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Protect Your Daughter By Playing CatchMay 16, 2013 Article Provided by: The National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA)
Article by: Erica Ayres, Georgetown University
Let me preface my opinion by saying that I have not done any research on the percentage of injuries or type of injuries that have occurred at any level of softball as it pertains to whether or not girls and young women should be wearing masks. The use of masks appears to be happening on the softball field so much more prevalently than on the baseball field, on which I've never seen a boy or young man wearing one. Why in the world are we seeing young girls in masks? If our game is more dangerous than baseball, then the bats and balls need to be adjusted. I don't personally believe our game is more dangerous; in fact, a baseball to the eye is far more damaging due to the smaller size. There are a few bats that were too "hot" but those seem to be appropriately proportioned with the new exit velocity policies. My instinct says that the vast majority of injuries that have taken place have been in situations where the talent discrepancy between opponents has differed greatly, for example, a third baseman that lacks the skill set to play against her competition.
When I see young kids in masks I ask, "why?" The college coach and recruiter in me asks, "Are they afraid? Do they lack confidence in their ability to catch the ball or in their reaction time? Does this kid have the toughness to compete against the best in the country? Do they have an injury they are protecting?" The mentor and youth clinician in me asks a few of the same questions as well as, "was this a parental decision and if so, why? Is it mandated by a youth recreational league? Are those same parents making their sons wear the mask? Are youth baseball leagues enforcing those same policies?"
It is imperative for the recruitable athlete to know that, whether it's fair or unfair, when I see a player wearing a mask I immediately assume you are afraid of the softball. It is impossible to become as good as you can possibly be if you lack confidence in your ability to catch the ball. At some point, at some level, that fear will catch up with you. Mentality has more to do with your success at the highest levels than your physical ability. To me, a mask that is not temporary, due to injury, is the sign of a weak mentality. I'm sure there are a few exceptions but in my experience they are few and far between. Take a look at the highest level of softball in the country being played on TV this spring and emulate them if that is where you desire to be. Shed the mask and work as hard on your defensive skills as you do your hitting and pitching and strength and conditioning.
My advice to the parents and youth coaches of girls just getting started in this amazing game is to be honest in your evaluation of the talent of your daughter and team. Practice the skills that are required to play the game and make sure they are competing at the appropriate level. It is ok that they are not the best on the team and not playing the best competition, if that is the team that best meets their needs. Kids are smart. They know when they do not belong and that is when they become afraid. If you slap a mask on your child so she is protected at a position she is not ready for, she will still have fear and lack confidence. That fear never goes away and that young girl that loves to play softball never develops the way she should. This game is immensely popular and because of that there is a level for everyone.
Protect your daughter by practicing the lost art of playing catch. Protect your daughter by letting her know that if she is overmatched, it's ok to back up. Protect your daughter by being honest and telling her she is not ready to play the infield or pitch at a certain level but if she wants to then it takes lots of practice. Protect your daughter by treating her the same way you treat your son.
In my opinion the facemask for infielders and pitchers should be for unique occasions due to injury and not an everyday piece of equipment for preventative measures. Your feet and your glove are all you need to stay safe playing the infield!