A few weeks ago, I published an article that a reader sent me called Bad Sports Aren’t Bad Kids. It’s a well-written, highly relatable piece by a mom who admits that her son can be a “spectacularly bad sport.” She requests that other moms and dads please not judge her parenting based on her kid’s inability to maintain composure during games. Then she lists some endearing qualities about him, reminding all of us that there’s way more to the boy than his ball field tantrums.
I admired the writer’s honesty and felt a little sorry for what she was going through, but mainly I was just glad it wasn’t my kid. Because, as we’ve all heard one too many times, “THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!”
But then, just a few weeks later, it was my kid. And it’s been my kid on and off throughout the past few months.
J is 11 and has always been a stud on the ball field, bigger and stronger than most of the others. Being good at baseball was a little too easy for him.
I have to say, it’s fun being the parent of the team all-star, the one who whizzes fast ball after fast ball. The celebrated home run hitter, respected by his teammates and coaches for his work ethic and attitude. You get used to it. He gets used to it. You naively think that it’ll always be that way.
But then, out of nowhere, the other kids start catching up in size and skill. Suddenly, his rocket of a fastball routinely gets rocketed into the outfield, while he, himself struggles at the plate as opposing pitchers begin throwing change-ups and curve balls.** The sport that’s always been a breeze for him is becoming more and more of a challenge.
That’s where we are today. J is having to work harder. Put in more reps at practice, hit more buckets of balls. And he’s okay with all that. Except when things aren’t going well on the mound. He’s walked a couple batters. Our lead is in jeopardy. The next batter smacks a line shot past the short stop.
“Oh crap. Here come the water works,” I think to myself. Yep, he’s wiping his face, making those pleading, “rescue me” motions toward his coach. After another painful at-bat, Coach P relents and trudges to the mound to make the pitching change.
My husband and I keep our seats. We remain calm and quiet, continuing to watch the game as our boy mopes to the dugout. We don’t try to console. We don’t fuss, yell, threaten or plead. This is his battle. He’s got to work through it on his own. And he WILL. Eventually. The only time we’ll get involved is if he disrespects his coaches, teammates or umpires. Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet. And it better not ever.
You see I’ve been through this same scenario before. Our 15-year-old was also once a team stud, a natural at the game blah, blah, blah. But then around the same age as J, things got way tougher for him. He struggled something terrible with his emotions on the mound. That boy could NOT keep it together once he got down in the count. When he got upset, he knew his coach would soon take him out, ending the agony.
But then one day he didn’t. Things were looking painful. Batters were walking and pitches were more than “just a bit outside.” But Coach Al only walked out to the mound to offer words of encouragement.
“What? He’s leaving him in? Oh my Freaking Gosh! NOOOO!” I was screaming inside my head. But Coach knew that A had to get through it on his own. (Plus, it wasn’t a championship game.)
Eventually, after eight runs scored, our team miraculously got the two outs they needed to end the inning and every parent in the ball park breathed a collective sigh of relief. (Maybe even a few parents on other fields too.)
That day A learned a lesson that no lecturing, threatening, fussing, negotiating or bribing on our part could’ve possibly taught. It was one of those “aha moments” that Oprah Winfrey used to talk about.
A realized that he was, in fact, still alive once the inning ended. He didn’t die of frustration and embarrassment out there on the mound. He got through it. It wasn’t pretty. But he survived. And, yeah, I think we lost the game. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that he didn’t always need a grownup to rescue him. He had to learn to negotiate things on his own.
That was the end of A’s pitching meltdowns. From then on, he became more relaxed on the mound, more willing to trust the eight guys backing him up. Four years later, he’s still a starting pitcher. Still throwing strikes. And still sometimes getting into jams. That’s just baseball. As long as he works hard, listens to his coaches, makes necessary adjustments and keeps a short memory, everything will be okay.
As for J, I’m not worried. He’ll get there when he’s ready.
DISCLAIMER, or ON SECOND THOUGHT: I wrote this piece last Friday. Rather than rush to hit publish, I decided to wait and see if any other insights on the topic came to me. Now, a week later, here’s what I’d like to add:
- Just because something worked for A doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be so cut and dried for J or any other kid. Being left on the mound to work through his emotions might be the perfect solution for one pitcher. But it may cause another one to go home and set fire to his glove and cleats.” (We never recommend arson as a solution to any baseball related problem. Just saying.)
- Bottom line. Every parent should filter any advice they receive through their own judgement, common sense and personal knowledge of their kid.
- Here’s what I know to be true of handling any “behavior” type situation with kids in sports.
- Let the coaches coach and stay the heck out of the way. If the coach isn’t getting on to your kid about something, then you certainly don’t need to.
- Mid meltdown is NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER the time to try to interact with, reason with, preach to, threaten or bribe your kid. Go sit in the car if you have to. But stay away from him. He doesn’t want or need ANY extra attention.
- Don’t bring it up during the car ride home. Most likely your kid is already embarrassed enough as it is. He doesn’t need it rubbed in his face.
- Don’t badmouth the coaches, other parents, umpires or teammates. EVER. An already anxious kid doesn’t need any of that crap weighing on his mind. No kid does.
I’d love to hear your input on this post. Good and bad. It’s a sensitive topic. You can tell me I’m full of crap if you want. And if you have a better way of handling things, please share it with us.
And, as always, thanks so much for reading and supporting Travel Ball Parents!
** One more thing! No kid at age 11 should even be thinking about throwing a curve ball!!!!!! And NO COACH WORTH A DIME SHOULD ALLOW THEM TO.