Monday, April 14, 2008

You Wouldn't Like Her When She's Angry

After Kailey's first outing as a pitcher, I knew that if she wanted to pitch with any regularity she was going to need to practice...a lot. And I also knew that I was going to need to carve out some more time to practice with her. So yesterday we made a quick trip out to Sports Authority so I could replace my softball glove that somebody "misplaced", a.k.a. "lost" (you know who you are), and then returned home where we proceeded to break my new glove in. I got a pretty sweet deal, BTW. After a 25% off coupon and finding a glove on sale for another 20% off, I got an $80 glove for $48. You can check the math.

In the girls' softball league, the distance from the pointy tip of home plate to the pitcher's rubber is 32 feet. That's a long way for an 8 or 9 year-old to throw a softball, underhand, with any sort of velocity on it, or accuracy for that matter. It takes a lot of practice. The good thing about pitching in softball is that, though it doesn't seem like it, the underhand motion of pitching a softball is more natural than the overhand pitching of a baseball. Baseball pitchers require several days to rest their pitching arms after an outing. Not so with softball pitchers. They can pitch day after day after day. And that's a good thing in a sport that requires an endless amount of practice to hone the technique and skills to become a pitcher. The only thing is, they have to want it, bad. So we're about to see how much Kailey wants to become a pitcher.

We headed out to the back yard and started warming up. She started with a Karate Kid looking drill called "The Flamingo" where she stood on one leg, pointed her gloved hand at me, and rested her hand with the ball on top of her head. It was quite amusing. In one fluid motion, she stepped toward me, pushing off of that back foot and simultaneously swinging her arm down and flipping the ball to me. Steeeee-rike! Of course we started this drill at about 20 feet and moved back a couple feet every five pitches or so. By the time she got back to 32 feet, she was all over the place. Then she started losing focus and screwing around.

This is where it becomes tricky for me. I'm not naturally one of those super-testosterone-infused sports dads, but when the girls start messing around when I feel they need to be focusing on the task at hand, I can feel my temperature start to rise. When I told Kailey to stop being silly and to focus, she got mad at me and wanted to quit. When I told her she couldn't quit, she started coming up with excuses: her tummy hurt, she was hungry, she had to go to the bathroom. I'd had it. Like Dr. Bruce Banner morphing into the Incredible Hulk, my transformation into bastard sports dad was complete. "Listen," I told her, "you are going to throw twenty more pitches. If I hear any more complaining out of you, you're gonna throw twenty more. Got it?"

Kailey glared at me. She was pissed. This exercise that was meant to be fun had become anything but. She wound up and let the ball fly. Ssssssssssss....crack. Right over the plate. Right into my glove, stinging my hand. It was as beautiful a pitch I've ever seen a nine year-old deliver. "That's it, Kailey! Again!" She was still mad, and delivered the same stinging pitch. Steeeeeeeee-rike! At this point, after seeing she had delivered two beautiful strikes in a row, Kailey's mood changed. I could almost see the switch being flipped inside her head. She dialed in, delivering three more beautiful pitches in a row. She was now having fun and so was I, and she probably ended up pitching around 35-40 more balls. She kept throwing strikes and I kept saying, "Good! Again!" until she finally asked if we could be done. I was thankful that we ended a potentially catastrophic practice session on a good note.

All of this has left me evaluating my role as a parent. Ultimately I want my girls to have fun in any activity they choose to participate in, but I also feel that in certain instances that I, as a parent, need to become a sort of co-keeper of their dreams, knowing when to push them and when to back off. I have no doubt that the girls will be able to do anything they want to do in life, but I would be doing them a disservice if I just let them wander through life with no focus or determination. I just don't want to become too overbearing in the process. If Kailey really wants to become a good pitcher, I feel like I need to embrace that as well because I know what it's going to take for her to get there: lots of practice and lots of repetition, even when she doesn't feel like doing it at that very moment. And if after putting in the work Kailey decides that pitching is not for her, I'm cool with that. We'll move on to something else.

For now, one thing's for sure. The next time Kailey pitches in a game, I'm going to get her nice and pissed at me, because when Kailey pitches angry, she's lights out.

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