not have to attend, unless you want to keep your position on the field and stay in the batting lineup. You may be involved in softball 30-35 hours per week and trying to be a college student on the side. Those coaches who seemed so nice during recruiting can flip the switch during that first week and make life miserable.

Is it worth it? Most players will answer “absolutely”. A significant percentage are not so sure, and another group gives up the game. It teaches you so much, helps you to organize priorities in the most demanding of times, teaches you to deal with adversity, and forces you to mature in an incredible number of ways. Know what you are “getting into”. We see so many kids giving up so much of their lives with the dream of playing in college only to realize that this is when the real sacrifice begins. If you thrive under those conditions, you will love it. If you resent the sacrifices you are making today, the outlook is not pretty.
If you “stick it out” it can be worth it. You will make friends and memories that last a lifetime. But, if you are twelve years old and already feeling the game has taken over your life, it may be time to think seriously about your goals.

Whether you like it, love it, or hate it, in four short years…before you can blink…it will be over. Choose wisely, do your homework, learn everything you can to be sure that this is a lifestyle that you can handle. If you are placing all of your hopes and dreams on playing in college, arm yourself with that knowledge so that you can be one of those who finishes her career saying that this truly was one of the best experiences in her life.

Special thanks to our Certified Instructors for their contributions. An extra mention goes to Heather Pomilio on Long Island, NY and Stephanie Beane of Temecula, California.

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