Thursday, August 18, 2005

Lessons from Little League Softball

As I write I am watching the championship game of the Little League Softball World Series (special thanks to houseguest Kevin for hooking up the wireless at our house to enable this multi-tasking). So here are some of the things I have learned so far.
1. There might not be crying in baseball but there is some crying in softball. The starting pitcher for the CT team got a little weepy when she was pulled in the second inning. But the point is that crying can be a good thing. The pitcher went to first base and has played well since. In such a high pressure game maybe a few tears are a good release. A few years ago at the French Open American Ashley Harkelroad had a commanding lead in the final set and let it slip until the set was even. A dejected Harkelroad, during the changeover, had a good cry in her towel and then came back to win the match.
2. That as much as I hate the hyperbole about little girls' dreams being dashed by the removal of softball from the Olympic games, this series has shown that the players and the supporters are really passionate about their sport and do intend to put up a fight to get softball reinstated. The best sign I have seen so far: "The Olympics without softball is like Wheaties without milk." So please help the cause by going to the international softball federation's web page and sending a letter to the IOC (you can compose your own or use a sample letter the federation provides).
3. That if softball does get reinstated it will be entirely due to fan and player support. The cause is not getting any help from media outlets like ESPN which doesn't even run the professional fast-pitch league's scores on their ticker.
4. Perhaps the argument that softball truly is an international sport and thus deserves to be in the Olympics would be better made if in the Little League World Series all the international teams weren't pitted against one another almost guaranteeing an all US final.
5. The diversity of interests among the girls is fascinating and refreshing. (Though the lack of racial and class diversity, at least in the final two teams is disappointing.) In an era when we are hearing about the push towards specialization for young athletes, it is good to see girls who play softball and like other activities like ballet, soccer, acting, and watching Boy Meets World.
6. Maybe sports really do have the possibility to help girls escape the cultural norms--or at least postpone their susceptibility to them. After being disappointed by the very coiffed and made-up women in the college world series this year it's nice to see the Little Leaguers not caring that their hair is falling out of ponytails and braids.
7. While I think the male coaches (who are all fathers of players) have done a pretty good job keeping things positive and fun (though Ken Slowik, the CT coach, is a little too harsh as he tries to rally his team), I wish more women would start coaching at the youth level so that by the time girls get to high school and college a female coach is not a surprise and girls realize that women can do an equally good job coaching.
8. I realize now that the "like a girl" may never die. One of the coaches was reported to say that when his team takes the field they have guts and grit and do not play like little girls. Well they are technically little girls so what exactly are they playing like? How many years do girls and women have to play sports before we start believing that there is no such things as "playing like a girl"?
So those are my observations and now the game is over so many congratulations to both teams for a great game and to the winners from McLean, Virginia.

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