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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Perils and Joys of Youth Sports

Our local youth 3rd/4th softball league is now in full swing.  As it nears its midway point I am reminded how rewarding it can be.  The folks that run it and many of those involved are kind, generous and a reminder of what is right in this world.  During the past week our squad has had to reschedule games due to illness and dance recitals.  Wouldn't you know that investment bankers and other important folks were trading emails and phone calls from their Manhattan offices and bending over backwards to accommodate these conflicts?  Several components working in unison to benefit their children and ever-scrambling parents.  The beauty is everyone associated works as a volunteer.

Mind you this is recreation softball.  There is a playoff system and a trophy is awarded at the end of the season.  But it is classmate versus classmate.  Town girl versus town girl.  Bragging rights are at stake.  But none of these girls will be including game video for their college recruiting tapes.  It is rudimentary.  It is fine tuning skills and teaching fundamental concepts.

Naturally there are kids (and parents and coaches) who are uber competitive and looking to add hardware to their collection.  That's cool.  Kids should be learning about competition and the impact winning and losing can have on them (and their peers.)  Truth be told our staff craves victories like anyone else.  We might not step on your jugular to make it happen though.  Or maybe we might?  Some nights you never know.

At this level the benefits from winning and losing can be equally important.  As our squad struggles to get its footing, losing 2 straight one run games, our approach has been altered.  We would have loved to win those games, but how can we learn from it?  We left a few runners on.  We threw the ball to the wrong base with 2 outs.  We didn't hustle to first base.

No biggie.  We can build on that.  Learn from our mistakes and do all we can to improve when faced with the situation again.  It is no different from the parallel work world many of us find ourselves in.

Perhaps we relied too heavily on a project manager to handle something for us only to see them fail and damage our reputation.

Or we overslept and attempted to drive to work only to get stuck in traffic preventing us from attending a meeting.

Next time do the damn work yourself and for God's sake drag your ass outta bed on time!

At the same time the season itself calls to attention the importance of commitment.

As my daughter seriously contemplates ending her soccer career (which runs simultaneously with softball) we find ourselves emphasizing finishing what one has started.

It would be easy to say "OK, you don't wanna play anymore, no problem."

It would free up plenty of Sundays for us moving forward and send the message that if you face adversity make sure you head for the hills rather than face it head on.

Isn't it better to have her finish out the season?  She can then take the benefits and/or challenges it presented her and use her lessons moving forward?

Who knows, maybe she ends up still digging it when the season concludes?  What if the final game sees her come into her own with a hat trick and a newly found love for the sport?  No way of knowing unless she finishes her obligation and understands the NEED for task completion.

This applies to anything your child is involved in.  Whether it be an instrument, or dance class, etc...  The more we allow our kids to dictate when he or she is "through" with something is the very moment we relinquish control.

This isn't to say push them beyond capabilities either.  The moment you sign your kid up for everything known to man is the moment you become Joan Crawford.  It's just a matter of time before you are beating your kid with wire hangers or worse, making them resent you and/or tuning you out altogether. We all know the mental abuse is worse than physical.  Engage in both and soon find yourself in Dante's lowest circle of Hell.

Let's all remember how to win too.  In the SportsCenter highlight reel we now live in kids find it acceptable to look for the easy way out.  So many kids are guilty of playing for show rather than substance.  Dunks are valued more than jump shots.  Home runs capture our attention but the beauty of the bunt is now frowned upon.  Taunting is the new sportsmanship and the whole thing can be very, very ugly.

Before we played our Monday night hoops last night I was witness to the end of a 7th/8th grade AAU basketball practice.  This was/is supposedly an elite group of young athletes.  To my surprise, and joy, a 5' tall women was berating the group for their "effort" during their practice.

"If you think you are going to make your high school team with that effort???  Are you kidding me?  I am not going to come here every week and waste my time!"

It was a thorough undressing.  The kids sat their unnerved, but I was unconvinced they were getting it.  Ability does not always make you a winner.  Drive and determination, and a whole bunch of mental toughness and discipline, will ultimately determine your fate.

Going through the motions has never won anybody over.

And it is not about to start now.

Be committed to whatever you bury yourself in and do all you can to better yourself and those around you.

It is why I will continue to align myself with the softball leadership team (much to my daughter's dismay.)

These are lessons that are as important today as they ever have been.

Just hope they are instilling these same values in lacrosse too.  Where on Earth did this sport come from?  America's pastime is no longer and it scares me a bit.

Oh well, that topic for another day.  Time to go fill out the lineup for tonight's game.  Class in session t-minus 5 hours.

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