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What my sport taught me: ESPN analyst and softball standout Jessica Mendoza

There are still days I dream about playing softball, just like I did when I was a kid. There’s something about the game itself. There’s a poetic, beautifulness to the sport and the intricacies of hitting. There’s a reason why I’m still involved in the game — I just love it.

Jessica Mendoza was a four-time first-team All-American while playing outfield at Stanford. Credit: Stanford Athletics Department

The beauty of a game like softball is you’re failing every day. You might have a .300 batting average, but you’re still failing seven out of 10 times. But you’re still good.

In college, I was failing almost every class I was taking my freshman year. I was having difficulty in managing my time; I was just overwhelmed. Even though I knew I was smart and knew I was good enough, at that point, I doubted all of it because I struggled to handle my sport, classes and social life all at once.

When you’re successful at something, you think that you need to continue to do what you’re doing to get the same result. But I think in order to get better, sometimes you need some failures. I had to change the way I did things and how I managed my time at Stanford. I had to ask myself, ‘What am I doing? Why am I at Stanford? What are my priorities, and how do I better myself?’

It wasn’t an immediate switch. It was a struggle, but it shaped me to where I am today.

When you’re a student-athlete, you’re in practice mode, or growing mode. This is the time you’re utilizing to try and get better. You need humility because you need to be able to say, ‘I’m not the best right now, and I need to get better. How am I going to do it?’

I always said this as an athlete, ‘Practice like you’re the worst player on the field. Play like you’re the best.’

I was able to use the confidence I gained as a softball player. We’re good, especially women, at recognizing our weaknesses. But when it comes to walking into a conference room, preparing for a speech, making a decision, there needs to be a balance.

When it comes time to walk into a room and truly believe that you’re the best person in it — the smartest, strongest, most beautiful, whatever it is in that moment — that’s the hardest. But that’s how you’re going to succeed.

Jessica Mendoza is an analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. In 2015, she became the first female analyst for a nationally televised MLB postseason game. As a college student, Mendoza was a four-time first-team All-American while playing outfield at Stanford. She led Stanford to its first-ever Women’s College World Series appearance and was a three-time Stanford Female Athlete of the Year and a first-team Academic All-American in 2002. Mendoza graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American studies in 2002 and a master’s in social sciences in education in 2003.