Little League Lesson with Big-League Impact

There is plenty of worry these days (mostly among us older adults) about entitled young people and not-very-resilient college students.  Because of the work I do, I feel a good deal of sympathy for emerging adults and wince at these easy generalizations, but I also have to admit, there’s truth in them.

Here’s one that dates me, for sure.  How many of you have said or heard, “If I got in trouble in school when I was a kid, I knew I’d be in trouble when I got home?”  And then the complaint: nowadays, parents too quickly step in to defend their children against disciplinary consequences or otherwise fight their battles.  I confess, this scenario does happen far more often than it should, and with the consequence that students do not learn how to exhibit grit and “bounce back” and perseverance.

I was involved in one such conversation the other day.  We were lamenting how often students are unnecessarily shielded from painful, yet edifying lessons.  The talk evoked a memory, one of those important “lesson’s learned” from my childhood.  Admittedly, it is low on the severity scale, but, the older I get, the more grateful I feel that in many such situations adults took such pains to teach me.

As a kid, I was a pretty darn good baseball player.  When I was a twelve year-old, playing Little League baseball, I played on a championship team and then got picked to play on the all-star team in the regional playoffs.  Yeah, I was all that.

In the middle of my all-star season, my parents decided we needed to go on vacation.  So, off I went with Mom and Dad to some place like Ruidoso or Red River, New Mexico.  We were gone a week, maybe ten days.  I couldn’t wait to get back to the games.

My first game back after vacation, I showed up, fully expecting to step back into my position on the field, but the coach informed me that I would be sitting out this game until, perhaps (no guarantees) the late innings.  I was shocked.  The coach gently reminded me of his policy: “You don’t practice, you don’t play.”  And that, while I was gone, other guys had shown up to practice.  They were going to play and I would ride the pines for a while.

I stress the coach’s gentleness.  He emphasized that he did not think I had done anything wrong, that I was not in trouble, that he was not upset with me, that he understood that my going on vacation with my parents had not been my decision or within my control.  Nonetheless, those circumstances did not change the fact that other boys had been to practice, had done the work, and deserved to play.

Lessons learned:

  1. I wasn’t (and never have been) indispensable.  The team could get along without me.  This is not to say that my role was unimportant, yet it also helped me think more that my teammates had their skills and aspirations, too, and they cared as deeply as I did about winning.  Everything most definitely did not revolve around me.
  2. Relatedly, “team” really is bigger than individual goals and desires and commitment to (and responsibility for) the team supersedes individual goals and desires.  It does not downplay the value of individual talents, but it also does not make them paramount.  How important (and liberating) it is to realize that the world does not revolve around me.
  3. Coach was true to his word.  We could trust his word.  He meant what he said and I could take that to the bank.  He stuck with his policy.  We boys were watching him and we noticed.  Imagine how easily cynicism begins invading a young mind when the adult s/he looks up to offends his own stated values and principles.  It is very important to be true to your word.
  4. The rules are still the rules even if you didn’t “break” them on purpose.  You don’t always have to do something wrong to suffer unwanted consequences.
  5. These values were in place regardless of whether we won or lost.  Some things are more important than winning and losing.  (I don’t remember if we won or lost that game I sat the bench.)  He risked irritating parents.  Come to think of it, I don’t remember ever seeing parents bending his ear too much about anything.  That is another parental behavior that seems to have changed significantly.

Any kid who has experiences like this lesson I learned from a Little League coach will have a better start on adult life than the kid who does not.  Even today, I get a fresh challenge from the memory.

 

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

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