Throw Like a Girl: Reviewing Softball Legend Jennie Finch's New Book

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You may recognize her from her pitching in the Olympics. Or from the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. Or even from The Apprentice. Now you should also recognize her as an author.

Softball great, and Olympic gold medalist, Jennie Finch, has just released her first book: Throw Like A Girl: How to Dream Big & Believe in Yourself (with sports journalist Ann Killion). This 256-page autobiographical work, recently published by sports press Triumph, is targeted at teen girls (it may be a bit long for elementary school-age readers, but is a great fit for middle- and high-school audiences). If your daughter is a softball player, or athlete of any type, this is a must read.

Throw Like A Girl traces Finch’s career from her days on Southern California sandlots to international softball diamonds on travel, high school, college, Olympic, and pro teams.  Divided into three sections—Body, Mind, and Heart— Finch gives tips on how to navigate politics in youth sports, how college recruiting really works, and how to balance sports, schooling, and a social life (at various life stages, as she covers her own marriage and pregnancies).  While she does repeat some stories a few times, the pictures and inspirational quotes throughout help distract from this repetition.

The gist of the book is summarized on page seven: “Through sports I learned to accept and appreciate my body and to accept myself for who I am. I gained confidence and inspiration. Athletics is not only good for your body, it’s great for your mind and spirit. And I learned that life is about so much more than just the wins and losses at the end of a game.”  Throughout Finch explains why athletics are beneficial to girls today, while also highlighting problem areas in youth sports—themes that resonate with my academic research on girls and competitive sports.

In my work I label girls who are highly competitive and highly feminine “pink girls.”  These young women choose what type of girl they want to be, while performing at such a high level that they often beat boys.  She writes that the contrast between being a tough-as-nails athlete and a hot-pink-on-nails girl provides her with the right balance.  Some of her friends and teammates have chosen to be even more “supergirly” and others have chosen to shave their heads.  Finch explains that softball, and sports, has room for all types of girls.

Finch chose to be a pink girl from a young age: “When I started playing sports, I always put ribbons in my braids or ponytails.  My father was the one who did my hair for me before games when I was little because my mom was often at work. He always said that just because girl plays sports doesn’t mean she can’t be feminine. So that became my motto, too.” (55)

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Finch’s father has played a huge role in her life.  More than anyone else besides the author he is the star of the book.  He developed a machine named the “Finch windmill” to help his daughter develop the muscles in her non-pitching arm.  He explained to her that her teammates depended on her and she shouldn’t go outside and ride her bike, for fear of breaking an arm.  And he defended her at games when people yelled from the stands that they were lying about her age. 

Mr. Finch was an extremely involved sports dad who pushed his daughter to her limits to succeed.  While it clearly paid off in this case, it’s also clear that not all kids would respond well to this sort of parenting style.  Still, it’s a great example of sports bringing a father and daughter closer together, something that is still somewhat rare for many daddy-daughter combos, as I have previously written about on BlogHer.

Finch’s story shows how sports can help forge other familial bonds.  An obvious example is that Finch married a professional baseball player (a pitcher, no less), Casey Daigle.  Less obvious is the role her two older, athletic brothers played in her sports development.  For example, she explains that having older brothers helped prepare her parents to deal with the politics of youth sports teams (like the coach who likes to use his own child as star pitcher) and how to pick good coaches.

Finch provides other bits of relevant, practical advice to young athletes and their parents.  She tells people to be wary about those who sell services to young athletes and do some homework before hiring them—that just because they charge money doesn’t make them qualified (this is a real pet peeve of mine when it comes to the world of children’s competitive activities, as you can see here and here).  Finch also encourages young athletes to continue to explore various sporting opportunities and not specialize too young.  This includes playing different sports for fun and playing on a school team, not just for select travel teams.  Parents will especially appreciate her message that studying for school must also remain a priority.

While some of the tips apply to boys and girls, girls really are the focus in Throw Like a Girl. Finch discusses all the various competitive pressures girls may feel in their lives (academic, athletic, peer, romantic, and the list goes on), explaining she felt all of them at some point.  She doesn’t use psychologist Stephen Hinshaw’s term “The Triple Bind,” which refers to the pressures girls today feel to achieve like boys but still be nice and look good, but she has clearly lived this triple bind and succeeded.  While she is a positive role model I couldn’t help but ask myself if any male athletes would describe themselves as she did on page twenty: “I wasn’t the coolest girl. I wasn’t the most popular. I was too tall. I was chunky.”  Hopefully the next generation of female superstar athletes will read this book, take Jennie Finch’s advice to heart, and move beyond this triple bind.

Hilary Levey Friedman is a Harvard sociologist who studies childhood and competition. She blogs on these topics, and more, at Playing to Win!

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