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Mommy Making It Work
Good Sportsmanship and Other Baseball Lessons
Published on April 17, 2012 by guest author: Cindy F. Crawford

William has been hitting baseballs off a T since he was not even 2, and I have always thought he was pretty good.

When we got him on a community baseball league team his first year – spring 2011 – he was 4 and had a blast playing ball with other kids instead of just his parents.

But he also learned some valuable “team sports” lessons that he continues to encounter, even as he plays more mature ball this spring as a 5-year-old.

The first issues we ran into with baseball when he was 4 were the hard-knock lessons that he’s not going to win every game or hit a home run every time he got up to the plate.

Now, our team went undefeated last year and won the 4-year-old T-ball championship, so he didn’t exactly learn the “how to be a graceful loser” lesson.

But he did cry often when a play didn’t go his way and when he got out at bases. He expected to get up there every time, hit the mess out of the ball and run all three bases and slide onto home plate.

When he’d get tagged out and come back to the dug out defeated, I’d race over there and try to dry the tears with that Tom Hanks line from “A League of Their Own”: “There’s no crying in baseball.” It didn’t always work. He had to learn to cope on his own.

He got a real lesson in crying when we went into fall ball. That’s when the T went away and coaches started pitching to him. And his team got matched up with All-Star teams from neighboring leagues, with daddies who yelled redneck obscenities to their pumped up 5 and 6 year olds to stick it to those younger suburban kids, i.e. William and his naïve buddies just there to have fun and learn the sport.

William’s team, mostly intact after winning the championship the previous spring, lost nearly every game that fall – even mercy-ruled at seven runs per inning. That’s when the “be a graceful loser” lesson started to kick in.

Learning to hit coach-pitched balls instead of one just sitting there on a T was a challenge that season. And coaches could no longer stand in the field alongside the players, so the kids had to make decisions themselves on which base to go to or, more importantly, which coach to listen to for in-the-moment advice.

That season, us parents also learned a few tricks:

     Don’t tell the kids the score. They don’t know if they’re winning or losing. Just let them play it one at-bat at a time and enjoy the small successes – a good hit or a great play in the field. Simply learning HOW to play baseball. Which base to go to when they finally get the ball in their hand (assuming another tike doesn’t fight them for it in the outfield, which happened all too often in 4-year-old ball).

    Watch what you say from the stands. Moms and dads who are not coaches need to stick to encouraging words from the stands and NOT give their children instruction from the other side of the fence. Think of it this way: If a kid had a choice between obeying their mother – the one who throws them in timeout or, perhaps, spanks them for doing wrong at home and is, at that moment, screaming for them to do something from a lawn chair, or the choice to listen to a stranger who happens to be a coach, who would they listen to? Their mother, of course. But us moms don’t always know what instructions the coaches have given, so we can easily contradict and confuse our kids and, in turn, ruin a play. So we agreed to simply say, “Run hard!” or “Good swing!”

    Good sportsmanship is key. At this age, ultra competitive kids like William sometimes don’t want another kid to upstage them. If he has an off day and another kid is almost literally knocking it out of the park, William had a hard time congratulating the kid for a good game. He also would cry when he wouldn’t get the coveted “game ball” that went to, presumably, the best player that game. We started instilling in him to cheer for his teammates and now he’s gotten much better about saying “good game” to others after we’re done. We’ve also watched how often we talk about how good he is so he doesn’t get a big head. His new issue is telling other kids, “I’m the bestest hitter on the team,” which is actually not far off, but we don’t want him rubbing it in.

    Help out the coaches’ kids. For those kids whose dads are coaches, like William (my husband James is head coach and has been the whole time), there are some other issues to address. Whether you like it or not, standards are different for the coaches’ kids. In William’s case, he’s a real slugger. He’s been practicing so much and, as a lefty, he’s got a beautiful swing that can send a ball straight to a 5-year-old field’s fence. But he’s still 5 and he has his off days. For a time, he was upper-cutting, aiming for the sky, or more accurately, for it to go over the fence. Well, that just led to strike out after strike out. And disappointment from the coaches (dad) because in the batting cage he was a “monster,” but in the moment, he was a flop. He has since straightened out that swing and now aims (I hate to say it) for the coach who is pitching, which guarantees him a line drive and a chance to outrun the kids to first, or more often, third base. Because he’s faster than lightning. But he goofs off at short-stop sometimes and loses focus and that frustrates his dad, and I admit there are some games when I offer to take William home in my car to make sure he doesn’t get reamed too hard. Expectations are high when you know your kid’s true potential and disappointment is also high when your kid doesn’t meet that potential.

Since the disastrous fall ball, us parents have pretty much taught the kids that it’s OK to lose if you give it your all. And, believe it or not, they’re actually getting it.

Our spring season is really clicking, with our team tied for first place right now with only one loss, but there’s still half a season left when the others can get much better – and so can we. So let’s play ball!

Cindy F. Crawford is the editor of a news publication in Birmingham, Ala., and the proud parent of two spirited young children.

Previous Posts By This Author: The Tribulations of Traveling With Small Children

My Kids Are Streakers

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