Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Over the last few weeks a number of insightful articles have come across my lap, all of which beautifully related to the season my family and I are wrapping up… baseball. Each had a different perspective on the influence team sports such as baseball can play in the lives of children as well as their parents. Both of my sons, Grady and Griffin had the pleasure of playing on the same Little League team this season. With the exception of one year during high school ball, it may have been the only opportunity they will have to be on the same team. Being coached by their dad was the icing on the cake. It provided wonderful quality time for the three of them to really connect and let’s be honest…. Mom didn’t have to worry about getting them there or picking them up. Freedom!

Our oldest son also decided to play on a tournament team so in addition to his weekly practices and games with Little League many weekends were spent watching tournaments. At the end of the regular season, there is a try-out for the All Star team and not only did Grady play and Nate coach, they actually won their local District Championship and earned a spot at the state tournament in Portland. I am not sure if my tears were for excitement or bewilderment at the idea of more baseball.

The time commitment for participating in team sports was just one of the many valuable things we extracted from this experience. Our seven year old quickly learned about sacrifice of his free time in support of his older brother, not to mention that concession stand hot dogs and hamburgers just might be dinner three times a week. The older one got to witness first hand that the team with the most talent doesn’t always win and there are lots of different “styles” when it comes to coaches. He got to see tantrums, tears and poor sportsmanship while also discovering the importance of strong leadership and how losing with grace will quickly set you apart from the crowd. Mom and Dad learned how to keep things in perspective. With many of our days and nights revolving around our 10-year-old it didn’t take long before we found ourselves reeling him in to realize that despite how it had appeared over the last several months… our world didn’t actually revolve around him.

In one of the gems passed along to me, it reflected on what really takes place “when you give a boy a baseball” and as it outlined how it simply started off with just a baseball, a bucket of balls, some cleats and eventually a bat, what you really gave him was a sport, a team, a talent, hope and dream. You also give him a “new” family, a place to learn about life and room to grow as a person where he will push limits and become more courageous. By giving our boy a baseball, we got to celebrate victories as individuals and as a team, but also learned how to console lack of success.

Another great article that was shared was the importance of teaching our kids how to be good losers. Sounds a little crazy in this competitive world we live but in the article, “Raising 27’s” we were reminded of the opportunity that defeat presents. In the write up, the kids lose badly, a player has a crappy attitude about it and mom, who felt tempted to lecture her boy about the sacrifices made just to be there to support him, found herself staring into the eyes of a weeping 12 year old boy who then justified their loss by blaming everything and everyone. After his “carefully crafted tantrum” he settled in to a genuine sadness and then the magic happened. She realized in that moment she had never taught her son how to lose. With a culture aimed at success; improving performance in school, sports, etc. we find ourselves dedicating all our time teaching kids how to win and never how to cope with failure or struggle well. It goes on to explain how character, grit and resilience are only born inside these experiences. THIS!

At the state tournament we were eliminated by the two teams that ended up winning all the way through and battling it out in the championship game. It goes without saying we got our booties handed to us… and rightfully so. They were all around just better. Our son, typically not an external processor, was visibly pissed at the butt-kicking they were receiving; his body language, his lack of enthusiasm, his literal pouting from shortstop. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to ring his neck and I will not confirm nor deny that I may have recorded some of his shenanigans just to show him how ridiculous it looked. When it was all said and done and he had his cool-off time to just settle in to the tremendous disappointment, we had one of the most incredible heart to hearts our family has ever had. The other team was better and that’s okay. Grady got to hear from his parents how proud we are of him and his team for getting all the way to state but also reminded what a gift he has been given to be a leader on his team and with that, comes tremendous responsibility. Despite his disappointment, his behavior set the tone for his entire team and as he watched the video (you know, the one that might or might not have been taken) he saw first hand what an influence he has. He also got to hear how the way he acted was not okay and even though they were getting smoked, he had a responsibility to his team, our family and theirs to put forth his best effort and not act as though they had already been defeated… in the second inning.

Fortunately, Grady is quite resilient and after an hour drive and some real talk, he asked me if I could play “baseball catch” with him so he could work on a few things. For nearly two hours we just tossed the ball around; I threw grounder after grounder in as many crazy directions and bad hops as I could muster up til he finally was ready to stop. He took pop flies, line drives and we ran through scenarios picking off the “virtual runner.” This boy – he is going to do great things and I can’t wait to be cheering him on along the way.