Haylie McCleney is a four-time All-American at the University of Alabama and graduates as one of the greatest players to ever put on a Crimson Tide uniform. The center fielder who once prowled the outfield for Bama is taking on new challenges, but not before she had the chance to do something different. If she could give her former self-advice during the course of her softball journey, this is what she would say.
As I have had a couple of weeks to process the fact that my time at Alabama has come to an end, I felt a responsibility to get out to as many people as possible the things I have learned throughout my softball career.
There is a generation of immense talent that is coming up through softball, but I think we all, as players, want to make sure that this generation becomes great PEOPLE on top of that talent. At the end of the day, that is what it's all about. This is a letter from me to me. I want to be clear that I have absolutely NO regrets.
These are simply things I wish I would have known at the time and concepts I wish I grasped sooner. I could not be more thankful for my time at Alabama because every lesson you read here was learned in Tuscaloosa.
Dear 12-year-old Haylie,
You aren't playing with your friends from school anymore and that's OK. You will make new friends. It's OK that you're shy and you don't want to take the next step on the next team. Do it anyway. You have something in common with every girl, find it. Put yourself out there. Do not forget to have fun and remind your parents of this, too. These softball games are only what you make it to be. There are going to be a lot of people out there trying to push you in different directions, but go on the path that makes YOU the happiest, even if that isn't softball. Remember to thank your parents for taking you out of your comfort zone and driving you everywhere. It isn't easy on them, and you will appreciate it one day.
Dear 14-year-old Haylie,
I know these colleges want you to commit to play there and I know a lot of your friends are starting to commit to schools, too, but don't feel that pressure. Take your time making your decision because it is the most important decision of your life. Make sure that school wants you for the right reasons. Make sure you will not only like, but LOVE your future teammates. Please make sure your future coach cares about you as a PERSON first, and a player second. Pray about your decision, talk to people you trust about your decision, and never let anyone tell you that a school is "too big" for you. Set your bar high, and never stop chasing your dreams. Remember to breathe. It's OK to not know.
Dear 16-year-old Haylie,
Congratulations. You've committed. It's such an amazing feeling, but remember that your work is not over. As a matter of fact, your work hasn't even begun. Remember that you now have a standard to uphold. People are watching you. They are not only watching your skill set, but they are also watching your intangibles. Be a good teammate. Don't get upset about striking out or popping up. I guarantee that you won't remember a bad travel ball at-bat for the rest of your life. Don't be in a hurry to get to college because you will want these years back. Be in the present moment always. Start saying thank you to all of your coaches, teammates, family, and friends for every little thing they do for you. You didn't get this far by yourself. The sooner you figure out that it's not all about you, the better off you are going to be.
Dear Freshman Haylie,
I know you want to be a four-year starter. I know you want to play every inning and I know all your family members and old coaches want that, too. Understand that there are more ways to impact the game than just being on the field. If you don't start, that's OK. Work harder and accept your role. You will be a lot happier because of it. Put the team's needs above your own. It's not about your batting average or RBIs or home runs or postseason awards. These four years will be about your teammates and how you all made each other better.
Dear Sophomore Haylie,
You are going to think that you have forever at this school, but please do not fall into that trap. You only get four years and they will go by faster than any other years of your life. Stay in the present moment. Soak in everything that you can and learn as much as you can. Get out of your apartment and have lunch with your teammates. Go see a movie. Bond. Love everyone and everything that you can. It is time to start leading by example. Work hard in everything that you do (this includes the classroom, too). Stay after practice, come before practice, and get the extra work in. Have a FIRE to be great and make others great. Go out and start volunteering for something that touches your heart (outside of the mandatory community service you do with the team). I promise that it will be worth it. You can only be as happy as the people around you. Remember, you are someone's role model. Be someone in the community and in your team that they can be proud of.
Dear Junior Haylie,
It is now your job to lead. Make sure you're prepared for this. Books help, if you don't feel comfortable. Don't be afraid to speak your mind and stand for what is right. You've set the example and now you hold others to that. I want you to care about your teammates for who they are instead of what they can do. Take care of them and be there for them when they need you. SERVING is the easiest and best way to lead them. They will respect you more for that than anything you do on the field. YOU HAVE TO CARE ABOUT THEM AND LOVE THEM FIRST. Keep working hard because it is going to pay off on the field. Trust the process. Stay in the community. Keep impacting every single human being you come in contact with. A little smile goes a long way.
Dear Senior Haylie,
You will be overwhelmed with responsibilities. Use your fellow seniors and other resources that you have. Keep an eye out for your teammates and always have their backs. This is your team. Take your freshmen under your wing. Guide them on the lessons you have already learned about selflessness, servant leadership, accountability, and resiliency. Get to know the little ones, as you only have one year with all of them. Embrace the challenge of leading a team, but don't get too caught up in failure. The most important play is the next play. Be where your feet are. Leave your mark, not just on the field — as that will be long gone in a few years — but also leave your mark in the hearts and souls of your teammates. If you can make them better people, that is way more valuable than any award. You might break records, but if that is your only focus, you are sure going to miss out on all this experience has to offer you. When it's over, you're going to remember the people, not your accolades.
Dear Future Haylie,
Take these lessons with you and know that you can accomplish anything. Always remember that the best is yet to come. It's not about the money and how big your house is and how nice your car is. It's the PEOPLE you are around every single day. Go win a win a gold medal in 2020. Who says you can't? Take it one day at a time and make the most of every day you are given. You can change the world.