On November 4th, 2018, I had the great honor and Pleasure of being the Honorary Guest Speaker at the Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports (CCGS) All-State Softball Banquet.
Although nervous due to being fairly new to public speaking, the audience of extremely talented High School Seniors, their parents, and coaches turned out to be incredibly accepting and understanding of me, as I clearly struggled at times overcoming my nerves. The feedback from them made all the nerves, practices, stress, doubts, all of it, so worth it. My goal was to make an impact on just one person in that room, and numerous people made me feel like I had met that goal.
Here’s what I had to say:
My name is Michaela Lawson, I am the owner and founder of 8k Fastpitch.
Allow me to just begin by telling you that I’m new to public speaking, but I am so honored to be here today and to get to share some thoughts with you all about life and softball.
A huge congratulations to each and every one of you, for being apart of this large accomplishment. For rising above your competition and proving to so many that the work you have put in prior to today, has produced these kinds of results. Also know that no matter what kind of high school career you might have had, no matter how far your team went, which unless you’re wearing the jersey of a school that just won the state championship (congrats by the way) it probably wasn’t as far as you would have liked, but hopefully today can still be something that you can look fondly back on, and be proud of.
Because in my eyes, you have made it.
Regardless of being recruited to play in college or not, regardless of records broken, or team captain selections, or even the accolades of sitting here today, no, you ladies have made it in the sense that you have risen above the peer pressure, that you have chosen not to take part in things you shouldn’t have, that you have set aside the draw of relationships with boyfriends, girlfriends, or really any friends who have wanted to do something on the weekends besides play softball. You have made it despite the injuries, and the fact that you have had to probably reevaluate, possibly on numerous occasions, why it is that you love the sport of softball so much, why it is you continued to show up at practices, games, lessons, and to know in your heart of hearts, that you will do whatever it takes to continue to compete.
Because those attributes that I just listed, and those choices, and that focus, is what will start to equate and show up in your lives later on down the line. Believe it or not, you have already set the groundwork, the foundation, to continue to build upon for strong careers, relationships, leadership, perseverance, resiliency, what other nouns can I come up with…??
But put those textbook reasons aside and in all seriousness, I was asked to speak with you all today about the influence that softball has had on my life, and while some things such as grit, strength, and no quit attitude became apparent in my life immediately, other qualities continue to show it’s face even after almost 10 years since I’ve played.
A little bit about my background, I’m an ’06 graduate of Columbine HS, a 2010 graduate of Francis Marion University, a public, not private and certainly not religious, division II in South Carolina. And when I was recruited, I google searched where it was and what do you know it’s an hour away from Myrtle Beach! Oh my gosh a school by the beach! I’ll be there all the time, I’ll lay out, go to the ocean, make dolphin friends…yeah… I probably made it there once or twice in the 4 years I lived there because school and softball pretty much consumed my life. But beside the point….because if we backtrack a little and we talk about making it. And maybe you have already been witness to it, but when I told people where I was going to college and that it was a DII, maybe they didn’t voice it, but their facial reactions said it all. Like it’s some sort of let down, or it’s like a “oh you’re just going DII?”.
Allow me to just tell you, my college career was phenomenal, I played all four years, my tuition was close to 95% covered, which means a have zero student loans, records were set, making nationals was accomplished, where I was selected as a first team all American, teammates become bridesmaids and life long friends, and although I can’t stand up here and tell you, hey I played DI, I played college ball, and I CRUSHED IT.
So I actually didn’t get recruited by Francis Marion until the spring of my senior year in high school, k and that’s super late, and I had basically given up on being recruited, I had already verbally agreed to go to UNC, Northern Colorado, and basically be a walk on, very little scholarship money was offered.
And I’ll just say right now, if there’s anything you take away from what I’m telling you today, it’s that I hope you know it’s ok if your original plans don’t pan out, it’s ok if you have to make an adjustment to your plans, if you decide not to continue your softball career into college, or if you get into college, and softball just isn’t the path you want to take anymore. Now it may be one of the toughest conversations you have to have with a coach, or to call up your mom and dad and tell them that it just isn’t for you anymore, but it’s ok, and it will be ok.
Because although playing a sport in college can be awesome, it’s a full time job. It’s even more work, than what you had to put in to get here today, and it’s tough to balance playing with school work, and I know you all hear that, and even lived it now in high school, and I even just congratulated you all for making it in that sense, but it’s a whole new ball game when you’re away from home, you have this new found level of independence, and where your parents aren’t in your back pocket to get you out of every situation,
And it’s not for everyone, and that’s ok. Just please make sure that your reason for quitting is to pursue something greater in your life, not because it justwas hard.
Just a quick story about my freshman year in college…after showing up at the first few weights, running, and field practices, I’m a couple of weeks in and I legit had no idea that the human body could physically be that sore, I was sore everywhere, I was really tired, and incredibly homesick. My teammates and I can look back and joke now about the times I almost died during the indian run coach had us do, or when we were in the weight room and we were expected to be able to do pull ups. Lift our entire body weight up and above the bar, well if you needed a little extra help, you could put a resistance band attached to the bar around one knee, and then you should be able to lift yourself up, no, I needed both knees around the band and have a teammate literally had to lift my butt so I could barely get my chin over the bar….yeah…good times. I can laugh now. But at the time, I was embarrassed, I was questioning what the heck I was doing, thinking this isn’t fun or really even make sense, and man did I ever want to quit.
So my freshman winter break, I go back home to celebrate Christmas with my family, and mind you, I was also 50 lbs heavier, than when I was sitting in that chair 10 plus years ago, they say watch out for that freshman 15, no not me, it was a freshman 50…I had basically ate my way through that fall to mask my depression, which was so ridiculous and so not the right way to go about it…no wonder why everything seemed so hard that coach had us do. And no kidding my mom didn’t even recognize me when I got off the plane....
But it was the last night before I had to leave on a flight the next morning…and I remember this still so vividly because I was on the floor of my parents bedroom, which is kind of a weird place for me to be, but I’m balling my eyes out begging them to not go back. I have no idea what got me on the plane that next morning, because my mom was literally like get yourself together, you are 19 years old, you are an adult, I cannot make this decision for you, but I have to tell you life is too short, and if you are that unhappy, transfer to Metro or some other state school and try to walk on a team there. Bless her, and bless her ability to give me some tough loving that day, it was exactly what I didn’t need to hear.
And again, I have no idea what it was that got me on that plane that next morning, but holy smokes what I would have thrown away, and missed out on had I not pushed forward and decided to just give it one more shot.
Fast forward to the spring of my freshman year, at my very first collegiate game, I’m in the bullpen seriously just messing around, by the way I’m a pitcher, not sure if you could tell by my stature or not, but I’m just messing around, because I’m thinking I’m just getting loose, I’m the back up pitcher, warming up next to the senior pitcher who had been there done this before, so I’ll just get warm but not go through an entire pregame, but then we all huddle around prior to game start, coach reads the lineup and what the what???…I’m in there, and I’m starting on the mound.
You want to talk about nerves, excitement, but it was so weird because it was like all that I had to go through, overcome, face, it all boiled down to that one moment. I realized that coach had built me into a player who was incredibly humbled, I was knocked down off my pedistool by her plan, but she believed in me enough to put me in that situation. I realized she really didn’t want to get rid of me, have me quit, she had a use for me, and actually wanted me to play. She made me believe that I was mentally and physically strong enough to face opponents that day, and I was off.
By the way I was one hit shy of a perfect game, that first game. Yeah, crazy. And the four years unraveled like wild fire from that point on, and it was over like that “snap”.
Now I realize this is my experience, my life after making certain choices, decisions, and when opportunities; when Francis Marion asked me to come play there, I thought sure why not, but when opportunities came my way I took them, but you have to realize outcomes may not be directly seen when you start a journey, that you may have to put in some extra efforts, be knocked down a few times, that you need to trust the plan and the process that your coach lays out for you, give up some control, be discouraged, and I’m telling you that sometimes you have to be on the brink of quitting, right before you turn the corner, and see the finish line.
So just a little over a year ago, I went out on a whim and decided to give coaching softball a shot again. I had tried immediately after I graduated college, but I needed a break, a long break. Fast forward to today, where I have a full schedule of clients taking lessons weekly from me, and I have relit a new passion and desire in my life.
I love teaching young women, I love speaking to them just like this, and I love passing on my skills and knowledge of the game and how it relates to life. Now call it not being able to hang it up, or give it up, but I like to call it mentoring our next generation of leaders who are confident and self sufficient.
And I’m looking at these players today, running across ones that are extremely difficult, thick skulled, bad attitudes, whatever you want to label it as, and I’m sure that it’s some weird sort of way fate is giving me a pay back, because I see myself, I was that girl. But personally I love that challenge, and man do I love calling girls out on it.
It took me a while to realize this, but if you want to know what a good majority of college coaches are looking for in a player, it’s not your physical ability, it’s not necessarily that you’re a lefty, can throw 66, or that you hit x amount of homeruns in a season (although those things certainly help you get on the map and get recruited, right) but once you’re there at the school, on the team, those physical abilities subside, and you’re back on an even playing field again amongst your peers, and it all boils down to whether or not you’re coachable, and if you’re a good teammate.
So flip that to, employers. Employers often times don’t care about your experience, your resume, your cover letter, they want to bring you in for an interview, make sure that you can speak up for yourself, sell yourself, and be somebody they can enjoy being around every single day. They will teach you whatever experience you may lack.
I will also tell you that there were numerous conversations that I had to have with my college coach that were far from easy. Now, my college coach was tough, there’s no doubt about that. And there’s a fine line between a coach being your friend, which at the time, she most definitely was not, and a coach that you just straight up fear. You’ll see especially when you look back on the coaches you have had, which ones were able to dance that line, and still have a team that was respectful, worked hard, and you actually won some games. But at the time, and certainly during my freshman year, I feared coach, and don’t forget, I also really wanted to quit.
But I had to sit down and have conversations with her like, hey I need another pair of cleats because I have ripped through the ones I have down to my socks from dragging my toe while pitching. Seems so silly, but when it’s someone you feared and thought hated you…it was really hard.
And then there was the conversation I had to have with her to ask for more scholarship money after finishing my freshman year. I knew in my heart I had deserved it, but to sit in her office, closed door, and look her in the eye and justify why, that was really hard. But it was really important, and once I had it, I knew I had taken a major step in my ability to speak up for myself, and address a boss.
There are also so many parallels behind what softball has taught me over the years and the way that it relates to the workplace. Things like discipline, showing up on time, being honest, asking a boss what it will take to get a raise, or a promotion, reading simple directions, reading an email through it’s entirety, seeing through that things actually get done. All things that to me, and to you, should and will seem so dang simple. You will see it, trust me when I say, that you will be a bar setter, you will emerge as a leader amongst plenty of fellow sheep. But that doesn’t mean you don’t or can’t help those ‘sheep’, lead by example, show them the way, but it does mean that you cannot get swallowed up by their negativity their nay-saying, and swallowed up by the fact that are completely comfortable and complacent right where they are at.
So one final thought to leave you guys with today: the sport of softball has the power to teach you where passion meets humility. Passion can present itself in numerous ways along your path , but along that path is the chance and inevitability of failure.
You are going to fail.
You are going to strike out, walk someone, commit an error, say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Or worse send the wrong email to the wrong person and scramble to figure out how to unsend it....but Failure is going to happen. It’s how you recover from it, learn from it, and reveal your true character while going through it.
When you play, coaches, teammates, parents, fans, are watching you, and your reactions to your failures, in life it becomes, bosses, your coworkers, clients, spouses, and maybe someday your children. Know that someone is always watching, including your own self. Be easy on the person you have to face and look back in the mirror, every single day. Sometimes it’s all you’ve got to pick yourself up, that person will help you dust yourself off, and continue pushing forward.
But along your journey find your tribe, find your passion, and do it with all of your heart.