Can you create a community you aren't a part of?

Can you create a community you aren't a part of?

December 11, 2019

I am not a softball player.

Usually, that sentence wouldn’t be groundbreaking, as most people don’t. Most people also haven’t built a softball brand with a following of over 140,000 softball players from around the world.

When I took over running the Softball Lifestyle 101 Instagram account, I was terrified. Terrified that I would fail, terrified that I would be exposed as a fraud, terrified that I would let my followers down. Then something interesting happened, I stopped caring. I didn’t stop caring about the account or the followers, I stopped caring if anyone found out that I actually couldn’t hit a softball if my life depended on it.

I was able to stop caring because I found something more important to care about — the experience of the girls following the page. I wanted to create a safe space for young softball players to come and celebrate their love of a game that they were truly passionate about. Once I started caring more about the community I was creating, I stopped focusing so much on potential technical mistakes that would result from my lack of game-day experience.

It turned out that the followers didn’t care so much about what I was saying in the captions, but instead the interactions they had in the comments. When young baseball players flooded the comments with rude remarks, I snapped back. When it happened again, I didn’t have to, because my small (1,800 followers at the time) army of young softball players did it for me. Because I cared enough to stand up for the brand, and by proxy, the sport, the followers felt empowered to do the same.

Over time the comment interaction increased. Players from across the country shared their stories about the games they played, struggles they had, and they encouraged each other from afar. When one of Softball Lifestyle’s followers felt bullied by her team, others chimed in with their stories and made her feel less alone.

Eventually I realized that I couldn’t run this community alone, and I started enlisting in the help of professional softball players. As they aren’t as well known as professional athletes in other sports, I had more access to contacting these players and sparking their interest in helping me.

What started as the “Ask a Pro” series where our followers could submit questions for a chance to have them answered by that week’s pro player, later became the Live Talk series where I would share an Instagram Live Stream with a pro player and field questions from the followers.

During these Live Talks, I receive countless questions about everything from how to throw the perfect riseball to what the best post-game meal is. I’ve been fortunate enough to discuss what it was like to be the first female recipient of the Gold Glove Award from AJ Andrews, and the feelings of winning an Olympic gold metal with Natasha Watley. I’ve fielded questions from parents who are concerned about their daughter selecting the right college for their needs, and from 10 year old girls asking how to handle a tough coach.

When I receive direct messages from our followers, I do my best to answer, no matter what the question is. If I don’t have the answer, I’ll typically ask someone who does and get back to them with either a resource or contact information. Sometimes, the questions aren’t softball related at all. Sometimes, it’s responding to a grieving teenager who just lost her grandfather, or someone dealing with their first break-up. Sometimes it’s a baseball player asking for my advice on how to talk to the softball player he likes — those are my favorite.

For three years, and the addition of 140,000 followers, I’ve struggled on and off with the fact that I am not a softball player, and while it hasn’t been without its challenges, I’ve been able to create something I’m truly proud of. I didn’t have to be a softball player to make this happen. I just had to care enough about the community.