All-around Athlete: Lili Belton Balances Collegiate Softball and Devotion to Coaching

Maya Tedini

Collegiate athlete Lili Belton is bringing a new wave of enthusiasm and expertise to the softball field this season as she steps up to the plate as one of the latest editions to the softball coaching staff.

Belton began her softball journey in middle school after her dad suggested she take up the sport, particularly since she had long been a fan of the San Francisco Giants. She said that she immediately fell in love with the sport and wanted to take it further than high school. But, her athletic experiences from college are not the only skills she adds to the team. Belton employs ideas from her academic studies to support her players and build relationships with them, according to second base and senior Brielle Lee.

“I really like how she incorporates sports psychology into softball,” Lee said. “She makes us do journaling at least once a week and I think that really helps us improve, and it’s something that I’ve never seen any other coach do before, so I really appreciate it. It’s a more comforting feeling than just knowing or focusing on the physical aspect.”

Belton played for two years in junior college before transferring to Westcliff University, where her sophomore season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she decided to further her education at California Baptist University and graduated in December 2023. With remaining eligibility in collegiate athletics, she returned to Westcliff University and is currently playing for her final year while coaching at Portola High.

“Going back and playing softball myself and then being able to end my day coaching these girls here has been super fulfilling,” Belton said. “When it has been challenging at practice — with not playing softball for a year and having to go back to the sport — these girls keep me going. I feel like I’m actually fulfilling that higher purpose that I’m striving towards.”

As a player, Belton’s experiences with different coaches along with moments of motivation depletion ignited her interest in studying athlete identity and athlete mental health, inspiring her pursuit of a master’s degree in sport and performance psychology. Belton picked up on what she did and did not like about how the different coaches she had led their teams, which helped develop her own coaching style, according to Belton.

“I realized that I know enough about the sport to make a difference in the sport,” Belton said. “As a player, you are so driven in living and breathing the grind so much that you do not think about the coaching aspects — you are thinking about ‘What can I do to be better for my team in that moment?’ I have to show up for myself while I play collegiately, but when I show up to practice, I have to be composed and show up for them because they love being here.”

With her educational background, Belton hopes to have an impact on the program that stems beyond athletic performance.

“I knew down the road that I wanted to not only coach but inspire people,” Belton said. “Those mental skills that I was able to learn brings a whole new light for me to the game of softball because aside from coaching them on the field and making them better people, I want to make their experience the best that it can be — if that means I have got to run them through a mindfulness meditation, some visualization before games or talk to them about confidence — so as they graduate high school, they at least leave the program with that.”