Valerie's Voice: Golden insights from Team USA softball standout
By Greg Bach
Team USA softball great Valerie Arioto has never forgotten a game played years ago in Italy where she committed back-to-back errors.
It’s a contest that resonates – not because of the miscues but rather the powerful lesson she plucked from the experience.
One that young athletes in all sports should embrace.
And learn from.
“I made two errors in a row that cost us the lead and I just felt like I let my team down and you never want to feel that way,” says Arioto, the super talented and hard-working member of Team USA who will be gunning for gold at the 2021 Summer Olympics. “But then the next inning Michelle Moultrie hit a home run to get our lead back. So it was like I needed to hit that rock bottom of feeling down and then seeing my teammates respond that I was fine and that they had my back.”
In that span of a few minutes, Arioto experienced one of the many glorious values of team sports when the focus is on the group.
And players care deeply for each other.
“That was a big learning point for me,” she says. “It works both ways where hopefully I am that person who supports my teammates, too. Every game and every practice there are ups and downs and picking your teammates up is so important.”
CULTURE OF CARING
Growing up in Pleasanton, Calif., Arioto enjoyed a sports-filled childhood competing on the courts and fields of her community.
And savoring it all.
“I just loved being active as a kid and I played a ton of sports,” she says.
There was soccer, basketball, volleyball and water skiing among them, but it was softball that grabbed her heart and never let go.
“Softball really stuck because I really loved the community around the sport,” she says. “We’d have barbecues and pool parties, and it was always a family-friendly community sport for me, so that was really special.”
Her parents gave her opportunities to explore a variety of activities, never squashing the fun by pushing the pursuit of scholarships.
And game day performances weren’t dissected unless she steered the conversations in those directions for feedback she wanted to help her improve.
“My parents did a good job of letting me choose what sport I wanted to play,” she says. “They never forced me or pressured me in any way and that really helped me because I didn’t feel that pressure or stress from them, and I didn’t get burned out.”
And when she peeks back on her journey, she’s grateful for having played a variety of sports rather than being pushed into year-round softball like so many kids are these days.
“I get that question the most from parents and in my opinion it’s so crucial to be able to play other sports,” she says. “It’s so important to be able to step away and still be active but play different sports and train different parts of your body because kids are still developing and growing. So being able to have the ability to play different sports and do different things I think really does help you become more athletic. In the long run if you do end up being recruited I think that’s what coaches are looking for are those types of well-rounded athletes.”
THE INTEGRATED VAULT
Arioto has always been interested in being the best she can be – both on and off the field.
And helping others reach their goals in all aspects of their life, too.
“I’m really big on self-care for high performance,” she explains. “Am I aligning my everyday actions with my goals and where I want to be? So it’s about really being aware.”
Probing ways for becoming better in the field, at the plate, and away from the game inspired her to create The Integrated Vault to help others on their journeys through sports and life.
“I wanted to provide resources for young girls, teen athletes and women who are looking for support and guidance,” Arioto says.
There are online courses covering wellness, high performance and self-care; a game plan for turning goals into reality; and videos and other tools to cultivate and support healthy habits.
NEXT STOP, TOKYO
Arioto has put together an impressive an accolade-filled career.
She starred at the University of California, where she was the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year and a nightmare for opposing pitchers to face.
Just check out some of these head-turning numbers: she hit a whopping .400 at the 2018 USA Softball International Cup with five home runs and 13 RBI. A year earlier at the Pan American Championships she hit .357 and scored 10 runs; and she’s a four-time World Cup of Softball gold medalist.
Now, she dreams of Olympic gold.
Team USA was in the initial stages of its Stand Beside Her Tour earlier this year in preparation for the Summer Olympics when the pandemic struck, turning everyone’s lives upside down and postponing the Summer Games until 2021.
Softball hasn’t been a part of the Summer Olympics since the 2008 Games in Beijing, so Arioto and her teammates are anxious to get back on the field and compete against the best in the world.
And showcase their talents.
“I hear so often that young girls are dropping out of sports at a faster rate than boys and that’s sad,” she says. “Hopefully being able to see players on Team USA or on other teams that they look up to will inspire them to want to keep playing and competing.”
For young athletes in search of role models, they won’t find a better one than Valerie Arioto.
You can follow her on Instagram @valeriearioto.
Collegiate diver Sarah G. Densham suffered a life-changing concussion during practice and shares an important message for athletes of all ages and in all sports: asking for help is ok
Tyler Lussi, forward for Angel City in the National Women’s Soccer League, on competing with confidence, asking for help, her efforts impacting today’s youth, and more
Al “Hondo” Handy’s new book, DEFYING EXPECTATIONS, shares his remarkable journey while inspiring others to reach for their dreams
Children with cardiomyopathy who haven’t been diagnosed at greater risk for sudden cardiac arrest when exerting themselves in sport