Life and Little League

I volunteer for our local Little League organization every year and thoroughly enjoy it. This year, I’m a little more contemplative about how our Saturdays, some weeknights and three to four practices a week really did add up to lessons about growing up and parenting. Here are a few memories from the season and a few thoughts on how they apply beyond the diamond.

Avoid Shouting

Don’t yell and argue calls from the stands. You run the risk of embarrassing your kid, who may be playing only because you want him to play in the first place. You frustrate your kid’s coach because, at the first practice of the season, coach asked parents not to contest calls. You weren’t listening, though, because the ratio of loud voice to poor hearing tends to run 50:1.

I found this out once when I tried to urge another parent to tone down her sideline coaching. No one learns anything, the mood of the game changes to the one your booming voice set (didn’t we come out to watch the kids?), you have a sore throat, a radius of about a mile or so fans now have compromised hearing, the world grows dim, malaise, misery everywhere.

Life lesson: see the world beyond the volume of your voice. You may then hear the sound of kids’ laughter.

Employ the 24-hour Rule and 
Don’t Talk About the Game After the Game

Say your coach pulls your kid from the infield post that your kid has ruled since opening day. Say he instead puts in a younger, less experienced kid, who bobbles a routine grounder that your kid would have scooped up and tossed to first in breath. Say you lose the game because of that play (or it might appear that way).

Do this: skip the post game confrontation with the coach. The coach has a slew of requirements intended to boost EVERY kids’ confidence. And be glad you have a coach who isn’t in this solely to win. If you don’t play, you can’t learn. Support that kid, support your coach, your kid’s team, relax.

After 24-hours, will you have remembered the incident? After 24-hours, will it have mattered as much as spending your time after the game with your kid, holding your tongue from talking about the game after the game, letting your kid instead lead the conversation about the jokes from the latest Boy’s Life and having a good chuckle. You may have even forgotten there was a game, but dang if your kid can deliver a good joke.

If you are still compelled to call out the coach for the move, think about this before you do so: if you were the coach, how would you respond to you? If you would tell yourself, “Yes, you’re so so right!” then why aren’t you coaching and dealing with yourself?

Life lesson: Take a step back from the flurry of your life to look at it from the outside. What will the consequences of your action net? Do you have to assess every move as if in doing so, time will reverse and different outcomes will result? Different outcomes which may not be better. Take the George Bailey approach: what may seem to be misery one moment may actually be a point in a line of good community, great friends and solid families.

Treasure the Game Ball

Remember when that one kid was at First Communion, the other was stuck in traffic on his way back from camp and only your son and the closer were in the bullpen and your son started the game? His first time ever. The team was 5-runned out of the first inning. One kid scored when your son was slouching back to the mound after throwing another ball and wasn’t paying attention to the runner at third.

But then your son fanned the next five and in the next inning, Charlie at center remembered Coach’s mantra, In the outfield the first step is back, and caught the ball. In the heel of his glove. And he held on. (Earlier in the day, Charlie didn’t even want to suit up, but his mother insisted, You signed up for this, so blessedly, he was there.) No more runs scored. Suddenly, the team was in the lead. The closer did his job. Your son’s team eventually won. Your son and Charlie each received a game ball.

Life lesson: persevere, show up. Then congratulate yourself for your hard work. It looks like a beat up ball, but it is so much more. Do avoid hoarding, consider the thing in context and do filter in the mementos that really mean something. The wedding band, the first dollar from the lemonade stand, the scan from the first sonogram. It’s not an object, it’s a memory.

Play the Whole Season

If your son breaks his arm, suggest he keep score with his other hand. You don’t need excellent penmanship these days. Heck, with all the scorekeeping apps available you simply need to be able to poke the touchscreen. He’s in the dugout with his team and coach knows he can count on him.

If he is on that team that can’t buy a win, don’t drop out of the league. I sat next to a father at one game who declared midseason, “Yeh, we’ve won two games, today may be my boy’s last game.” Kids watch what decisions we make and what we say. You may not be happy, but your kid may be having a blast in the dugout and warming up the outfielders between innings, not to mention learning to make corrections, learning to cope. This is about character, not winning at all costs.

Life lesson: every event leads to an understanding about yourself, about others in a way you may never have anticipated. Listen. Wait and take it all in before you judge. It’s endurance, flexibility and a damn good sense of humor that will see you through the seasons of adolescence, marriage and family and just living with yourself.

The Invisible Thread

It connects every player, emanating from the pitcher to catcher battery, absorbing the infield and stretching into the outfield. Short and second back up every throwback from catcher to pitcher. Catcher and right back up first base with every grounder. Left is married to third. Outfielders are stars in a constellation that is a 400 feet deep net, calling for the ball, diving, fielding and catching everything from dribblers to bombs to line drives, all in elegant symbiosis. The thread connects Eddie in right to Ben at second, playing cut off to Owen, catching at home. Know where your teammates are and anticipate where they’ll head once the ball is smacked. Have your teammate’s back and you will get Tommy barreling in from third every time.

Life lesson: Every team member means something to each other just as we all do in our families, and communities. Nowadays kids become smart phone users before they even know how to talk on a phone and are instantly isolated from interaction, but on a Little League team — any youth sports team or activity group— child, siblings and parents learn to deal with and enjoy others.

Turn the fear of the losing season, the really annoying, loud uncle in the stands, that broken elbow into an understanding of place in the world and consequence. Little League simply doesn’t end after six innings.