Why varsity athletics should prioritize passion over skill

SJ Lasley, Assignments Editor

Believe it or not, I actually was a varsity athlete once. Freshman year, I played varsity softball (there’s only one team, so don’t get too excited). I was nowhere near being the most talented player on that team, and I spent most of my time in the dugout cheering for the girls on the field. I was so bad that when people would ask what position I played, I always responded, “Benchwarmer.”  Despite the minimal playing time, that year I made some of my favorite memories and truly iconic friendships.

For me, varsity teams aren’t about skill. They’re not about who records the best times or scores the most goals. Varsity athletes should be the coachable, passionate players who give their 110 percent.  As a noodly freshman, I managed to get through a whole season, and I never once felt inferior for not playing as often as the others. Instead, I got the benefits of being a letterman and grew as an athlete, as a learner and as a person.

Varsity athletics should take a step back and look at how they choose their players. Athletic talent is an important factor, of course, but that capability and skill can only be developed through hard work and dedication. A talented player with no passion for the sport might lag behind in practice, have a negative impact or simply not improve. A pretty good player with a whole lot of love for the sport might be more inclined to improve and set goals for not only themselves, but also for the rest of the team.

In one of the only games that I played freshman year, I completely missed two pop flies on back-to-back plays. It was also the only game that my friends came to. It’s one of those horrific memories that jolts me awake at night because I just can’t handle the cringe.

Used with permission from SJ Lasley


Two weeks later we ran a pop-fly drill at practice. I made the conscious decision to give it my all, partially for my own improvement, but mostly to make up for my embarrassment. I ended up — by some kind of miracle — making a sliding catch on the first ball hit to me. That small victory will forever be one of my proudest moments.

I will never be a Division I athlete. I am perfectly content managing all the sports that I used to play because of my lack of innate athletic talent. I love sitting down during volleyball and softball games, and I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I broke a sweat.

I have never regretted playing a varsity sport, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity. I learned to accept that I won’t always catch a pop fly, and I learned the importance of working hard to improve my chances.

There are plenty of factors that go into selecting players for varsity: coaching style, the attitudes of the players, and the number of players needed to complete the team. There will be players, upperclassmen, even, who want to play their sport for fun. They don’t play year-round, and they’re just looking for a good way to get some exercise. They put in effort worthy of a JV position.

There will be players, though, who play club and train and actively seek out means to improve. They could be upperclassmen; they could be underclassmen.

To those people, I say that you are worthy of a varsity position. To those who coach those people, I ask you to consider what St. John’s, or your specific team, truly values.

If you are generally alright at your respective sport — and if you love it — I only hope that you’ll receive the opportunity to grow, regardless of your statistics. And if not, that’s something that the varsity program should look into.

Reward those who work hard because opportunity to grow, learn and change is so much bigger than stats.