Youth baseball. Cheering, screaming, and blind umpires that obviously have it out for your team. Snack duty, fighting a losing battle to get red ballpark dirt out of those pants, and practice, practice, practice. The pride of knowing that is your child who just made that play, the agony of sharing their mistakes and losses.
For the past sixteen years, I have been involved in coaching Dixie Youth baseball in some capacity, from leagues ranging from tee ball to teenagers and back again. As my seventeenth such season comes to a close, it felt apropos to dive into my motivations behind donating my time and effort again and again.
Don't get me wrong. Like virtually every such parent, I do this to be involved in my kids' lives - I have now had four boys play the game. It doesn't hurt that I love the sport of baseball, and that I enjoy teaching fundamentals and skills. I enjoy being around kids and working with them (more or less a necessary trait in someone with as large of a family as I have). But more than X's and O's, more than the love of the game, more than just any excuse to spend time with them, I also happen to strongly believe that baseball is a great teacher of life lessons.
Disclaimer: I am well aware that most of the points that I make about baseball could be said of other organized sports. I am also aware that sports are not the only method to impart these lessons, and I am not denigrating those children who are not involved in athletics. Indeed, Jonah (my nine year old) simply does not care for the pressure of sports, so he doesn't play. Every kid is different, I get that. None of the above lessens the value of what I feel kids can learn from the sport. So, without further ado...
Baseball teaches you how to deal with success. Winning is fun. Having a great individual game is exciting. But learning how to be gracious in your success is important, and learning to not spend too much time soaking in your good fortune - lest you stop applying yourself as hard and discover failure - is valuable.
Baseball teaches you how to deal with failure. Losing is going to happen. No matter how good of a hitter you are, you're going to get out sometimes - and as you get older, the success rate for hitting steadily declines to the point where a professional hitter who fails seventy percent of the time is considered to be at the top of his craft! As parents, we try to always put out kids in positions where they can succeed, but life doesn't always work this way - learning how to accept your failure and move on to the next opportunity is an absolutely vital skill to possess.
Baseball teaches you that you can do your best - and still come up short. In virtually every game, some player will hit the cover off the ball - and an opposing defender will still get them out. As parents, we often strive to make sure that things are "fair" for our kids - effort A gives result B - when the fact is, in life, you can do everything right... and still miss out. That doesn't mean that you try any less in the future, or that you prepare any differently; you still give it your all, but you must understand and accept that sometimes, that's still not going to be enough.
Baseball teaches you the importance of hard work. Practice, practice, practice. Certainly there are players who skate by to a point on talent or connections alone (much like in real life), but the best, surest road to success is paved with hours and hours of hard work. Ground ball after ground ball, swing after swing. Those who truly put the work in reap dividends for doing so; you can always pick out the players who spend extra time working at home.
Baseball teaches you the importance of working as a team. No matter how good any one player is, they cannot win a game by themselves - but they can certainly lose one. A successful team relies on each individual doing their job to the best of their ability. Slacking or neglecting of mundane responsibilities (in baseball, this might be backing up the guy in front of or beside you, or failing to listen to the base coaches and taking an extra base when available) results in harm to the entire group. Success for the team sometimes requires putting the team above your own individual goals - laying down a bunt instead of going for the big hit, swinging at anything on a hit and run so as to give the base stealer cover from the catcher's throw, getting intentionally caught in a run down so that your teammate can score.
Baseball teaches you to never give up. I've seen teams fold up and quit trying as soon as they fell behind. I've also seen teams rally to put up unheard of scores in the final inning to win a game that was already decided to be "over". Those that keep trying, no matter what, are sometimes rewarded in ways that nobody ever forgets... and the same applies to life. Adversity will come to you, both in baseball and in life - you can guarantee that. If you want to succeed, you simply do not quit. Ever.
Baseball teaches the values of your best effort, and of accountability. One of the things I preach the most with my players is the importance of giving it their best. I can deal with strikeouts. I can deal with bad throws, or missed balls, or any number of mistakes - as long as the player was legitimately giving it their best effort. At the end of a loss, I often ask the players to consider their actions throughout the game. Can they look in the mirror and say, from their heart of hearts, that they truly paid attention and gave it their best effort on every single play? If so... what else can I possibly ask of them beyond their best? And if the answer is no, then they have a little soul searching to do, as they have let themselves and their teammates down. Identify the issue, own it, and make the decision to do better next time.
I could keep going, but these do hit the high notes, so I'll leave it here. I will say that there is just something special about watching a group of kids grow together as they work to overcome obstacles, developing bonds and lifelong memories along the way. Each one learns to challenge himself, to work hard on his own while being part of something bigger. That satisfaction from the accomplishments that they share - this is why I love baseball, why I keep coaching year after year.
Tags for this post: Parenting
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