If you want to lose your religion, join the world of little league baseball. Plenty of God-fearing parents, coaches and umpires flip a switch once the competition gets heated. Trust me, as I’m speaking from personal experience.
In a world where everyone celebrates champions and winning is everything, it’s easy to lose focus on what’s really important in kids’ sports. Building character. Instead of using sports to teach discipline and hard work, we too often put the focus on building champions.
A few years ago, a youth softball team won a local championship by rolling the ball instead of throwing it. The coach knew the little girls couldn’t throw far or catch. So, instead of taking the time to teach them the game, he encouraged them to bowl the ball to one another. With no rule stating that they couldn’t roll the ball, they won the trophy. But did they really win?
I would argue that they didn’t win, because they didn’t earn it. And, more importantly, they learned nothing . . . Except for maybe how to cheat the system. By playing the game to win at all costs, they sacrificed character for championship.
In direct contrast to that team, we watched a youth baseball team grow leaps and bounds throughout their season. They won some games, but never a championship. However, the coaches taught them how to play the game. As a result, they made throws and went for double plays when most teams their age would’ve held the ball. Or, perhaps rolled it. They didn’t always make the catches or get the tags they needed. But when they did, it was amazing. By focusing on building their character rather than making them champions, the boys learned valuable skills they will take to the next level.
When our son first started playing baseball, he embarrassed us on more than one occasion. Although it was hard, we eventually learned to keep our mouths shut until well after the game. Then, we’d work to correct his errors once the heat of the moment had died down.
I’ll admit that while we’ve always valued character, it took us some time to adjust how we reacted to his mistakes. No parents like to watch their child miss a ball or strike out. We somehow see it as a reflection on us when our kids mess up. But instead of worrying about our kids making a mistake, we should worry about how our kids react to making that mistake.
Do they sling a bat and pout on their way to the dugout after striking out? Or do they hold their head high? Do they come in crying after missing a ball when the bases are loaded? Or do they shake it off, knowing they will get another inning? Sometimes the most important actions we make are our reactions when things don’t go our way.
We may think that a kid’s poor performance on the field or court, or even in another activity, reflects badly on our parenting. What really reflects on our parenting is our child’s attitude. Kids will mess up every day, just as we do. We can’t control mistakes one hundred percent of the time. What we can control is our attitudes. It’s easy to smile and say kind words when everything is going great. But only those with strong character will remain calm and pleasant even when the scoreboard says they shouldn’t.
Our son has come a long way and makes way less mistakes than he did even a year ago. Still, we remind him every game that his attitude is more important than the actual plays he makes on the field. We told him that no matter where he is in the field or what order he’s up to bat, he needs to give it his all and listen to the coach. After all, true champions are built when everyone displays good character and works together as a team.