I have a question for you: Where do you think the person who gets elected President of the United States 30 years from now is right now? How about the future heart surgeons of the world? College professors? Navy SEALS? Chances are, he or she is currently playing youth sports. Why is there such a good chance that all of those people are currently playing youth sports? Because almost all kids at some point in their lives are going to play some sort of sports. That being said, the things that kids learn at a young age, undoubtedly, are the foundation of what they become later in life.
Youth sports are a perfect avenue to teach our children the most important lessons in life. As adults, don’t we go through life every day dealing with the following things: some sort of failure or adversity (whether it be at home before you leave for work, on the way to work or once you get there), having to deal with someone who has authority over you, something happened to you that you felt was unfair, or how about the fact that we have to do things every day that we don’t really want to do, but have to? That’s our life just about every day.
Since we have to deal with those things every day, wouldn’t it make sense to learn HOW to deal with them before we become adults? If you are not good in your adult life at handling adversity, failure or unfairness, it can have a negative effect on your happiness, your productivity and your relationships. If you can handle those things well, you have a much better chance of being great at what you do, being happy, being a great father or mother, a great spouse, a great employee or coworker. Don’t forget, stress can kill you. I hate to put it that bluntly, but it’s true.
Believe it or not, all of those stressors exist in youth sports as well. More specifically, let’s talk about how they can occur in youth baseball. I happen to think that baseball is the greatest sport in the world. You can get a great deal of enjoyment from playing baseball or watching your child play baseball. I assume if you are reading this, you probably are involved in baseball in some capacity. You have, however, chosen to be involved in what I also feel is the most difficult sport in the world to play. This great game is based on failure. Think about it, if a batter is successful 3 times out of 10 (a .300 batting average, yet a 70% failure rate), he or she will be considered one of the best hitters ever (probably ending up in the hall of fame), or if he is a pitcher and throws 60% strikes, he or she is also going to be one of the best. That means he or she failed to achieve throwing a strike 40% of the time. Added to the fact that of the 60% strikes that he or she does throw is that sometimes the batter is going to hit the ball for a hit, maybe over the fence. Even more failure.
Let’s examine the stressors that your child can face during his or her time on the baseball field. Some of these fit into multiple categories.
Failure: A strikeout, a missed fly ball or ground ball, a swing and miss, a bad throw, walking a batter, throwing a ball, giving up a hit
Adversity: Losing the game, a bad umpire, pitching with a wet ball, a bad hop, a bad field, a bad pitcher’s mound, you forgot your bat and have to use someone else’s, fans yelling at you, etc.
How to deal with authority: A coach who yells at you, the umpire, your parents
Being treated unfairly: An umpire who makes a bad call, a coach who sits you on the bench, someone gets more swings than you in the batting cage
Why do I bring this up? Because these are going to happen, and a lot of them are going to happen to him or her EVERY time there is a game or a practice.
I am a baseball coach, but I also feel like I can predict the future. As I sit here today, I can tell you with 100% certainty some things that are going to happen to your child on the baseball field. He or she IS going to strike out. He or she IS going to miss a ball. An umpire IS going to make a bad call. As a matter of fact, your child is probably going to have to face all of the stressors that I mentioned numerous times every baseball season.
That is where you, their parent comes in. It is up to you to teach them how to handle these inevitable things. Because if you don’t, there is a really good chance that your child will come to you and tell you they don’t want to play baseball anymore. Eighty percent of all boys quit playing baseball by the time they are 15 years old. Why? Kids are actually pretty low maintenance. They really only want two things from being a baseball player: to have fun and experience some success. And I’m not talking about winning games, I’m talking about experiencing some individual success (getting hits, throwing strikes, catching ground balls and fly balls, sliding, bunting, stealing bases, etc.). If they do that, they will not only continue to play, but they will have a great experience and enjoy baseball for a long time.
How can you help? I’m glad you asked. You have no idea, as a parent or a coach, how much you really can help. Don’t ever underestimate how important a role you play in your child’s baseball experience, but it’s not rocket science, so don’t overthink it. Keep it simple. Remember, all kids want to do is have fun and get better, so make sure that no matter what happens, they are having fun. And if you want them to get better, just teach them the proper baseball fundamentals, or have someone else teach them the fundamentals. For now, that is way more important than winning. Of course we want to teach them that winning is important, I’m not saying that, but for now you want to teach them HOW to win, not that they HAVE to win. To teach them HOW to win, it is simply about developing your skills to the point where you are better than your opponent. In a survey of young kids that play youth sports, when asked the 10 things they liked most about playing youth sports, winning was listed as No. 7. That’s coming from the kids. In the same survey, the No. 1 reason they listed as why they quit playing is that they had a bad experience with a coach or a parent. Most often, that bad experience is a result of the parent or coach who was too concerned with winning.
In addition to teaching them HOW to win, you also need to teach them HOW to lose. Every successful person in the world will tell you that you cannot achieve success without first having to fail. Those people have become successful because they USE the failures to figure out how to have success. Looking at it that way, failure actually becomes a positive if you can teach them how to handle it the right way. The best definition of failure that I ever heard is “failure is an opportunity to start over more intelligently.” Well said. It’s an opportunity to get better. There is no way kids can learn how to get better through failure if they get yelled at when it happens.
In order for you to teach your child how to overcome these stressors, you have to be able to handle them yourself. Our children are going to reflect everything that we, as parents and coaches, say or do. If you yell at umpires, he will yell at umpires. If you blame someone else for losing the game he pitched, he will blame someone else. If you make excuses why he didn’t do well, he will make excuses why he didn’t do well.
So what should we do as parents?
Understand: Understand that baseball is the most difficult sport there is and that failure is not only a necessity, it is a frequent occurrence. Also understand that your child has a 10-times better chance of becoming a Navy SEAL than he does a major league baseball player. And PLEASE understand that developing their skills at a young age is WAY more important than being on a travel team that goes around and wins all their games against inferior competition. In a two-hour practice, your young baseball player can take 100 supervised swings, get 25 ground balls, 25 fly balls, run the bases and learn how to bunt and throw the right way, but in a two-hour game that his or her team wins 15-4, he or she may get five swings in the game, maybe no ground balls or fly balls and not get to the run the bases at all. Kids get better through practice. There is plenty of time for travel ball when they get older.
Educate: Educate yourself about the sport. Watch videos, go to camps, learn the proper technique of how to field a ground ball or how and when to throw a curve ball. And don’t be afraid to demand that your child’s coaches become educated as well. That is not only your right as a parent, I feel it is your duty.
Encourage: Kids love encouragement. Encouragement happens before they try to perform a task. It makes them feel better and gives them confidence and usually they will get better results.
Teach: It is up to you to teach them everything that has been discussed here, but understand there are teachable moments and non-teachable moments. A non-teachable moment is any time that there are emotions involved. If you are mad or frustrated, or if your child is mad or frustrated, trying to teach something right then and there has more negative impact than positive. Right after they strike out or miss a ground ball is a non-teachable moment. Let the emotions die down (sometimes overnight), then teach the lesson you want to teach. Chances are you won’t be near as mad about it if you talk about it when you put your child to bed that night or the following morning.
Love them dearly: The chances of them playing baseball beyond their 25th birthday are so small that it’s not worth mentioning, so don’t let their baseball ability define who they are. The concept of conditional love is offensive to any of us who are parents, and it is utterly ridiculous to even think about it. However, just because we feel that way doesn’t mean our children feel that way. A high percentage of young kids who were surveyed, when asked about how their parents treat them after a game, said that they felt their parents loved them more if they played well that day. That is the very definition of conditional love. That ride home in the car sure is important.