Not all team bonding happens on the field, and for Penn softball it happens in the locker room with a game of a lesser-known sport — hacky sack.
One of the most important parts of being on a team is building a community with the other athletes. When the competition starts, players must be in sync with one another and work together to achieve success, while also having fun. However, this fun isn’t limited to the game itself. The members of Penn softball know how to enjoy themselves outside the lines with a fun — and sometimes competitive — game of hacky sack before they take the field.
The team is unsure of how or when exactly this tradition began, but for the past two or three years, it has been the highlight of the Quakers' pregame activities. After the players go through their normal team warmups, they usually have 20 minutes of downtime before the game starts.
“It keeps us loose, it keeps us fun. A good portion of the team plays; some of our coaches even hop in at times. It gets us going,” senior captain and utility player Jessica England said.
Typically, hacky sack simply requires the players to work together to pass the sack to each other using everything but their arms or hands. Once the ball falls to the ground or touches a player’s hand, the game is over and must be restarted. The Quakers abide by most of those rules, but they do have their own interesting twist.
“We have to hit it four times, and then on the fourth time you can catch it and throw it at someone,” England said.
The team’s fun take on the game is intriguing to the freshmen that come in each year, making them excited to get involved and learn how to play. Some players join the team already knowing how to play, but for others, it’s a learning process that they’ll embark on throughout the season.
“You get better over the years," England said. "The people who graduated last year were actually really good at hacky sack, and it was pretty intense then. Now we’re trying to work back up to that level."
The game is a lighthearted way for teammates to get to know each other better and have fun with an activity unrelated to softball. For the players, hacky sack is a fun game to play as a group, but more than that, they see it as a way to keep their energy up before they take the field.
“Hacky sack is a pretty energetic game, so if people are moving really well, dodging the hacky sack, jumping and diving for it, you can usually tell that the energy is high,” England said. “Sometimes it's clear that people aren’t focused on the hacky sack game, so maybe it's a telling sign on how we might play in a game.”
Playing on a team is more than just going to practice, competing, and then going home. It’s about all the in-between moments where the athletes have opportunities to bond. The Quakers use the 20 minutes before they take the field to have a good time with their teammates, with their own game before the game.