It's that time of year again.
Little League time.
Now I'm way too introspective to begin with, but nothing gets me looking harder in the mirror than when I coach Little League baseball. I have all-too-vivid memories of being a nervous baseball player (a kid with a lot of "want to" but not much ability) and try so hard to let my kids play in a pressure-free environment.
I am far from perfect, and that bugs me.
I coach both of my sons, and it can be hard to remain calm and positive, as much as I try... I had one particularly embarrassing moment with my oldest son, Tyler, a few years ago. I was hitting him groundballs before a game and I hit two right through his legs. Before I hit the third, I said, "Come on Tyler, get low, keep your glove down." I scored a hat trick, as a third groundball squirmed under his glove. "OK, Tyler," I said. "Anything but through your legs on this one, OK?" Well, of course, groundball No. 4 went right through the wickets. And I lost it. Seriously, I have no idea why (what's the big deal?), but I blew my stack.
How embarrassing, really, when I think about it. And I'm ashamed that it happened, and I've apologized to Tyler about 50 times for it. He has always shrugged when I do.
I should know so much better. Baseball is different than other sports. You don't need to be "psyched" to play baseball, the way you need to be "psyched" to play football, or even basketball or soccer, where "want to" is so critical to success. Think about it, to make a tackle in football...to play tenacious defense in hoops...to get stuck-in during a soccer duel..."want to" is half the battle. Not so in baseball. In fact, sometimes it's the exact opposite.
My older son works his butt off to be a good baseball player. Hits 'til his hands bleed. Will take groundballs in 100-degree heat for hours. He really has desire. My younger son, not so much. Now, I'm not going to say which one's the better player, but I will tell you that one seems to play better in practice and one seems to play better in games. You can figure it out, I'm sure.
Sometimes, in baseball, hard work can hold you back, make you press, squeeze the bat, etc. I should know. No one has ever worked so hard to be mediocre in baseball as I did. I was the guy who did everything a player is supposed to do in terms of preparation -- a million swings, a zillion groundballs -- but when the lights came on, anxiety held me back. A sports psychologist named Harvey Dorfman once told me a "tale" (I was interviewing him for a magazine piece) about a kid who wanted to be in the school play. He was given his one line, which was "Hark, the cannons!" He was to say the line after hearing the cannon blast. He rehearsed the line day and night, practicing in the mirror. "Hark, the cannons!" He changed his inflection. "Hark! The cannons!" He was going to work unti it was just right. On the night of the show, just as it was time for his line, the cannon went "Boom!" and the boy said, "Holy S! What was that?"
That was me.
So anyway, I make this pledge every Little League season, and I'll share it (and hopefully fulfill it).
*There is no better teacher than the game itself. Let the game teach the kids. Let them make mistakes and learn from mistakes without beating them over the head over mistakes. Get it?
*Don't be a fixer during games. When a kid swings at a pitch over his head, he knows what he's done and doesn't need you yelling, "Johnny, that pitch was over your head!" Ditto, "Get your glove down!" after a ball has gone through a player's leg does not help. Teach in practice.
*Remain calm. Baseball is a game that requires WAY MORE confidence and relaxation than intensity. That's why it's so hard. If it was all about "want to" there'd be a lot more good players.
*Continue to encourage your kids to work hard, not so they'll be good baseball players, but just because any kind of hard work is good...and will help your kids feel better when they succeed.
*Remember, always, "The most important play in baseball is...the next play."
Here's to a great season.