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When it comes to kids and sports, I have strong opinions on things. First, it’s my belief, after 8 years of coaching soccer with 4 different teams, and helping coach baseball for 4 seasons, and having played soccer myself (after genetics dictated I was not cut-out for basketball and after I realized how freegin’ scary it is to stand in the batters box while some kid hurls a hard baseball towards you), I’m of the opinion that kids become coordinated and competitive at very different rates, and you cannot learn anything about a kid’s future in sports before they hit puberty.
This sounds like I’m one of those “everyone gets a trophy” kinda guys, and I am …although I think “trophy” is just a modern day Slurpee. Kids should get Slurpees after every game (or a bag of Doritos and little Gatorade, which is what my team does). That’s the fun part. And if the game itself isn’t fun, we’re all doing something wrong.
So last night I was reminded of something …there’s a difference between “proud of” and “happy for.” This will sound like the worst bragging, but last night my son did the following:
You’re probably saying …um …those stats and highlights suck. And, yes, if he was playing for his high-school team or was on scholarship at Michigan State …yes …I’d be pretty sad, right now.
But I’m not sad. I’m happy. Very, very happy. I’m happy because catching the pop-fly and hitting a screaming grounder was, in my mind, nothing short of miraculous. And he was smiling and happy – which is really the best part because it means he’s having fun. And at 9-years-old, if you’re having fun playing a sport, that’s the best thing ever.
I remember baseball was not fun for me when I hit fourth grade because I was scared to death standing in the batter’s box and I couldn’t hit a baseball (to this day, I think hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports and I’m amazed anyone can do it). Basketball was fun for me until I hit middle school and other kids grew tall (and I did not …thanks, ancestors) and every shot I took was rejected into the stands. Get where I’m going?
Last night, my son had fun. He’s better now than he was last year. So I’m happy. And he’s happy.
Now. Let’s get to the “proud.” I’m proud that my son has made friends on the team – complete strangers 14-days ago. Now they were all cheering him on when he was thrust onto the pitchers mound (I thought he might be OK pitching but I had hoped to get to the park with him on a weekend or two and practice before he saw live action). The catcher, after my son gave up a second walk, came out to the mound and talked to him and my son smiled and laughed. And when my son stood in the batter’s box and struck out twice, he was smiling then, too.
But the real source of pride came with how he handled a less than stellar stat line.
“Dad,” he said “I think I know why I got thrown out at 1st …I looked at the play going on in the field and didn’t run full speed to first and watch the first base coach.”
Yes. That’s tough for kids to understand, but “peaking” might’ve cost him a 1/2-step and safe-at-first.
“Dad,” he said. “I think we need to go to a real baseball field and work on my pitching. I was trying to throw it fast and not aiming.”
Ahem. You see why I’m proud?
“Dad,” he said, “Remember you said we were going to go to a batting cage. I think I need to do that.”
And that, my friends, is the very definition of “happy” versus “proud.” I’ve only mentioned those things in passing to him. I say it like, hey, if you want to practice or work on some things, we could always go to the batting cage or the park. But I’m not the Dad that’s going to say, “let’s go to the batting cage and hit a hundred balls and turn off that iPad.” You can’t make a kid competitive and driven about a thing if he’s not. My Dad used to take me to the park and do suicide wind sprints to make me faster – and I wanted to do it. He only had to mention it once and I did it. And I noticed significant improvement in my speed and endurance. That was just me. My Dad didn’t demand it of me. I’m 99% sure my brother and sister never did wind sprints at the park with my Dad.
Every kid is built and wired differently.
Let’s face it …somewhere in the world, right now, there’s an awkward kid who can’t shoot a basketball, runs like one of his legs is longer than the other and resembles a wounded deer running on ice, and his arms and legs just aren’t ready to do what his brain tells them they should do and how they move. But, mark my words, this kid is going to hit puberty and based on genetics or whatever, this awkward kid is suddenly going to grow 6 inches, gain strength, and will wake up one day able to shoot three pointers, swing a golf club with perfect form, and he’ll run faster than anyone in his grade and he’ll be a sports superstar. Meanwhile, some 10 year old with a “swing coach” or playing soccer in Europe this summer is going to wonder, hey, what’s with that kid? He used to be so awkward.
We get too serious about sports too soon with kids …my opinion.
I”m “happy” because my son loves baseball. Loves watching it. Loves playing it. Loves talking about it. And when he can actually get the bat on the ball in his first year of “kid pitch” with older kids pitching at him, and when he can catch a pop-fly (something he’s never come close to doing), I’m “happy” because he had some real positive moments that made it fun.
I’m “proud” because he handled the good with the bad and summed up the night with, “I need more practice.” My pride stems from his commitment, that he’s willing to work, and he didn’t act like he was playing in the world series last night.
Beaming with pride. Seriously.
I read a great article recently that said there’s six words we should tell our kids after a game and only these six words unless they want anything more. I’ll end with those six words.
“I love to watch you play.”
Thanks for reading.
Don, what a great article you just wrote! I couldn’t agree more. Having 3 VERY different kids and they are all different in their athleticism, when THEY are happy, that is what counts. I have learned a lot from my oldest and it has trickled down to how we deal with our youngest. After playing 2 years of travel baseball for Patrick, this year we put him on Bloomfield Baseball with his friends and Walt is helping coaching. He played his first game last night and did great. But, true to what you are saying, I saw my son beaming with happiness! He played better than he ever did on 2 years of travel and I KNOW it has to do with being happy! Sometimes we need to listen to our kids and let them make their decisions. Having been caught up in travel sports for years, there are those moments, that, their happiness is what counts and in then end, when they are happy, it is great to watch them play!
Thanks for reading and you’re another great story and example. What I kinda remember most about playing sports was also the fun with other kids. That’s a big key, too.
A great perspective to have. Unless you’re prepping to be a future major-leaguer, fun is really the benchmark for that age. After all…baseball wasn’t invented as a high-stakes “pro sport.” It was made for people of all skill levels to come together and enjoy companionship, fresh air, and outdoor activity.