It’s been over a decade since she last played in the SEC, but former Ole Miss utility player Erin Sykes, who attended Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia and played for the Georgia Elite Gold club program, still looks back with regret on one thing she wishes she could do over. Her lesson learned doesn’t just apply to athletics, but to life in general and she tells her story as a cautionary tale to help young athletes avoid the mistake she made!
Growing up I never took my eyes off the dreams I had to play at the highest level of the game in the SEC.
I came up at a time where the game was relatively small in comparison to the massive growth its experienced over the last 10-15 years.
I worked tirelessly from the age of 10 to perfect my game and grow my knowledge, put myself around people who would motivate me, inspire me, push me, guide me, challenge me and around the age of 14 I was well known around the country and I was heavily recruited.
All that story can be told later...
Push forward to the day as a senior when I gave my verbal commitment to the University of Mississippi. I had reached the pinnacle of my dreams, I did what I set out to do and it wasn’t long after that commitment that I made my decision binding.
Now go a little more forward say from that November when I signed to the spring of my final year of high school in 2004. I fell prisoner to “senioritis” in a lot of ways!
I never took a day off of taking ground balls or hitting balls, but I made the choice to “enjoy my last days as a youth” with my friends and the boyfriend (hindsight here!).
I didn’t play any high-level travel ball that summer and the Summer Workout packet head coach Candi Letts had mailed me in March sat right there on my desk with my intentions to get around to it.
I was really enjoying hanging out with my friends and doing the things I had long put aside and before I ever realized it. Soon, the time came to say my goodbye, move 10 hours west to my new college home in Mississippi and start my “new life.”
And the “oh [crap] factor” set in.
There on my desk sat that pretty white envelope with my 9:30 minute 1 ½ mile expectation plus other workout specifics that I never got around to. However, it was too late now—all I had was literally a wing and a prayer that my adrenaline would kick in when I needed it most.
The nightmare of my long-since adulthood is that Day 1 of my freshman year came and I can still remember the sickness I felt knowing I was about to get my butt handed to me. The only consolation I had was knowing a few fellow freshmen were in the same boat I was as they had admitted the same remorse for not having done what we were supposed to do!
I can remember calling home and begging my daddy to turn around and come get me. Panic and fear were alive and well and all my daddy said was, “Suck it up Buttercup, you made the bed you’re lying in and you’ll figure it out. You’re a tough kid.”
I didn’t sleep at all, might’ve thrown up a few times and before long it was time to make the trek across campus from the dorms to the track where Lincoln Park’s “In the End” song was playing across the speaker.
And then came the run.
That 9 ½ minute 1 ½ mile ended up being more like 13 minutes and I’ll never forget the words “DO IT AGAIN!” that Coach passed to me as I finished. I’m pretty sure I ran a marathon that day--and every day--for the next three months until I made significant progress in my time.
I didn’t know it so much then, but I can’t imagine the feeling of distrust my coaches felt in me. They trusted me enough to bring me into their home and I let them down by poor choices.
That lack of trust I brought on myself bled into other areas of my freshman year. I had a choice to make and some of my fellow freshmen had the same choices to make: take the easy road and pack it up or take the road less traveled and prove myself.
I chose to prove myself and with a lot of hard work and significant soul searching I did! But the regret of what I did coming in still eats at me.
I’m 33-years-old now and still have nightmares about Day 1 and honestly my entire freshman year.
What I went thru isn’t new territory for freshmen, it’s a common mistake actually. But it is something I am passionate about sharing because it CAN be avoided!
College softball is NOT all fun and smiley faces and roses, extra base hits or home runs and your freshman year especially is challenging from all sorts of angles.
If you’ve never been pushed to the outer, outer edges of complete and utter discomfort, you are 100 percent going to encounter struggle as a college athlete.
You won’t be alone in your struggles, but I will say this: how you choose to HANDLE those struggles will stick with you and will either bless you or curse you!
I came out on the blessed end because I chose to take accountability over playing the victim, but I had teammates who would tell you they were more cursed and some of them now want NOTHING to do with looking back at their time spent there.
And that’s tragic to me.
Some athletes lacked accountability, had their own issues and continued to make some poor decisions and it isn’t coincidental that before long they were no longer a part of the program.
And these things happen in nearly every program every year.
If I had based MY experiences and MY choices on the outlook and decisions of some of my teammates, my college experiences would have been severely impacted for the worst.
If 33-year-old me could offer you any advice it’s this: we all go thru similar circumstances yet we are our own people and we are not responsible for anyone’s happiness but our own!
Don’t make long term decisions on temporary feelings, ideas or circumstances.
And DO THE DANG WORK WHEN ITS SUPPOSED TO BE DONE!
And, if you’re wondering, I went in as one of four freshmen. We added a few walk-ons and a couple of transfers throughout the four years I was there, but only two of us out of my “original” signing class graduated.
We dealt with a coaching change after our freshman year that saw a few teammates depart for reasons of their own. I chose to make my home right where I was, but in the end sometimes players just won’t hack it in places they thought they would. And it happens everywhere!
I didn’t start every game of my career, though despite a season ending injury in my senior year, I couldn’t have had a more enjoyable college experience as a whole.
The things that weighed me down, then, aren’t the things I reminisce upon in the least and seem quite trivial in comparison to the circumstances and issues that adulthood has handed me.
Today I am thankful for the challenges I faced throughout my college career—they made me tougher both mentally and physically and they made me realize just how far I can push myself and still come out on top.
My feelings are as reflected in a poem by fellow Alum Frank Everett Jr.
“The University is buildings, trees, and people. Ole Miss is mood, emotion, and personality. One is physical, and the other is spiritual. One is tangible, and the other intangible. There is a valid distinction between The University and Ole Miss even though the separate threads are closely interwoven. The University is respected, but Ole Miss is loved. The University gives a diploma and regretfully terminates tenure, but one never graduates from Ole Miss.”
Erin Sykes was a 2008 graduate from Ole Miss where she was a three-time All-SEC Academic honoree and had starts at shortstop, third base, first base, catcher and DH. She says her biggest personal career moment was hitting a three-run home run off Steph VanBrakle as a freshman playing at Alabama and her favorite team accomplishment was beating UCLA in 13 innings.
She was part of the first Ole Miss team to ever make an SEC tournament, which happened her sophomore year. Erin was known for her versatility and willingness to play whatever position she could to make the team better.
She got a degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Psychology and for two years after graduating she served as a Volunteer Assistant for the Ole Miss softball program and helped mentor two All-SEC players and a two-time All-American, infielder Lauren Grill.
In 2010 she left coaching and moved to Georgia to work with local athletes. She currently lives in Brunswick, Georgia with her family and in 2016 began working with Collegiate Sports Advocates where she serves as the Southeastern Director.
Erin says, “The game of softball has taken me farther than I could have ever dreamed, and I want nothing more than to be able to give back to the game that I love. The best way for me to do this is to share my passion with our players and their families by providing them with the essential tools and techniques that I know is required to have a successful recruiting journey!”