This morning I was remembering last Spring when I spent a lot of Saturday morning watching kids’ baseball games. The following blog was inspired by those early mornings.
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My family has a mixed bag of talents, some with extraordinary athletic abilities and others with talents in music, art and other areas. A couple years ago in the Spring I watched a team of 8 and 9 year olds work out their varying skills on the dusty baseball diamond to come together as a team. There were the usual characters present: mothers and grandmothers; fathers and grandfathers; coaches, older & younger siblings.
As one of the grandmothers, I realized that one thing that perspective affords me is the wisdom of time and a number of years to ponder this thing called life.
As I watched some of the parents (mostly the dads) and coaches get way too serious about the game at times, I wanted to blow my whistle and call a good old-fashioned timeout and explain some things that my 50-plus years have taught me.
Team sports teach kids a lot more than how to hit, throw, catch, run and score. It teaches them at a young age that we all show up with varying skill and ability levels. Sometimes we’re the top dog, while other times we’re middle of the road; sometimes we’re even at the bottom of the skills ranking.
And this is an important lesson in life. How many of us show up at work knowing everything there is to know? Few of us, even when hired into leadership positions, can claim this status. We have to learn how to be comfortable in that learner phase so we can grow. We need to learn how to work with others – more skilled and less skilled than us – to accomplish the work we have to do. If we’re lucky, we also learn not to take ourselves too seriously if we happen to be a rock star along the way.
Like the 5th grade baseball rock star who drops out of college and ends up working at the local mall, our star may rise and fall; and if we’ve burned all our bridges along the way, starting over as a mere mortal will be tough.
I wish all youth sports coaches would consider this perspective (some do, I know). It breaks my heart to see coaches ignoring some kids that they perceive as “uncoachable” or incapable of improving, while actively engaging others (often their own sons, or kids who can help secure wins for them). But then, perhaps this is also part of the learning curve for those kids.
In life on and off the ballfield we will find that there are those who play favorites; there will be times when we feel we’re being short-changed in terms of someone’s time and attention, and there will be times when someone has what seems to be an unfair advantage over us. The secret to success does not lie in figuring out how to avoid people or situations like this, but in understanding that these things happen, and learning how to turn these situations around to our advantage.
The simplest way to make this shift is to remember a few key themes.
1. This too shall pass. Baseball season, like most things in life, eventually draws to a close. Next year there’s a new team, a new coach and a brand new opportunity. We can take the lessons we learned and leave the negativity behind. Maybe the lesson is that baseball isn’t for us, and it’s time to try out playing an instrument in the band, or taking up a different hobby.
2. Be mindful when we’re the favored one. We need to always remember how it felt when we were on the outside of someone’s favor or had no advantage. We must then make it a point to reach out, encourage, be kind and include those who are outside of the favor when we’re enjoying our time in the sun.
3. It’s ok not to be the superstar. When we look at high school football players – many of whom dream of an NFL career – it’s important to understand that of that entire team, only 10% will play football in college, and of those less than 1% will go on to the NFL. I suspect that baseball and other youth sports are similar in their placement in professional sports within a few percentage points. Therefore the biggest reasons to play sports are found in the life and leadership lessons that emerge from the experience.
So I hope we can remember this as we coach and mentor young people of all skill levels and talents in sports, music and more: the blessings are to be found in the journey, not the destination.
Blessings, joy, lessons and life wisdom are part of the entire experience, and when we can learn this – for ourselves or our children – we reap benefits that give back to us across a lifetime.