Tonight, my son’s Little League team plays in the city’s Championship Game. I am one of the assistant coaches, but to be honest, if you had asked me mid-season if we were going to go deep in the playoffs, I am not sure what I would have said. We had some erratic games and error-prone losses. But something clicked with these kids in the past two weeks. Our team ended up near the bottom of the regular season standings, but they have been on a tear through the playoffs — hitting, fielding, pitching, etc. We took on the top seed team that went undefeated all year and, twice, we handed them two decisive losses to knock them out of the playoffs.
The other day, the head coach sent us an email about positive comments that he has received from some parents about our style of coaching, which is to keep things fun and positive, and the parents’ appreciation for how we show support even for the players who might make an occasional mistake or lack bat skills at this point in time. It may sound obvious that you would do those sorts of supportive things with 11 and 12 year kids but I can say from experience that some teams have kids sit on the bench for even minor infractions or mistakes. I’ve watched more than my share of kids on opposing teams kicking at the dirt in the dugout.
Last winter, I wrote a post about my lessons learned from the basketball court as I watched my sons play. This morning, I was thinking a bit about lessons learned from this Little League team, and how those lessons have some resonance with how we approach our classroom environment.
- Starting the season out with some bonding activities (we held a picnic) set the tone early on that we would be playing together — through thick and thin, with an emphasis on “playing”– and that they should at least respect each other, if not become good baseball friends. Most have.
- Everybody gets their chance to shine, and not just once — but all season. Even the kids who struggle at this level of baseball play have had plenty of time in the infield and outfield, and at bat. No one is feeling left behind by the team. Win or lose, they know they have a chance to contribute.
- Practice is important. We’ve had many practices — where we mix serious skills with games, serious with fun — and that seems to have really paid off in many ways. I can hopefully say that every player seems much better as a player now than when we started the season in early Spring (during our rainy season).
- Keeping things in perspective has been important. It’s a baseball game, after all. The balance of the world doesn’t teeter on the caught or not caught fly ball. We show support for the kids who make that catch just as we do for the kids who don’t make that catch. We set that tone early as coaches, and the team picked up on it, giving everyone high fives when an inning ends or begins.
- But, there are always teaching moments. Our head coach is great at identifying small moments for teaching individual kids what he knows. Not everything is learned in practice. Sometimes, it is the one-to-one connection that makes all the difference in the world. I’ve watched him get on a knee and have a quiet conversation with just about every player our team.
- Keep trying. Boy, we’ve come back from a bunch of games just because the team refused to believe the game was over. This mindset that anything may be possible at any given moment is such an intangible thing to try to teach but it is also so important to instill in young people. It’s what we call resilience, right?
We’ll see how tonight goes when the Championship Game gets underway. Win or lose, it’s been a magical season for the boys, including my son. I hope they can savor the moment.
Peace (around the bases),