I have to say–I love kids sports. My friend has a kid that plays little league baseball and she can tell a story better than almost anyone I know. So when she tells me stories of her son’s games and practices, I’m hooked–on a couple of levels.
She told me the other day how her son was “caught” between second and third as the two basemen threw the ball back and forth in the hopes of catching it, rendering him, of course, out. As her son slid into third, the third baseman caught the ball…and then dropped it. But it was too late! The umpire called him OUT! The third out! That call cost them the game! Even though the umpire admitted he was wrong, the kids had already left the field, accepting their undeserved defeat. Wait…accepting their undeserved defeat?
Her son is lucky–he has a mom that roots for HIM. He’s nine years old and doesn’t really contemplate his mother’s dedication, her tireless, sideline cheering, or that she and her husband spend nearly all of their free time at a practice or game. But her audible encouragement at a game solidifies her devotion in terms he can understand. Fresh air and exercise are, of course, easily obtainable and valuable by products of kids baseball, as well. Their hands are given the opportunity to uncramp from the use of game controllers and texting. They are also given the tremendous opportunity to learn team work, build friendships, and discover how to lose gracefully and win humbly.
But what happens when the team does everything right, but still loses because the umpire called a play too quickly? Should the kids have stayed on the field and demanded he re-evaluate his decision? Should the parents adamently request he somehow make it up to them? It’s tempting for any mom or dad to jump to the defense of the players–they did nothing wrong. How dare the title of winner be so callously stolen. The best course of action appears to be inaction, in this case. The adage, you win some, you lose some takes on a whole new meaning when the losers should have won.
We teach our kids that when your team loses, you shake the hand of the other team. When you win, you don’t brag. But now you have yet another learning opportunity…teaching them to lose when they should have won. As adults, that still appears to be a rather herculean lesson to grasp. “I should have gotten that promotion…I worked so hard for it, but they gave it to someone else.” “I love my daughter with all my heart…yet she still resents me…” I worked at my job for fifteen years, and got laid off…” “I put all my strength, soul, and determination into my marriage, yet it still failed.” “I ate right and exercised, yet I got diagnosed with cancer…” When the child’s team lost, his mom couldn’t tell him to try harder. She couldn’t tell him better luck next time. She had to tell him he did nothing wrong; that he lost because of someone else’s bad call. So what do we do when that happens? Do we plead our case to the offending coach or umpire? Do we quit the job? Our kid? Dating in the hopes of finding a suitable life partner? Or do we do as the poet Anis Mogjani tells us to do: Shake the Dust. Do real winners dust themselves off, look the offender in the eye and say…I gave it my best, your call was bad…but I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.” Patience and endurance will prevail, but that is a difficult endeavor. Life lessons, by their very nature, are, well…hard. They may require us to be smaller in order to be bigger. Perhaps we must be quiet in order to be heard. They mandate that we are humble in order to be proud. And they very often obligate us to be weak in order to be strong.
It’s those life lessons that force us to accept a stark and maddening injustice in all its twisted, ugly, blatant unfairness…and turn it around to a clear, bright, wisdom that all too often can be toughest to learn. Yep …I do love kids sports…
©Mary Flanagan Taylor June 11, 2010