Care and Feeding

I Coach My Daughter’s Softball Team. How Do I Break It to Her She’s Not Talented?

This is “our thing,” but it doesn’t have to be.

An adult with a softball and bat talks to a group of kids.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Prudence,

I coach my middle-school-aged daughter’s fastpitch softball team, as I have since she was a five-year-old t-ball player. I’ve always just seen this as a fun, healthy activity for my daughter and a great way for us to spend time together.

When she was younger, she was tall and could pitch, so she mostly got to play prime, sought-after positions. However as we get into the last several years before high school, things change. My daughter is good, but she’s no longer one of the best. And yet she still sees herself doing the things she did when she was younger. Recently, she asked me if she can pitch more. This led to a difficult conversation in which I told her that she’s pitching about as much as she’s going to.

I don’t care about my daughter being a great softball player; I care about her finding things she loves. If she came to me and said she’d like to end softball, I’d say of course. If she came to me and said she’d like to practice pitching every day or find a private softball coach, I’d say let’s do it. However when we talk about it, neither of those options sound good to her. She wants to keep playing—but she wants to keep playing at a level that no longer reflects the work she wants to put in. I don’t think she’d be happy throwing 100 practice pitches every night, but I don’t think she’d be happy playing left field every game either. And she doesn’t sound happy about the idea of no longer playing.

Behind all this is my worry that because this is “our thing” that we’ve always done together, she feels like she would be letting me down in some way by no longer playing. I tell her I’m proud of her frequently and in relation to all the things she does. But for most of her life, this has been one of the activities we’ve spent the most time on together. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m telling her to quit softball because I don’t think she’s good at it anymore, but I also don’t want her to do something she doesn’t have a passion for out of a feeling of obligation. Any advice?

—Concerned Coach Dad

Dear Coach Dad,

I’m also a youth coach, and I’ve encountered numerous peers who are currently struggling with the same issue you’re dealing with. What I’m about to say may sound harsh, but just know that this is common for a lot of young people, including my kids (until I set them straight).

The group of young people I’m talking about are the ones who live with “microwave expectations.” They want the corner office at their jobs a month after graduating college, or they want to be the starting pitcher or shortstop just because they played those positions when they were in first grade. Waiting their turn or outworking the competition isn’t appealing because everything else they want in life (food, entertainment, dates, clothes, etc.) can be received within minutes. Honestly, it’s not even their fault—it’s just a function of the world we live in.

However, your daughter needs a wakeup call. I know you’ve talked to her before, but this needs to be different because she needs to choose a path from the fork in the road. You can say something like, “Honey, I know you want to pitch more, but if I’m being honest, there are four or five girls who’ve surpassed your skill level and they will be pitching in games. If pitching is something you want to continue doing, then you will need to improve. I’ll be glad to hire a private coach for you or work with you before and after school, but that’s what it will take to get there. If that doesn’t appeal to you, then maybe we should look for other opportunities outside of softball. I know you feel that softball is our way to bond, but we can find other ways to do that, and I will always love you and support you whether you choose to play this sport or not.”

She needs to make a decision and not waffle anymore. Even if that decision is to accept playing undesirable positions like right field. The goal is to teach her that there is no substitute for hard work. Most importantly, you need to reassure her that you will always be there to support and love her—even if she ditches softball. Spend more time bonding with her that doesn’t include a ball and glove to let her know that there is life and fun beyond the diamond.


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