Thursday, April 3, 2014

More Than a Game

The following appears in the April edition of Chicago Parent.

They were the Bad News Bears of pee-wee baseball.
Last spring, my husband and I nervously registered our two oldest boys for America’s favorite pastime.  We weren’t exactly the traditional baseball family.  My husband’s side is comprised of thick Irishmen custom-made for the gridiron.  Conversely, my people are tall, lanky Lithuanians designed for playing basketball and eating kugala. 
Baseball was simply not in our blood.

Despite our trepidation, we headed to the boys’ first game fully prepared to enjoy a beautiful April afternoon and a hilarious comedy of errors.

Inning after inning, the kids kept us in stitches.  Nobody could catch, throw, or pitch a lick.  It was as though the league had taken every child selected last in gym class and compiled them into one awesomely bad team. 
But the coaches?
They were freaking All-Stars.
With the patience of a thousand Mother Teresas, these neighborhood volunteers calmly explained and demonstrated the elements of the sport.  Then they explained and demonstrated them again.
Every practice. 
Every game. 
Over and over and over.
If a kid wanted to pitch, he pitched.   If another kid wanted to play first base, he played first base.  It didn’t matter how awful or unnatural the child was, the coaches had a laser-sharp focus on learning, and not on winning.  Parents took their cues from these Zen-like leaders who never once yelled or humiliated young players as they slowly and steadily gained confidence.

The team gelled.  With no clear superstar, no pressure to be perfect, and nowhere to go but up, there was an amazing camaraderie and sense of fun.  The parents bonded.  There was plenty of laughing.  Everybody looked forward to the games, win, lose or draw.
And that’s when the miracle happened.
The boys did start to win. 
A lot.
They faced far superior teams, ones where words like “travel league” and “scholarship opportunities” were batted about.  But the Bad News Bears kept pulling it out in dramatic fashion.  
Parents were dumbfounded.  It wasn’t as though any of our children were exceptional athletes, yet together?  They were unstoppable, often rattling off six or seven runs whenever someone from the other team pointed out they were down.  Opponents warned others:  DON’T TELL THE BAD NEWS BEARS WHEN THEY’RE LOSING OR THEY START HITTING LIGHTS OUT!
The coaches just nodded and smiled.
It was as though they knew this would happen all along. 
Although our team would ultimately lose in the championship game, my sons still talk about last season with such excitement and enthusiasm that I know this experience will stay with them forever.  They have been taught that being bad at something is only permanent if you walk away.  They have learned why it is better to lift teammates up instead of tearing them down.  They have been introduced to a model of leadership rooted in kindness and caring instead of cut-throat competitiveness.
I wish every Little League parent out there at least one magical season.   When it comes down to it, there is just so much more to be learned from baseball than fast balls and foul tips.

29 comments:

  1. It's a team sport and I wish more coaches would get that. last year i spent a ton of money AND time for my son to play travel ball but with serious/obvious favoritism for some players who were NOT infact actually more talented the team never gelled and never played well. it was a horrible experience. teams win games, individuals wont!

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    1. Truer words have never been spoken, Lisa!

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  2. I love a good underdog story and good coaches. My kids have been fortunate to have mostly good coaches with a few so-so ones thrown in. It really does make all the difference in how they feel about the sport and the experience.

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    1. It matters so much - glad you had good experiences!

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  3. Beautiful! Is there a team for moms like that out there somewhere? A place we can go with other moms who feel inadequate, get coached through things like proms and college app's (oh yeah, I'm talking about veteran moms who still can't cheer themselves on as they sit waiting after driver's ed class behind an overchiever in a nicer minivan).

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  4. Hurray for the men and women who teach our kids so much more than how to hit a ball. There have been a few that someone should have whacked with a bat.

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    1. Amen! And I should've whacked them myself!

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  5. What an uplifting story to read, Marianne. Lots of times you hear of the opposite with coaches; good to hear that the boys blossomed under this approach of coaching and made it as far as they with their games!

    betty

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    1. Thanks, Betty. These coaches were a true gift.

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  6. I miss baseball!! My son lived and breathed the sport. Loved to watch them play....Our coaches weren't quite as wonderful as yours, but it was still worth it.

    -andi

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    1. I am LOVING baseball so much. So far, it has introduced me to the kindest of all coaches.

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  7. I wish my son had had this same experience, he'd probably still be playing. The coach never noticed when certain boys on the team criticized anyone for making a mistake. It was just no fun, for any of us. Those coaches should write a book ;-)

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    1. Kate - I, too, feel like screaming at the screaming coaches - YOU'RE RUINING IT! YOU'RE RUINING IT! It's hard to convince a kid to re-look at a sport once they've had a negative experience early on.

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  8. lovely, lovely post. So touching. And YES, if parents would be supportive and coaches kind and encouraging...sports would be a different game.

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    1. Thank you, Mare! I am a competitive person myself (even known to scream a bit), which is why I so admire the good coaches who show inordinate patience and kindness.

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  9. Your boys were really fortunate. What a great experience for them to have! :)

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    1. We are all lucky to have experienced these awesome coaches - an inspiration to me even in my day-to-day life!

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  10. Aw, this literally gave me the chills! Sadly, it's not the common experience. Can you imagine if it were? Those coaches need to write training manuals. What a great story!

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    1. It does make it hard when we come across the crazy variety of coach, but overall, the boys have been extremely lucky. And thank you!

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  11. I agree. Baseball really is more than just a game if you think of all the lessons you can learn from it. And it’s good to know that your kids see it that way as well. The first game may not have had a good result, but what's important now is, they enjoyed it. Now that they know the areas they need to improve upon, they can work on those to get better.

    Linnie Dimmitt @ Uniforms Express

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