Written Senior Perspective - Rhianna Rich, Softball

Written Senior Perspective - Rhianna Rich, Softball

The 2019 Senior Perspectives is the 14th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.

Rhianna Rich
Mather House
Harvard Softball
Concentration: Neurobiology

After a tough loss my junior year, I felt disappointed. As I finished high-fiving our opponent, I turned to run back to the dugout, still bitter about the loss, when I saw two little girls right above our dugout waving their hands around with big smiles across their faces. A surge of happiness overcame me in that moment. I was reminded of why I play the game: I was once that little girl.

As a kid, I spent countless hours in the stands watching my three older sisters’ softball games. I yearned to one day play ball like they did.  I grew so impatient that I would force my dad to play catch with me during their games.  Many people asked if I was going to be as good as them.  I would smile and say, “Nope—better.” I eventually moved from the stands to the dugout to be a bat-girl for my sister’s team. I learned so much in the years I spent watching her games from inside the dugout.  I was a sponge eager to soak up any knowledge I could. I thought I knew everything about the game that I could possibly know, but once I started playing competitively, I was shocked to discover that there was a lot I had to learn.

What I lacked was knowing how mentally hard playing a sport competitively would be. I had full faith in my determination and love for the game to fine-tune my physical abilities, but I severely underestimated the strength it would take to face failure again and again, and again. I nearly buckled under the pressure of growing so frustrated with every failure despite knowing how hard I worked.  My mom always told me that I was my own worst enemy. I’d roll my eyes because I felt justified in being angry about failing. Who enjoys the agony of defeat?  

After several years of strikeouts, missed ground balls, base running mistakes, and various mental errors, I finally came to terms with failure—everyone fails. It is a part of life that is inescapable, and I was no exception. Your failures teach you more than you ever could have learned from your successes. How else do you truly appreciate your victories?

Even in my senior year at Harvard, failure still tempts me to be disheartened and angry. It is so easy to lose sight of the process when all people see are the results.  Especially in softball, results are frustrating. A player who fails 70 percent of the time is considered good. But while other people may only see a statistic, no one will understand the journey that little girl went on to achieve her dream of playing collegiate softball at a prestigious university.

Along the way, I have been tested in ways I never could’ve imagined. I felt I had reached my breaking point on multiple occasions, but that’s what’s so great about sports—they push you to your limits, only for you to find out that there is no limit to your greatness. I am forever indebted to the game for allowing me to redefine what I can achieve in life.

This journey, though, wouldn’t be special without my teammates, coaches, and family. I can confidently say that my best friends at Harvard have also been my teammates, and they will continue to be so after graduation.  From draining practices and long game days in the cold, to sitting in the dining hall for hours and cracking inside jokes only we can understand, we have evolved together both on the field and off. I am also equally grateful for my coaches, who have accepted my reserved nature and fostered an environment that has allowed me to feel like a little kid again. And most importantly, thank you to my family who has been there every step of the way, encouraging and pushing me.

There is a famous quote from Mia Hamm that reads, “Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back.”  As my career comes to a close, I can honestly say that looking back is what keeps me going. I am still that little girl living out the dream she imagined some 15 years ago.  Her journey is what I value most about my career, not the results.

My career may be ending, but I smile knowing that those kids in the stands are now embarking on an important journey that will teach them many life lessons and bring them friendships and memories they will cherish for a lifetime. And they, too, will fail. But I’m willing to bet the next generation of young softball players will be there in the stands, waiting to greet the players who just lost. And in the face of failure, they’ll be smiling.