How Molly Never Quit - A true and inspiring story about why evaluating players is more than numbers.
Updated: Feb 25, 2019
How Molly Never Quit
Why Evaluating Players Is More Than Numbers
I ran tryouts prior to my first year coaching High School Softball back in the 1998-1999 school year. I did what I assumed to be right. We had a series of categories where we documented times and scores. On paper, as I had anticipated, the best players jumped off the page with better numbers.
At the time, I didn’t know it, but I was missing something.
Before the tryouts began, my athletic director informed me that I couldn’t cut anyone. I was free to choose my Varsity, JV, and Reserves, but cutting athletes was against school policy. He instructed me that my tryouts needed to be a thorough evaluation supported by documentation and that they should occur over multiple days.
After the first day, I had already picked my varsity, in my mind.
We went through the motions of evaluating players for the rest of the week. There was one individual who appeared over-matched, an unathletic freshman named, Molly. She was decisively less-talented than any of the other athletes. We had easily identified Molly as the worst player at tryouts.
Our coaching staff pegged her as a “drill-killer”, someone who would never be able to keep up and ultimately, disrupt practice due to her inabilities. We knew we couldn’t cut her but truly hoped she would see the writing on the wall and quit.
Molly didn’t quit.
After a week of tryouts, teams had been decided. We were reluctant to offer Molly a spot, but school policy dictated that we had to. She became our last pick for the Reserve Team.
I lamented the situation to my athletic director who showed little sympathy. Like any good A.D. mentoring a young coach, he simply said it was my job to make it work and make Molly better. Unwavering, he informed me that the only way she wasn’t to be part of our team was if she made that decision on her own.
The following week our coaching staff scheduled a week of conditioning prior to our first practice. Our coaching staff fully anticipated Molly, who was not in great shape and had shown signs of being a poor runner, would quit.
By design, we made conditioning week very challenging. Collectively, the girls dubbed the week, “Hell Week”, a well-earned title that held true each year thereafter.
On day one, we had a couple of JV players quit but Molly did not.
On day two, one more but not Molly.
By the end of the week, a total of six individuals had decided to quit. Molly wasn’t one of them.
The conditioning week had revealed who was committed to doing what it might take to be the best. Surprisingly to our coaches, Molly had shown that resolve.
In fact, Molly had done more than that. The other team members had taken notice of how difficult conditioning was for her. Even though at first, they had mostly ignored her - running far ahead, leaving her behind. However, before the week was over, they were running beside her, encouraging her, and seeming inspired in the way Molly was pushing through adversity.
Molly was motivating those around her.
We, as coaches, had completely missed it.
Molly had something we couldn’t measure. Something that numbers on a sheet of paper could never reveal. Molly had HEART.
Through her efforts, she had taught me a valuable lesson that lives with me today. The best players on any team will always stand out on paper but there is potential value in others who may not. Teams are composed of many different individuals, all of which fill a role, and any individual, regardless of skill, who motivates and inspires others, is worthy of being part of a team.
Witnessing how the best players had rallied around Molly, during conditioning week, gave our coaching staff a fresh perspective on what being a team really was all about. By showing all of us her heart, she had won ours.
Molly earned a Varsity uniform.
Yes, she continued to be a drill-killer, but even that seemed to have an unexpected impact. Our team learned patience, empathy, communication, and steadfast support for each other. In some respects, Molly had taught all of us vital lessons that would benefit our group well beyond softball.
On the softball field during Molly’s four years in our program, we dominated the competition. We won two state championships and competed in four state tournaments, only losing a handful of games over that four-year period. Without a complaint, Molly only played sparingly – an at-bat here or there at the end of a blowout win, but never more than two or three opportunities over the course of a season.
During her senior year, I decided to start Molly for Senior Night. When the team members saw Molly’s name listed on the lineup card posted in the dugout, they lit up and cheered.
As expected, Molly didn’t have any success in any of her at-bats. Unexpectedly, the game had remained close.
Clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh, the opposing team had managed to place runners at 2nd and 3rd with two outs. When the hitter at the plate laced a pitch to left field, I cringed. Seemingly, the entire crowd had been sucked into a silent vacuum. Everyone appeared to hold a collective breath as the ball streaked toward Molly, looking unaware for the situation, standing alone in the left field grass.
Fielding was never Molly’s forte. She was lucky to ever catch a thrown ball, let alone a fly ball in practice. Often over-running the ball, chasing it down, and lobbing it weakly back in the direction of the infield.
But on this night, Molly didn’t miss - just as she had never given up. The ball landed squarely in her glove, a screaming-liner, she had never even moved. A celebration ensued, as the team members sprinted to where she stood, dogpiling her in a frenzy.
Molly, four years after I had hoped she would quit, was suddenly the hero.
However, Molly had always been the hero – saving us all from future unnecessary judgments, while teaching me the meaning of leadership and our group the true meaning of TEAM.
A prideful tear trickled down my cheek that night. And as I sit here remembering Molly and that moment, I’m tearful all over again.
For any aspiring athlete, never give up. Show coaches what you’ve got – even if you’ve only got HEART to show, you have much to contribute to any team.
And for coaches, don’t underestimate the positive impacts from those who are less-talented. If you do, you might just miss something.
Jerrad Hardin, a former NCA Coach of the Year, author, and clinician runs a series of camps coast to coast each summer helping young athletes achieve their dreams of being better players and potentially playing college softball. To learn more about Jerrad and his camps, please visit: www.jerradhardin.com