A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
History maker on playing with freedom of failure
By Greg Bach
A.J. Andrews – the first woman to ever receive the prestigious Rawlings Gold Glove Award that has been presented to Major League greats since 1957 – plays softball with passion and fearlessness.
And a love of making acrobatic catches, too.
It turns out those are some outstanding traits that today’s volunteer coaches should be gunning to teach their young players, too.
“You never know what you can catch unless you try,” says Andrews, who plays for the Akron Racers in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league. “I think a lot of girls are scared to make a mistake but it’s important to never be afraid to make an error and to play with freedom of failure and have fun.”
HISTORY MAKER, BARRIER BREAKER
For more than half a century the Rawlings Gold Glove Award has been presented to the likes of Mays, Clemente, Ripken and Jeter.
With Andrews making history with her 2016 award, she’s hopeful that inspires other young athletes to chase their dreams, stare down obstacles and shove negative words from their vocabulary.
“This shows that the word ‘impossible’ means absolutely nothing,” she says. “It doesn’t have any value unless you give it value.”
What a powerful message to share with young athletes in all sports.
And what a spectacular example she sets for today’s female athletes to embrace new opportunities that have been cultivated through her tireless dedication to the game.
“For me it means hope, it means momentum, and that young girls can have bigger dreams and they can do more and achieve more,” Andrews says. “When they’re young they can say they want to win a Gold Glove and before 2016 that was not something you would hear girls say and I think the fact that barrier has been broken has opened so many more doors and I believe that this is something that is going to continue to break more barriers.”
PLAYING HARD, PLAYING FREE
Andrews’ youth was filled with sports.
“I tried just about everything,” she says of those early days, which included basketball, soccer, running track and, of course, softball.
And she was never handcuffed by a fear of failure, or worried about missing a ball.
“I was never nervous to dive for a ball or afraid to have a ball drop, so it all started when I was little,” she says. “I was just always someone who liked to go hard. I was that kid who loved being in the dirt and getting dirty. I was very proud of myself every time I got a strawberry (minor scrapes on the skin that produce small scabs). It hurt but I felt like I got something done that day. It sounds kind of weird but it was always fun for me and as I grew up it just never changed.”
She vividly remembers those days showing up at the field. If the outfield grass happened to have some moisture on it Andrews knew it was going to be a really fun day of action.
“I was so excited if the grass was wet because I knew it was going to be a really fun day if I got to dive for a ball because I was going to slide far, so that was always my mentality,” she says. “Sometimes I probably dove when I didn’t need to, but honestly it was fun and it was a challenge.”
A MESSAGE TO REMEMBER
Youth softball fields across the country are filled with kids who feel the pressure to perform, and don’t thoroughly enjoy the game day experience because of the negative energy that surrounds too many games.
“I think something that is really important to remember as a kid is being a really good teammate,” Andrews says. “When you just have fun and enjoy the time that just makes the sport that much more fun and it makes the game so much easier, too. I think sometimes kids can play so tense that they want to get a hit and when they make an out they get upset. But you have to remember that having fun is how you are going to be able to play your best.”
And when youngsters are taught and encouraged to savor the journey and forge friendships they’ll get more out of their experiences.
“The times that I remember the most are the ones with my friends when we were just goofing off at a tournament or just the different stories that happened during the season,” she says. “When you get older the stories that you remember are the funny things that happened – you don’t remember who made the last out in a game that you played when you were younger. So kids should have as much fun as possible and build those memories.”
Sounds like great advice from someone who has loved playing the game since she was a child, and has made history playing it, too.
She excelled on the basketball courts and soccer fields of her youth, and the lessons learned all the way through her collegiate playing days are used often in the high-pressure world of live television
Oakland A’s bench coach Mark Kotsay, who played 17 Major League seasons and has coached youth baseball, on helping kids embrace playing the game with a great attitude and giving it all they’ve got every time out
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