Why I turned down a Division I scholarship

Twenty years ago, I was a freshman in college. 

Twenty-one years ago, I was a senior in high school (look at me go with my math). In fact, at exactly this time 21 years ago, I was battling through a shoulder injury, which made my final season as a high school softball pitcher challenging. I pitched, but I didn't pitch well. 


A year later, I didn't pitch at all.

A year later, I'd traded my softball glove in for a lacrosse stick. 

A year later, I'd turned down a Division I softball scholarship and took up another sport for no scholarship money. Less than 12 months out of my softball career, I was asking my parents to drive three hours to watch one of my lacrosse games - a sport they had never heard of - when they thought they were going to be driving to watch me continue my softball career. 

They were confused. They had done everything they could to ensure I would have a scholarship offer to play softball. While my friends in high school spent summers working jobs as life guards and waitresses, I spent the summers traveling the country playing for the local Junior OIympic softball team. I'll never forget asking my mom about whether I should get a job. It's not like it was cheap to play for a traveling team and it's not like my parents were rolling in cash. 

"You'll have the rest of your life to work," she said. They made sacrifices so that I could go and play in showcase games in front of college coaches. They made sacrifices so that every weekend, I could travel to a different town and different state. So that I could drive two hours one way for a weekday double-header. 

I'd like to say that I loved every minute of it, but I didn't. I loved softball games under the lights on a warm Friday night. I especially loved the games we played in downtown Philadelphia surrounded by high rises and a city atmosphere I hadn't known growing up. 

I didn't like getting up at 6 a.m. the next morning to play our way through the loser's bracket. I didn't like playing the next game at 10 a.m. and the next at noon and the next at 2:00. I didn't like pitching four games in one day. 

I did like those things at first. (Ok, I never liked morning games. Ever. I'm lucky I didn't pluck more people in the earhole at that time of day). But in the beginning I did like living and breathing the game. But by the end of my senior year, I wasn't that sad to see my career come to an end. And in the midst of my last season on my travel softball team, when the scholarship offer came, I thought about it, but knew that I was done. 

I wasn't so good at softball that offers came pouring in. I got an offer from the local DI school and some looks from smaller schools. But I was fried. 

Playing other sports develops athleticism

I played three sports in high school, and while I liked the variety of volleyball and basketball, I was just much better at softball. In fact, one day in January my basketball coach, Mrs. Klezek, asked me what my new year's resolution was. 

"To throw a perfect game," I said. 

She frowned. "For basketball." 

I didn't have any. I wasn't that good at it. I wanted to play softball 24/7. As an adult, I'm glad I didn't and I'm glad I couldn't. Playing other sports allowed me to develop athleticism. Playing other sports allowed me to be humbled; it was important to learn and understand what it's like to not be great at a sport. I was a terrible basketball player, which made me, I hope, a better teammate in a sport I was good at. I knew what it was like to ride the bench. In basketball, I knew what it was like to shrink on the bench so I wasn't the one to go in with less than 10 seconds remaining to keep the good players out of foul trouble.

That was an important lesson. 

It's a surprise to some people who knew me growing up, that I never played softball in college. In some ways, it's my only regret, mostly because once I had a little break from the sport- in my case it took about a year - I was ready to go back. But by then I was knee deep in a college lacrosse career. And I was also, much to my great fortune, knee deep in life-long friendships (Melissa and Christine I miss you). 

I also write this post as a strength coach; I see parents who are ready and even encourage their kids to focus on one sport at the age of 11. I would have begged my parents to play baseball or softball non-stop when I was 12 and 13 years old. But I'm glad I didn't have that opportunity, because I became a better athlete by playing other sports. I put off the burnout that eventually caught up with me. I also write this post as an aging athlete who sometimes gets into a rut of doing the same type of training for months at a time. 

Variety is important. I get why they say it's the spice of life. 

And here's my modern day analogy to leave you with:

Both the good and bad of living in this digital age is that we access whatever music we want, whenever we want. So when I hear a new song that I like, I tag it on Shazam, download it on iTunes, and listen to it until my heart is content. Until finally, I get sick of it. In some ways I miss the days when you heard a song on the radio, loved it, and listened to the station forever to find out who was singing it. Then you want to the local "record" store to decide whether to buy an entire album for just one song. Or you waited with an empty cassette in your tape player to hear the song on the radio.

It took a lot longer to get sick of things that way didn't it?