We are always being judged. Every day by everyone on everything. I’m not necessarily talking about “judging” people based on the clothes they wear or the cars they drive. I’m talking about "judging" people by assessing their character, work ethic, effort and drive. Any student-athlete can identify with being judged in this respect, as can anyone in the workplace or in their personal lives. Area high school softball teams had tryouts a few weeks ago and the players were judged on their athletic skill – throwing, hitting, fielding, pitching, catching, etc. Tangible, concrete, and measurable. Players will stack up against each other and fall somewhere along this spectrum of talent-levels. You’re constantly being judged by coaches to see who will end up in the starting line-up for next week’s game.
After years of playing softball, I've found that it takes more than just "being good" to get recognized and to be successful at what you do. What does it take to really jump off the page? To get a star penciled in next to your name on coach's notes? To be someone that can't be kept out of the line up? Obviously, it takes a great deal of athletic ability, but there is much more than skill alone that determines what makes someone stand out at whatever it is they do. Work, relationships, sports – just ‘showing up’ and 'being good' will generally get you left behind.
Being an un-recruited walk-on at a Division I program at Wisconsin surrounded by some of the best softball players in the country, I knew I had to do something different. Pure athletic skill alone wasn’t going to get me noticed. And neither was just showing up. Here’s my advice:
1. Be early and stay late. Be the one who shows up first to practice. Get things set up. Hop on a tee. Get your glove work in. Grab a teammate who is struggling and hit groundballs or fly balls to them. There is ALWAYS a way to get yourself and your teammates better. Don’t be the first person to take off your cleats and pack up your bag. Grab a rake. Put things away. Get some more reps in. “I don’t have time,” is the easiest and worst excuse in the book.
2. Get dirty. Dive for balls. Run hard. Slide into bases. Take pride in being gritty and tough. We’ve all played with princesses – don’t be one. A few scrapes and scars never killed anyone and they’re a great topic of conversation when you’re washed up and athletically retired. I’ll never be able to get the permanent “sliding” scar on my knee to go away – and I would never want to.
3. Put others first and be a mentor. It won’t go unnoticed. If you think that you’re on an island and that only your statistics and success matters – you’re being selfish. Spend time with the new girl on the team who is struggling. Help the underclassmen with the hitting/pitching signs. Go out of your way to do something for someone else and you’ll stop focusing so much on your own weaknesses, shortcomings, and insecurities.
4. Radiate confidence. When you make a mistake – own it. When you do something great – own it. Note the difference between arrogance and confidence and be self-aware of how others perceive you. If you do #3, no one will mistake your confidence for arrogance and people will strive to follow your lead. Hold your head high and if you need help, ask for it. The highs aren’t so high and the lows aren’t so low.
5. AIM HIGH. You are capable of so much more than you think.
Maria Van Abel