As A Pro, Sis Bates Is Still Softball's Best Defender
It all started for Sis Bates in her yard with a wiffle ball and a bat at five years old. Growing up playing with the neighborhood kids, she was training for the future ahead of her without a thought in her mind about where she would end up one day.
Flash forward nearly two decades later, and she became one of the most decorated softball players in the University of Washington's history, a star of the Pac-12 and she’s making tremendous progress as a professional player going into her second championship season with Athletes Unlimited.
“When I was a little girl, I didn't really understand that I could be at the place that I’m at right now,” Bates said. “Growing up, I was playing with my friends in the neighborhood, and it’s just turned into something so special to my heart. It is really cool seeing that a little girl from Ceres, California can really do the dang thing.”
After her first AU season in 2021, Bates took time off from playing and took on the role of serving as a student-assistant coach at Washington. Unable to practice to her full potential in the spring, she still walked away with the honor of being AU's Defensive MVP at the conclusion of the league's inaugural AUX season.
“It was so awesome,” Bates said. “I hadn't been able to play since the last AU (season). This was my first year coaching, which was a little different for me. Being able to put on a uniform again and do what I love was the best experience.”
Just as she was when she was playing wiffle ball as a kid, Bates is a big fan of doing the little things to work on her defensive skills.
“I preach the importance of everydays, which is just little one hoppers with a partner,” Bates said. “You can literally do them anywhere. Even when I am home in California and there's not a softball field to go to, I do them in my backyard. I stay really consistent in doing that. You don’t get better unless you train to get better.”
Bates believes that when a pitcher feels confident in their defense, it frees them up to be successful. That’s why she works so hard for her teammates and has pursued a cheery, yet competitive, personality on the field.
“I think that when a pitcher feels confident in a defense behind them, it frees them up to pitch whatever game they want to pitch,” Bates said. “They don’t have to strike everybody out. They can throw to contact and trust that their defense is going to have their back no matter what. That’s what I love so much about defense. You’re doing everything together. You’re playing for the people to the left and right of you.”
Coaching at Washington in 2022 taught her to see the game from a different perspective, but it was a learning curve to teach skills that had always been second nature to her. She found it satisfying that she could help athletes who are in the same position now that she was in just one year ago.
Thinking about the game in a different way gave her a leg up going into AUX last month, and now entering season three of AU later this month.
“Honestly, at the beginning, (coaching) was kind of a challenge for me,” Bates said. “But I had to teach and coach through it. I am growing and I am learning every day, so being able to do that with the girls was really special for me. Being able to be on the journey that I was just on last year and share that with incoming freshmen and new girls was really special for me.”
As Bates looks ahead to the upcoming AU championship season, she isn’t looking to win. As long as she is having fun and progressing as a player, she is content with any outcome that comes her way.
“My main goal isn’t really to win AU—which would be the icing on the cake, of course—but I am more excited to be back doing what I love with people I love,” Bates said. “As long as I am loving every second of it and building great relationships, that’s really why I love the game so much.”