The pressure of Little League sports could be doing some serious damage to your boy. The fear of failure is a terrible burden to carry around.
“Coleman, you are the slowest person I have ever seen in my entire life.” I’m eight years old, and the man screaming spittle into my face is in his forties. His ball cap is bumping my forehead; tears are stinging behind my eyes.
I cried a good bit when I played baseball; I cried when I struck out, when our team lost, when my parents wouldn’t let me quit. When I started playing the game, it was still just that: a game. I was on a co-ed tee ball team; no one kept score (if memory serves, we went undefeated that season), and it was mostly just a semi-organized chaos of kids running around with bats and gloves. Our parents told us how great we were, and we believed them. After tee ball was “Cap League”. In some places, this level of play is Coach pitch, but we used a pitching machine and let me tell you, when you know where how fast the ball will be, it makes the game a great deal simpler.
Eight year olds move to what was called “minor league”, which is the first time that we could use big barrel bats and the pitcher was a kid on the team. That’s when something changed.
I played catcher, and I was damn good. I hated playing catcher. I wanted to play pitcher or second base, but I was good at the position so my coaches made me play it. I begged my dad to intercede on my behalf, but I was good. I cried behind the mask’s cage. I complained enough that my coach let me pitch for four innings; I threw a no-hitter, then he put me back behind the plate. I never pitched again.
So, there’s a story to be told, a story about a boy who loved baseball. He’s eight years old, and he doesn’t know anyone who can throw as far, or as accurately; he doesn’t know anyone who can hit as many home runs or who has a better batting average. Are there boys better at baseball? Probably. Not for long, though. Squatting behind the plate, he’s like a web; he catches wild pitches before he realizes he’s moved. Mind you, he hates it. The catcher’s gear is hot and dark. He watches the other kids in the field, and he wants to be them.
He bats fourth because that’s the clean-up position and he’s the best batter on the team. He’s got more home runs than entire teams combined. Keep in mind, he hates it. He doesn’t strike out often, but when he does, the world crashes. His coaches shout and throw their hats in the dirt. He’s slow. He’s ruined everything. He’s let his team down. He’s let himself down. They loom over him, more than a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier, and they curse. “Coleman, you have one job. What the hell were you thinking? Keep your eye on the damn ball.” You see, they’ve instilled one idea in him: coming in second is not a loss, it’s failure.
He’s playing regionals and he hits a home run; he rounds the bases and his team rushes out to mob him with praise. The opposing team’s coach stomps out to the mound, frothing and pointing; he’s hopping on his feet and pointing at first base. The umpire, a twenty-year old kid, signals that the boy failed to touch first base: everyone is called out. The other coach wants to win so badly that he takes the boy’s triumph. He’s someone’s dad, and he takes some kids moment of glory because he wants to win. The boy’s coach screams at him, blood vessels straining. The boy knows he touched first base, but no one cares. He does what eight-year olds do; he cries.
He’s older now and he hates the game, because it’s not a game anymore. He’s so scared of losing that he throws up before games. He spends the night before the game lying awake, imagining all the different ways he might fail. He tells his parents how much he hates being yelled at and they tell him to act like a man; he’s nine.
So, when your kid strikes out, don’t tell him, “You’ll do better next time.” Tell him that he did just fine that time, because he did. Go easy on your kid or he might become so afraid of failing that he stops attempting. Even worse than that, he might start to believe that you only value him for his achievements.
Photo- Flickr/ Edwin Martinez