What? Me, the big whiner, writing about the positive aspects of youth sports? Wasn’t I just bashing baseball a week ago?
There are good things about sports, even I have to admit that. And we’ve just gone through a post-season that has reaffirmed my belief in those ideas. Wow. Sorry if I’m getting a little crazy here. Let me explain.
After our town’s little league seasons are over we enter post-season tournaments with other local towns. These are towns that have a long history of beating up on our teams because they have more money, more kids, and they play together longer (and we don’t always lose, we do get to win sometimes and it’s so nice).
Last year we were unprepared for the level of play during these tournaments and frankly, we got spanked. The kids didn’t care – they got free hot dogs after the game and one more day to play ball. In fact one of my proudest moments as a mother came after a particularly severe beating (we were mercied after dropping by ten runs). One of the opposing team’s players walked past Older Son and I thought he would drop his head and skulk by. Instead Older looked him right in the face and said, “Good game.”
Wow. Either me or the coach was doing something right.
This year we prepared better. Practice every day. Lots of repetition and drilling the basics and reviewing the insane little rules that could get us in trouble.
And the coaches took every kid who tried out, even if they didn’t play at the higher level this year. They played every kid on the team – no one sat on the bench for a whole game. When I commented to Michelle that it was nice of them to take the younger kids, she said, “Coach wants them to like playing ball.”
That is the key to what I want out of my kids playing sports. To have fun, and want to continue to play as they get older. I’ve seen too many kids get discouraged by a losing season or a negative atmosphere. And why play if it’s no fun?
That, and what I saw happening on this team this year. Maybe they’ve finally reached an age where they understand what a team is. I was so impressed to see this group of boys work together. They supported each other, celebrated each others’ successes and consoled bad plays, and they taught each other how to fix their mistakes instead of yelling. They were just happy to play and it showed.
I know very few adults who work together this well.
If we lost today’s game we were out of the tournament. We were down by four with two innings to go. It was raining hard and the field was sloppy so we missed some key plays and allowed more runs. No matter – the moms huddled together under umbrellas and cheered for everyone. When we put in a new pitcher and the opposing team put on a song to taunt him, we danced around and made it our own.
Both the game and the weather were looking bleak, but on the sidelines we prayed for sun so we could get our last ups. We allowed another run, but finished the inning with a great play and we cheered like crazy.
The coaches and parents on the other team were looking at us as if we were slightly off. We basically lost the game in this inning and yet we were smiling and dancing. I turned to the moms and said, “We’re in their heads!” In a town that prizes winning above all else, how was it conceivable that we were laughing, dancing, clapping, and having a great old time? (And it seemed to me that our kids playing out on the field were just as happy.)
Out came the rally caps in the dugout. And still every kid on this team had their turn in the game. The coaches put in the younger and weaker players even in key moments so they’d get their turn.
Would it be too cliche if I said I had the song from the Bad News Bears running through my head at this point?
We actually got back a couple of runs, Older got to pitch for the first time in post-season play, we continued to scream and yell, and then we lost. And we all cheered those kids as they walked off the field as if they were champs. Coach told the kids, “We had one bad inning that cost us the game, but we had 23 good innings during the rest of the tournament. Last year you had one good inning in the whole thing! So you should be proud.”
(And, by the way, might I brag a little, that they WON a game this year AND were never mercied. They were a contender. Really. That’s not just Mom talking.)
I’m really going to miss baseball. I think part of the reason this team worked together so well is because this is an area where boys can really shine. In school they’re already at a disadvantage because they’re boys and they learn by action, not sitting still and focusing like girls do (don’t get all “You’re sexist and disgusting!” on me, you know it’s true, especially if you’ve ever worked with kids). Here they get a physical challenge and a common goal to work for, one of the great motivators of men. The older boys get to share their knowledge with the younger ones, and the younger kids get to surprise the older ones with their skills.
Even after losing we are feeling pretty good about baseball in my family. As one of the moms said to me, “We’re just a happy community and our kids are happy too. Put out love, and you get love back.” I know the ballfield is no place for love. There’s no crying in baseball, either. But a mom’s still gotta protect her 10-year-old boy. When I walked by the dugout four of them swarmed me to show me their injuries. We can dress them up like little adults and stick them out there and berate them when they don’t play like major leaguers, but underneath all that they’re still just boys, and they need encouragement and positivity so much more than pressure. Growing up is hard enough. I guess I’d just rather have my kids play for the Bad News Bears and feel good about themselves. No trophy beats that.