Valerie Arioto: Making Softball a Great Experience For All

Oct. 05, 2017, 2:22 p.m. (ET)

Written by the U.S. Center for SafeSport

Veteran U.S. Women’s National Team member Valerie Arioto has been playing softball since she was nine years old. Through both triumphs and disappointments at all levels, Arioto has learned lessons along the way that have helped her stay positive, focused and healthy on and off the field. Whether gearing up for Team USA or working with the next generation of softball players as a coach and mentor, Arioto is committed to making softball a great experience for all involved. And she has some advice for parents, coaches, athletes and fans about how you can help!

For Arioto, softball should be enjoyable and developmental.

“Softball should be fun!” she insisted. “As a coach and mentor, I like to make a game out of skill drills or incorporate life skills embedded throughout the training sessions. With that being said, everyone’s idea of fun is different, so I like to get to know each person I work with to get a sense of what they enjoy. Everyone learns differently and enjoys different things, so mixing it up to be able to reach players individually is important. And I always want my athletes to know it’s okay to be themselves.”

Arioto credits her parents for always creating a positive, supportive environment, allowing her to develop the passion for the sport she carries today.

“My father never let the results of my performance on the field change his love for me and was always out in the front yard with his glove and tee anytime I wanted to practice, and my mother is my biggest supporter on and off the field. Growing up, they were always there for me anytime I wanted to practice, but what I am most grateful for is the fact that they were never overbearing. They never made me do anything. If I wanted to practice, I did, but they knew when to give me space as well. Softball was never life and death to them. It was something they saw made me happy.”

Arioto believes positive coaching is also foundational to success.

“Softball is a really hard sport,” Arioto said. “If someone is hitting .300 – a good, consistent hitter – they are getting a hit three out of ten times. Compare that to getting three out of ten on a test at school. When I work with young athletes, I always remind them of this example, just as I learned. Softball is really hard, and performance and results do not equal self-worth.”

Arioto noted a key moment in her development as an example of how coaches can provide a positive learning environment and raise confidence among their players.

“Early in my Team USA career, I made a mistake at practice. I was in the wrong place on the play and then airmailed the ball to the backstop. In my head, I was thinking, ‘That was terrible!” But then I heard our coach say, ‘That was a great job.’ I think I looked at him like he was crazy, but he proceeded to tell me that I had the right idea being creative in the system and then relayed the other options I had on the play. This method helped me learn to move forward in a positive way.”

And Arioto feels positivity is key to being a good role model.

“We, as National Team players, are in a great position to send a positive message to others,” Arioto explained. “But a role model isn’t just someone who is in the media or well known. Being a role model is how your behavior and success are perceived by others. When I look at my teammates, I first notice how kind, honest and inspiring they are.”

Arioto noted the important role her teammates, at all levels, have played in her life.

“Being part of a team is so special,” she said. “We’re all so different, but we have a common goal that brings us together. There is always someone who has your back or that you can call on a bad day and the great days, too. I’m always learning something new. I love what I do because of the people I am around and the common passion we share. My teammates have shown me that softball is much more than a sport.”

Arioto also offered advice for growing a lasting bond between teammates.                                                 

“Even one person being negative can distract from the ultimate goal. But everyone is going through something we know nothing about, so if someone has not caught on to the positive atmosphere, it can be a great opportunity to be a mentor and supportive teammate. A positive environment starts from the top down, but it is also crucial that each player buys in and continues to spread positive energy.”

And Arioto insists being a good teammate is an essential part of the process. “A good teammate is kind, accepting, inspiring, sees the good in everyone and leads by example,” Arioto explained. “These characteristics will translate to good individual and team performances.”

Parents, fans and spectators need to keep the softball experience enjoyable as well.

Arioto noted that fans should keep a positive perspective. “We’re all human beings who aren’t perfect and make mistakes,” she explained. “And this includes the other team and umpires. Enjoy the game for what it is, and support us as people. We can feel your positive vibes!”

U.S. Center for SafeSport:

The U.S. Center for SafeSport is a national nonprofit that champions the well-being of athletes. The Center works to ensure all athletes have access to practice and competition spaces that are free from bullying, harassment and abuse. Athletes, parents, coaches, club leaders and officials each play a role in developing and maintaining positive sport environments. Visit www.safesport.org to learn more about how you can play a part and help us ensure softball is always safe and welcome!