I’m an assistant coach on my son’s baseball team. The team is made up of children ranging in age from 5 to 7. This past weekend, we played a team that prides itself on having only 1 loss on the season. And when I say “prides themselves”, I mean that it is what makes or breaks their entire universe. The season is made up of 20 games, which are played at a rate of 2 per week. This division, which is called Single A, is meant to create a competitive environment while allowing the children to learn the amazing game of baseball and to have a ton of fun. We’d like for our team to be competitive but it’s far more important for them to have a good time and fall in love with a game that all of us coaches love. With this mindset, we try to maintain a level playing field, meaning, every different team and every different manager interprets the league’s divisional rules in a different manner. Some try to find loopholes in order to increase their opportunity to win while others play the rules as they are meant to be played. Having played this past weekend against “the best team in the league”, whom is widely known for pushing the envelope and interpreting the rules different from all other teams in the league, I witnessed something that had me feeling bad for that team and their manager rather than our own team.
Our team played their hearts out in this game. Their movement was like clockwork and they were truly making every attempt to get to the ball when on defense and to hit the ball and employ proper base-running when on offense. Personally, with it being our 15th game of this 20-game season, I had never found myself being more proud of what they were doing. I’m more of a coach that believes in trying rather than winning. I know, I know…some of you out there think that’s weak, and you are more than welcome to your opinion in regard to that but while competition is a great thing in sports, which can be parlayed into everyday life, including the business world, winning at age 5, 6 & 7 is ultimately meaningless. At this age, it’s far more valuable for the kids to learn the proper way to play a sport, love the sport, treat their teammates well and work with them well, and to get amazing boosts in self-esteem. To me, that’s what’s most valuable at this fragile age. Of course, that’s coming from someone whom was extremely competitive as a child and whom would do anything to win. Thus, I don’t feel the need to live vicariously through my child or any of the children on the team. Beyond wanting these children to make friends, have fun, learn the game and to work well as a team, the one thing I can’t actually teach them or practice with them is “trying” – that is something that’s completely up to them. So when they are trying and giving 100% out there, I become very proud. In fact, I don’t even say “win or lose”, I say “win or learn”. For instance, when you lose, whether it be at a child’s sport or a professional sport, the other team ultimately found a way to exploit a weakness in something you did. That is something you can learn from and improve upon. That is exactly why I use the term “win or learn”. If you’re not learning, then we have a different kind of problem altogether.
During the game, with our children trying their hardest, they built up a big lead and everything was clicking for them. They truly never gave up. But inside of me, I feared the worst for our children, based on playing a team that would do anything to win and whom put winning ahead of anything else. I know it’s truly cynical of me to think that way and I am the type of person whom always plans for the worst, which isn’t always a good thing when you’re coaching children. And I wasn’t feeling that way based on the ability or inability of our children, whom I know are truly amazing children and whom try harder than I could ever dream of. I was feeling that way based on understanding how another manager goes about managing his team of children. What’s sad is, it’s the type of team that would have a ruined weekend if they lost. It’s the type of team that rather than put the focus on truly earning a win and playing the game the right way, would rather find a loophole to help them secure a victory. And frankly, it’s what got me feeling bad for them rather than bad for us. As a special disclaimer, I am not saying they did anything cheap or wrong. I’m simply explaining the importance that team puts on winning.
When it came to the final inning, their team was down by four runs and yet, they ended up winning by 1. But, for me, the awesome thing that happened during the game was what I was able to share with our team prior to them taking the field for the final half inning, than anything else. Knowing that they were going to lose the game no matter what, I needed to prepare them without telling them they were going to lose. To me, their self esteem is everything and these children need to know when they do great and amazing things. Think about it, throughout their day, they hear “no” and hear of things they shouldn’t be doing so many times but how often do children hear positive things?
So, I got down to their level and looked them all in the eyes. I explained to them how proud of them I was for everything they had done to that point in the game and explained to them that no matter what happened, I just didn’t want them to lose focus on what they were doing. All I wanted them to do was go out there, have fun and continue to try their hardest. While they did lose the game, they did try their hardest and all of the coaches on our team were more than proud.
When we play a game and win, we say to our kids, “Don’t get too high on the wins. Stay humble. Don’t brag.” When they lose we tell them, “Have a short memory. Learn from mistakes and let’s do better next time, but don’t let this ruin your day.” We mean it when we say those things. But remember how I told you we were winning that game by 4 runs? What became really, really sad to me was that anytime their team gave up runs, the opposing team’s manager would throw his hat down in disgust and kick it. All I could do was shake my head. I mean, seriously? You’re disgusted at 5, 6 & 7 year old children giving up runs and having the potential to lose a game?! All of the sudden, I was watching a grown man throw a temper tantrum over a child’s game. And then I started to realize just how weak some individuals are. As you already know, we lost the game but as soon as they scored the final run and won the game, their coach threw his had in the air with great pride and let out a victorious yell while raising his hands in the air. He didn’t go to congratulate his children immediately after, he didn’t high five them immediately after…no…instead, he applauded himself! It was truly one of the saddest things I had ever seen in my entire life. What kind of lesson does that show the children on his team? Was it about them in that moment? No. It was all about him and his success. I thought to myself, how bad does your self-esteem have to be that you cheer for yourself as an adult instead of cheer for the children whom are actually playing the game? I started realizing what a failure this individual must see themselves as, with his need to cheer for himself for beating a group of 5, 6 & 7 year old children. I know, to some of you, this may sound like sour grapes, but in all honesty, when was the last time you cheered loudly and with gusto over beating a child in something? Forget about how that made our kids feel. Forget about how it made his own kids feel. Would you be embarrassed if your parent did that in front of all of those children??? I would! Don’t get me wrong, to be happy for these children, or even an individual child’s accolade is a great thing. The opposing team deserved to be happy over a hard-fought game. But for their manager to celebrate as if he had actually played the game, is just plain sad.
After The Game
After the game, as our kids stood and watched an adult gloat viciously, they stood there in amazement at him. They readied themselves for the best part of the game (the handshake line) and as I walked by and high-fived them, I reminded them that they are better than that manager and more mature than that manager. See folks, you don’t need to be a grown-up in order to be more mature than another person. As I watched our manager deliver his post-game speech to our awesome group of children, I realized that this group of 5, 6 & 7 year old children are more mature than a full-grown adult. What that says for that adult and the present day is beyond sad, but the one great thing is that our team is proving to us that the future of our world is in great hands!