Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sandlot Wisdom


If eleven boys all gathered at the sandlot twice a week to play baseball, they would work out their own relationships. It wouldn't take long for them to figure out who was going to play first base and who was going to be the catcher. The guy who was the best pitcher would pitch. The best fielder would be at short. The younger kids would be in the outfield or maybe at second base. And when the boys from the next block came over for a game, there would be very few questions about the line-up. The big hitters would be at the top and the younger guys would bat at the bottom. This would all be easy for them to establish because they would all have the same goal, to win.

Every kid on the team wants to go home and tell his mother that he won. Every kid on the team wants to go to school the next day and tell his teacher that he won. Every kid on the team wants to sit at the lunch table with his buddies and say he won. That's what we do. That's who we are. We strive to win and we're proud when we do.

I see a lot of little league coaches now that are trying to change the game by changing the natural order of things, by making certain things more important than winning. I know there are things more important than winning, but not very many.

Baseball is a team sport. And the team is the most important thing. The team winning is the ultimate goal. The kids all want to be part of a team, that's why they're there. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. That's what the experience is. When we change the order of things as coaches, we take that away from them. They're no longer part of a team, because the team would serve itself. They are now part of some made-up hierarchy of adult concepts that they don't understand or want to participate in.

I heard a statistic the other day that most kids quit organized sports by the time they're 13 years old. At 13 you're just starting to put the pieces together, you're just starting to get an idea of what you're capable of. We parents and coaches are responsible for this statistic. We make them quit before they even get a chance to experience these changes, before they experience growing up in a sport and all that comes with that. We take something that is easy for them to understand, and make it complicated, baseless and confusing.

If Louie Little Kid gets on base the team is just as proud as if Billy Big Kid rips a double. They know their differences, they understand their challenges, and they respect them. They're learning about themselves, they're inventing themselves the way they want to be. They're trying to improve themselves. You can't do this for them. They have to do it for themselves. They don't have a problem with the way things are until we tell them they should have a problem with the way things are. Right field is a pretty good place to be when you're a little guy and you're on a winning team. To be at short stop scares the hell out of you. The possibility of losing your teeth to a rip roaring line drive at third is almost as scary as the thought of losing the game for the team. His responsibility is to the team. He wants to fill his responsibility. Help him be successful. Don't get me wrong, he wants to play third base, but only if he can do it without it costing the team a win.

Second game of the season, the score is tied. The coach puts Louie Little kid in at short. Why, because he thinks everyone should get a chance to play short no matter what the consequences, he puts that above winning. Louie Little kid bobbles the ball and they lose the game. What purpose did that serve? Who learned something? Who improved or felt good about themselves? The other team, the other team, that's it. They're the winners. Now what is Louie Little Kid going to say in the lunch room tomorrow?

The kids aren't crazy gamblers. They wouldn't make it a regular practice to gamble on Louie Little Kid at short when the game is tied. They're more conservative than that. They want to win. Louie Little Kid can play short when the game's in the bag. Or maybe he'll practice harder and get there next year. Who knows? All they know is that they want to win this game.

My boys have a lot of trophies, too many trophies, but when Grandpa comes to visit, the two they pull down to show him are the two championship trophies they have. When they were on those two championship teams they were the smallest, littlest kids on the team, they sat out most the time and probably didn't get a hit all season. I'm sure they never played in the infield unless the team was way ahead, but they won by God. They know that. They were part of those teams. They had those experiences.

Winning is a building block experience. The more you do it, the better you get at it. At what age do you want them to start this process? When do you want to turn them loose so they can start striving to win and building on those experiences? How about now coaches? How about we let them strive to win now? And tomorrow, we let them do it again. They'll figure it out. And this way, if they quit baseball, it will only be to go find something they're really good at. Not because we took it away from them. Not because we confused them with what we thought the game should be about.
K.M. Pickel
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