As we begin another youth sports season, I’m already seeing it. The hopes, the tension, the concern with winning, the worries about being on the winning team. And once again, it’s usually not the kids that give a crap, it’s the parents.
And as I take a breath and fight all my mama bear urges, I’m reflecting today on something that happened during my oldest son’s baseball season last summer. He’s played four years now and loves it. We don’t play in the most competitive league, but we do play in one where scores and records are kept, there are winners and losers, and the league champs take home a trophy. It’s been a good balance so far.
At a game midway through the season, we noticed one of the batters on the other team working his way slowly up to the plate. This little boy was differently abled and required a little extra time and a grown-up helper to come with him (a very patient and awesome dad or grandpa or uncle, I assumed. You could tell it was someone he trusted and loved). He needed his helper to show him where to stand and to help him hold the bat and encourage him to swing each time. And as I watched I noticed that every inning he batted his entire team was on their feet cheering and yelling and standing and watching. Just waiting and hoping and believing. Knowing that this, this might be the time that his bat connected with the ball and he could make his way to first.
Then, as the game went on I noticed something else. Each time he came back to the plate, my son’s team was now standing on their feet yelling and cheering and waiting to see as well if this would be the time that he got that hit. There’s was no yelling at him to hurry up. No comments on why he was taking so long. No concerns about the help that was needed. Just everyone rooting for one player to get one hit.
Now mind you, the strikes he took all counted. And each inning he didn’t hit it was still an out for his team. The rules were the rules and his swings and misses were treated the same as everyone else’s. There were no exceptions made. That game he never did connect with the ball. That hot July day was not his for the hit.
I have no way of knowing if he got a hit at all last season. The Hollywood ending-lover in me likes to think that on the last inning of the last game of the season he connected with a ball to drive in a winning run for his team. In my mind, I see his team going wild with joy. The realist in me knows that probably didn’t happen.
But what I do know is this. His team spent the season rooting for something bigger than a league trophy. The person holding the bat was worth more than an out every other inning. The boys on that team were willing to take that out every time because their friend stepping up and swinging mattered more than the game.
I am a competitive person. I’ve never been a participation trophy kind of gal. And I know in the real world we aren’t bringing a fan down out of the stands to kick the game winning field goal at the Super Bowl. I think it’s important to learn to both win and lose graciously. I think it’s important to learn to compete and to give it your all.
Yet, more and more, I see at younger and younger ages, people forgetting that other things are important too. So many parents nowadays are placing their hopes for their future athletic goals on how many games Little Johnny or Janie is winning in their 6-year-old soccer league and worried about if they are on the “right” team and being “good enough” already. When the reality of it is statistically most of our kids are not going to be playing collegiate or professional sports. With that in mind, I think we need to remember we aren’t just growing athletes, we are growing people — and good people need to know team work, kindness, friendship and how to be a gracious person.
There are times to win and there are times that it is more important to take the out. My hope is that as parents we can recognize the difference and teach our children the same.