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The Game of Failure

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The game of softball is pretty straightforward, right? Someone throws a ball at you, you maybe hit it it (probably not if you're me), and then you run until you have to stop, unless someone stops you first.


Most of us, I'm assuming, know how to play. But, just because you know that much does not mean you really know the game, which is something I quickly found out this past Monday.


I'm not talking about technique or batting form or defensive strategy or anything. I openly admit I am not fluent in these things but that doesn't mean I can't watch the game without understanding it. I'm talking about really knowing the game of softball.


Bring a Friend to Practice Day is a tradition that the Notre Dame softball team started three years ago to share their sport with their friends. (Friends = roommates, baseball coaches, the leprechaun, David Robinson, etc.)


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I was lucky enough to attend this year even though I technically don't have any friends on the team but, being the @NDSportsBlogger, I get these kinds of perks.


I wasn't shocked to find out that I sort of sucked at hitting the ball and the accuracy of my throws was... Inconsistent at best. After all, I've lived with myself for 22 years and my career on the diamond ended with T-ball when I was 5.


But, if the goal of Bring a Friend to Practice Day was to show us outsiders what the team goes through in this sport, that was accomplished.


As I swung and missed on yet another ball flying (not very fast) at me from the pitching machine, I thought to myself and proceeded to say out loud, "This really sucks."


Not as in, 'this game sucks' or 'this is the worst time of my life' because I really was having a lot of fun. It was more like, 'this is really frustrating that I can't hit the ball and I have to sit here swinging at it over and over again.' Needless to say, my confidence, which was already low to begin with, was being crushed further and further down with every swing and a miss.


That's when one of the players responded, "Yeah, it's definitely a game of failure."


A game of failure. I had never heard that before but it was perfect. In softball, the average college player literally fails about six or seven out of 10 times at bat - and that's considered good! Think about it, you step up to the plate, either strike out completely or hit the ball but fail to get on base. Sometimes you do get on base or, in the very unlikely case, hit a homerun but, more often than not, you just fail.


Failure exists in all sports but not to the extent that it does in softball and baseball. Decent hockey goalies make more saves in a game than goals they allow, a good quarterback completes his passes at least 6 or 7 times out of ten, and while basketball field goal percentages fall more in the 40-60% range, at least you have a lot of other opportunities to create successes in things like free throws and assists. In softball and baseball, you can be an extremely good player yet still fail overall more times than you succeed.

I've never considered myself a softball or baseball fan. Sure, I'm American. And I like sports. So, if someone offers me tickets to a game, I will go without hesitation. The truth is, though, I've always found it more boring to watch than other sports. Did I maybe not appreciate it that much? Sure. Until now.


The most obvious response to committing yourself to playing a game of failure is committing yourself to positivity.


It is suddenly clear to me why there's constant [positive] yelling coming from the dugouts at softball games - there's literally no other answer. You have to stay positive and uplifting because the game can be so defeating.


(So, wait. First you're telling me I have to put myself in situations where I'm going to fail the majority of the time and now you're saying I have to remain positive through it all? Yup. That's softball.)


Softball, and baseball alike, is the perfect metaphor for life.


To achieve success (hits, runs scored), we inevitably will face a large amount of failures (strike outs) along the way. Ultimately, then, it becomes entirely about how we respond to those failures. Letting them get us down will only keep us further away from possible successes. And it is really hard to want to keep swinging at that ball when you keep missing.


I know that I'm not some brilliant philosopher who has just uncovered a brand new concept. We've all heard the quote, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." This idea has been around forever.


But, the point is, I never really saw it at the core of softball until now. Softball is such a strong representation of the above phrase yet I never really looked at as more than just a game where people swing at a ball and miss most of the time.


I spoke with Senior Megan Sorlie and Coach Deanna Gumpf after practice and they both said that they started Bring a Friend to Practice Day to show their friends what they go through on a daily basis. I'm sure they mostly meant in terms of drills and camaraderie but, I came away with a whole new mindset about the game.


Now I'll admit, it's not surprising that this happened because I'm always the one looking for a deeper meaning behind sports. But, this one was too applicable to pass up.


So, what did I learn at Bring a Friend to Practice Day? Softball players are some of the most unbelievably positive and mentally strong athletes out there and I should probably get some actual friends on the team because they're a pretty fun group of girls to hang out with.


Sidenote: One of the girls brought David Robinson as her friend. So, if nothing else, it's impossible not to stay positive and have fun when you're watching a 7'1 guy round the bases.


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