Writing is like Softball

My daughter has chosen softball as one of her team sports for the future. As I learn the rules of softball (or modball at her level) it seems to me that there is much shared with the writing life. So here’s a whole heap of metaphors spinning your way. Get your gloves out.

Softball at Various Levels, and Changing Up the Rules

Softball1A couple of years ago my daughter tried out for her school teams in softball. Australian schools are good at encouraging and supporting students of all abilities into sports. At the time they played Tee-Ball – they hit the ball off a tee stick, and the bases were less apart than a normal softball game. There is no pitcher or catcher with tee ball, it’s all about learning to bat and run, or field the ball when it comes your way.

Coaches were allowed to stand and yell “encouragement” at all the bases, and had to teach the girls on the spot sometimes: how to bat across and not swoop up with the bat – which would hit the tee stick rather than the small soft ball sitting on the end of it.

It’s actually quite hard to do. I’ve tried. Like a giant golf tee, only bendier.

That was school sports – having now watched some club level sports games I can say that the Tee-Ballers at much younger ages have an even harder mission because they are given huge sponge foam bats and balls to play with – the ball basically goes nowhere, even with a good hit. It’s all about practicing the running to base for them.

It’s like the beginner writer – lots of coaching required, and some kind of tool to allow batting, just so that you can practice getting to Base One. You start writing, long before you actually understand what writing means, but you hope that you’ll pick up enough skills and coaching along the way to have the confidence to go up to bat again.

A couple of years later, my daughter and her school team moved up to Modball. [Having never heard of it before, I looked it up on the web, only to find that modball, for most people, is something to do with rally car driving.]

As it turned out, Australian Modball – for her school team, meant that the team fielding finally had a pitcher and a catcher sitting behind the home plate, but if the pitching went badly, after four balls pitched, the pitcher would be replaced by bringing in the tee again, giving the batter the chance to actually bat the ball out.

The emphasis in coaching suddenly went onto pitching. Catchers suddenly appeared, adorned like robots in body protection.  And the full batting team was allowed to bat through in an innings, provided three weren’t struck or caught/tagged out.

After the school season, my daughter joined a local club team also. The team, made up of several seasoned state rep players, and newbies to the game, was graded as Under 13’s Modball. In these club games, the rules are different from the school modball games. As they are administered over by a city-wide softball organisation, the rules change almost yearly, to accommodate problems. And often the coaching and umpire teams are still unaware of those new rules at the start of the season.

In the club games, the emphasis is almost solely on pitching and catching – there are clinics and training sessions on these. At this level, those girl pitchers are mighty fast, but not great at targeting the home plate or catcher’s mitt. There is a lot of sneaking bases, a lot of balls and walks.

Softball2The club games have different rules from the school modball game – after walking three batters in a row, the pitcher is set outside the pitching zone (which technically gives the fielding team an advantage with an additional fielder at very-short stop), and the opposing team’s coach must go in and pitch to her girls. This causes all kinds of trouble – coaches aren’t necessarily pitchers themselves. And where they are – as in my daughter’s team – slowing down the pitches for the batters is difficult for many.

In the first game I witnessed this happening in, three girls were walked by the pitcher (so three bases were full), then the coach came on to pitch to her team, and immediately struck three of her own girls out (including my daughter, sob). Nobody got home in that innings.

Wild balls thrown off Base One mean that play stops. You can’t sneak home, either. After five getting home, the innings finishes, even when there are more batters on the team. Coaches are only allowed at certain bases, to tell the girls when to sneak another base. And there are probably a lot of other rules I’m so far blind to.

It’s like the writer who has moved off from their first coaches – all kinds of things to learn, skills to pick up, new rule-books, but also some onus on natural talent, and what position you want to play – whether you want to step up as a pitcher and face the fear of failure basically out there alone, or whether you are happy to concentrate on batting and hitting the ball with greater accuracy.

And of course, there is often contradictory or changing advice coming from any coaching sessions you seek out. And sometimes those darned coaches who are meant to be on your team actually strike you out and let your down. It’s about learning to motivate yourself, and get on with the job despite bad pitches.

softball9Next year my daughter, in her school team only, will go up to real softball as a game. The rules will change again – no tee, and for four balls you have to take a walk to Base One.

However, in her Under 13’s club team, they will carry on with modball, and the rules discussed above – unless changed again by the Softball Federation. Once over 12, my daughter will go onto Club Softball, and different rules, and skills again.

Watching those older games from across the club fields every Saturday morning, I see that most of those teenage players aren’t necessarily better skilled in batting distances, catchers still can’t throw far enough to get to Second Base, but the pitching is more consistently on target, and fielders are more at work. They don’t rotate positions in field, though – if you suck at one position, you’re not going back there. You have to work to find your own position, and stick with it. You’re in some minor competition – with skilled team-mates, and with yourself.

The teenage girl teams are more vocal, more opinionated. Bats thwak balls with greater consistency. Some of those older girls have taken up coaching or umpiring training, others are so committed to the sport that they play all year long, in two or three different clubs. Those that play are there because they love the sport.

It’s like the experienced writer, working in an ever-changing industry. If you try to predict where you might be, what you should write for greater sales success, what skills and practice you might need, you’re going to fall foul. Instead, it’s up to you to keep yourself trained, take up any opportunities you find, and hustle around the bases. To work where you know you’re good at, whatever position, but be flexible towards the requirements day by day.

To get on with the game, and to stay in it. It’s about talent, skills and mostly, mindset.

In the next page, I’ll take a look at some of the positions in softball, with reference to writing.

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