By Haylee O’Neill (as written by Katherine Dolan)
One of the things that I love about softball is how diverse a team can be.
If you look out onto a softball field, you won’t see a bunch of cookie-cutter players. There is a role for all types of players. They can be tall, they can be short, they can all be different body weights and different body sizes. We see the full spectrum of players excelling in the sport because softball is so diverse.
Before I get too far into it, first let me introduce myself. My name is Haylee O’Neill, I love softball and have been involved in the sport for most of my life. I grew up playing club softball in Manitoba for many years and through softball, I earned a scholarship to Simon Fraser University. Not only did it ease the burden of cost to attend University, but those years were some of the best years of my sporting career. I played for 4 years at SFU and won a National Championship in 2003. What a ride it was!
Shortly after I finished university, I suffered a substantial eye injury and wasn’t able to continue to compete as an athlete. However, I loved the sport so much, I wanted to continue and that is what prompted me to get into coaching. Today, I am a pool coach with the National Team Program and have worked primarily with the Junior National team since 2012.
The reason I wanted to share my story and my passion for softball is because I think there are tremendous opportunities in our sport and many don’t even realize it. There are a lot of programs in the U.S.A. for girls in softball especially at the post-secondary level, as well as here in Canada.
Where I live, in Manitoba, we’ve been trying to focus on and share these incredible opportunities for girls to advance in the sport and play at the university level. We have seen an increase every year in the number of softball athletes we are sending down south on either full or partial scholarships. I am incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to do because it is a really big deal. These girls will have the experience of a lifetime in University as they travel North America with friends for life to play top-level ball, at some beautiful stadiums where many of their idols have played before them. It’s the stuff dreams are made of!
This summer, I was a part of the Junior Women’s National Team staff for the WBSC U-19 World Softball Championships. Our team competed very hard and made history by winning bronze, which is the highest the Junior National team has ever finished. I truly believe that our strong finish was a direct result of the dedication our entire national team staff has shown to teaching solid fundamentals and investing in development opportunities over the last few years.
My coaching philosophy centers on building into people. Coaching is the medium I use to shape young women’s lives, to build character and to be a part of their dreams and goals. I want to help them navigate sport and life in any way that I can. I want to teach them key life skills and open as many opportunities for them as I can.
I also know that in an age where technology is taking over and we are more sedentary than ever, we need girls to get involved in any sport. When they learn how to be a part of a team, care for themselves, commit to building strength and improving conditioning, we are setting them up for success now as well as in the future. We also know that acceptance from peers and coaches plays a huge role in female sport. Therefore coaches need to put an emphasis on team bonding and also take the time to connect one on one with their athletes.
So, if you have a daughter I encourage you to try softball in your province. Provincial Sport Organizations (PSO) are a great place to start, as they can help you find teams in your area. The time commitment is quite manageable, especially at the younger age groups. The National Team program has recently launched a regional skills development academy so I encourage you to contact your local PSO to find out how you can be enrolled in the academy in your province.
At the end of the day, our goal in softball is to build complete people, not just athletes who are technically and physically strong, but also athletes who are mentally and emotionally strong. As coaches, we talk about our own experiences as well, the highs and lows in the sport, so that when it also comes to the mental mindset they learn about failure, perseverance and letting things go, which is important in the sport but also in life.
Lastly, for parents, my best advice to you is to follow your athlete’s lead in their chosen sport. Whether it’s softball or another sport, get behind them whatever it is, but be careful to not live your dreams through your kids. When an athlete is living someone else’s dream, they eventually quit. Our job is not to tell them what sport to play, our job is to get behind them and help them achieve their dream!
I know when it came to my dream of playing softball at the highest level, it was me who pushed for it. And the days I was tired or wanted to go to bed without practice, my Dad didn’t force me. He knew my goals and my dreams and where I wanted to be so he would joke on those days that I could just ‘rest my way to the top’. It got me every time. He wasn’t forcing me, he was supporting what he knew I wanted for myself. It wasn’t his dream, it was mine and I am so grateful for my parents support, because today, I am still involved as a coach in the sport that I truly love.
See you on the field,
Feature Image Photo Credit: Darry Gershman – Canada Summer Games