On my first day playing organized softball, I was terrified. I arrived at the field, clutching my dad’s hand, and watched with envious eyes as the other girls talked and laughed with each other as they played in the grass.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to play the game. Far from it, really. I grew up watching countless Little League games and playing indoor whiffle ball with my brother. The talking to other people part was what really intimidated me. I was too shy to approach any of the girls to ask them to throw, so I played catch with my dad instead.
When the coaches called us over, I jogged to home plate, taking a more comfortable place in the crowd of girls. A line of twelve high school girls stood in front of us, beaming with confidence. They smiled at us and told us their name and grade, unified by their matching uniforms and the pristine ribbons tied into their hair.
I don’t know how to explain why, but I wanted a ribbon. I wanted to be just like them; I wanted to fast-forward my life so that I could be exactly who they were in that moment. Their ribbons held a kind of magic that I wished that I had; they seemed to shine in reflection of some kind of secret that I just hadn’t figured out yet.
As a child, I was shy. Incredibly so. I couldn’t imagine having the courage to stand in front of so many people, even if just to clearly state my name and grade. I wished I had this courage, but I had no idea how to go about finding it.
The thing about softball, though, is that it’s a team sport. You’re not allowed to get away with not talking to people, as much I that’s what I would have wanted that first day.
Six years later, I earned my ribbons. They were given to me alongside the rest of my uniform during my freshman year, my first year on the Varsity softball team.
They give me no athletic advantage, of course, but wearing them alongside the upperclassmen on my team was surreal. Our ribbons unified us, told the world that we were a part of something special. That wasn’t the important part, though. The important part was that we knew that we were a part of something special.
Being on the team that year made me proud, but not because I was one of the only three freshmen on the team. I was proud because I felt like I belonged, like I wasn’t on the outside looking in anymore.
The funny thing is, when you feel like you belong, you don’t have to be shy anymore. Shyness isn’t something that is attached to who I am. I make it up myself, as a defense for all of the times that I feel like I don’t belong. It’s ironic, really, because you’d think it should be the other way around.
When step out onto the field to coach for my old league, my ribbons become a superpower. Maybe I’m the only one who sees it, but these ribbons remind me of the fact that through softball, I have grown into a leader, something that was unimaginable the first day I started playing.
My ribbons remind me of the shyness that I’ve overcome, because they represent the team that helped me to overcome it. I understand now why all of the high school girls looked so confident in themselves: it was because they knew that they belonged on that team.
Once I stopped being so shy, leadership came easily, and here’s why: leadership isn’t just about bossing people around or organizing events. To me, leadership is about setting an example to help others overcome the same obstacles that I once did.
That’s my goal in life, I think. I want to teach people, not just by telling them how to do it, but by wearing my ribbons and really showing them.
On a Sunday morning at the first fall clinic, a girl walks toward me, clutching her mother’s arm.
“This is Katie,” her mom tells me. “This is her first time, so she’s pretty scared.”
I kneel down to her level so that she can see my ribbons, and I smile at her.
“Hi Katie,” I say to her. “I think you’re going to like this game.”