By Jay D. Prince
Ever had one of those moments when you take a step back from the sports activities your children are participating in and realize how much about life we can learn from sports? Not only can parents learn a lot about being better role models and counselors to our offspring, but our kids (in my opinion) can also learn more to prepare themselves for their futures in a single game than we might be able to teach them in a year.
I’ve been coaching Little League baseball for the past six years. My first experience as coach came when my son was playing coach-pitch just after kindergarten. Back then, we encouraged the kids to have fun and begin understanding that failing to get a hit doesn’t define them. It does, however, begin to teach them to make adjustments and to try hard.
This season I have been working with 11 and 12-year-olds who are now playing “real baseball.” By that I mean, these kids can hit, throw and run well. They make great plays in the field, and a couple of them have been hammering the ball over the wall 200 feet away. I wish I could have done that when I was 12.
What’s been interesting for me is the day to day things that happen on the field in practice and in games, and the notion that as a coach I have been given the wonderful opportunity to help the kids grow as human beings.
Our team has experienced the highs of coming back from the brink of defeat in the bottom of the sixth inning (the last inning in Little League by the way), and the lows of being crushed by four touchdowns. I’ve had kids this season who can hit anything thrown at them and kids who might not hit the ball even if I attached it to the bat. We have a player who can bring the heat at over 60mph from the mound, and a player who actually dropped a ball behind his back when he made his move to fire a strike at the catcher. Amazing. That was one of those times when I said to myself, “I’ve seen everything now.”
Through it all, the most gratifying part for me has been doing everything I can to help the kids when they struggle. It could be striking out repeatedly or making glaring errors on the field. In every instance, I am afforded an opportunity to help shape the lives of the kids by being there to support and teach them.
Baseball is a funny game. All of the kids want to get a hit every time they step into the batter’s box. A few of them succeed more than they fail; they bat over .500. But for most, getting a hit can be agonizingly frustrating. They go back to the dugout hanging their heads feeling like miserable failures. It’s at that moment that we have the chance to change their lives.
Baseball is a game of failure, and the goal is to minimize the probability of failing. The best players in the world get three hits out of 10 at bats. What our kids forget is that there is a pitcher and eight other players on the field who are doing everything they can to make them fail at the plate. So we work to help the kids maximize their chances for success by fine-tuning their swings, adjusting their footwork, and really emphasizing the importance of vision. But more importantly, we work on helping them to develop the ability to let go of the past failures and, hopefully, build up their self-confidence and self-esteem. But we can’t trivialize the frustration the kids feel either. We can, however, acknowledge disappointment and then help them re-focus on the potential for success next time.
In squash, we hit thousands of balls up and down the wall as we constantly strive for perfection. We drill that into the heads of junior players until everything is automatic. As they improve, we don’t worry about whether or not they’ll hit the next ball. They will. They hit the ball hundreds of times in a single match. But when they have a day in which they struggle or simply come up short, it’s important to allow them to feel and experience the disappointment and then to remind them that a loss doesn’t define who they are. It’s developing the ability to move forward and persevere that will be the defining moments that they can draw on for a lifetime.