Thursday, May 26, 2016

On Coaching T-Ball and Expecting Too Much of Our Kids

“Stop the crying and man up!” 

That’s what I heard when I walked to the field for a recent T-Ball game. As tears fell down the face of one of our five-year old players, likely because he was tired or not in the mood to play baseball at 9 o'clock on a Saturday morning, the young boy's father decided more testosterone was needed. 

I hope this guy doesn’t catch a glimpse of our daughter giving me a quick hug as she walks to the plate. I wonder what he thinks when our son screams from first base, “Mommy, I love you!” 

Do they need to “man up?" 

As I have coached the Twinado’s first season of Little League, I have learned much:
  1. Kids are more interested in post-game snacks than in-game positioning.
  2. T-ball is more like art class than the Great American Pastime (I have seen some incredible on-field designs created by glove and cleat).
  3. If there is a hot air balloon floating in the distance, call timeout and let all the kids marvel for a few minutes. They aren’t paying attention to anything else anyway.
  4. Chauvinism starts young, preached by coaches whose doppelgängers I remember nearly thirty years ago. 
  5. Parental pressure for our kids to achieve and live up to social expectations begins now. Actually, it began yesterday and the day before that...
The pressures we place on our children and expectations we demand they live up to often have less to do with their well-being and more with our personal quests for validation and approval from other parents. Our children are our greatest immortality symbols:

“An immortality symbol is not really about the thing. It’s not about baseball. It’s not really about my child. It’s about the glory the thing bestows on me….Successful children are the ultimate glory in today’s Park District and Travel Team culture.  Children level the playing field.  Whether from blue money or new money or no money, each child represents real potential for glory in the here and now.  They are the ultimate extension of our selves.  If glory means covering for your seventh-grader, then so be it. Parenting is hard these days; perhaps it truly is, as the saying goes, today’s most competitive adult sport.” (David L. Goetz, Death by Suburb 42). 

That’s why the dad at the ball field wants his kid to man up.  The tears are an affront to his coveted symbol of immortality, a perceived sign of weakness in the sport of parenting. 

Children as immortality symbols can be the hidden rationale for wanting our son or daughter to win the Home Run Derby when they are five. Five!  And whenever I sign my kids up (or not) for Little League or dance or whatever other extracurricular activity, a quick self-reflection does me well. Is this "thing" about my glory or their well-being and the nurture of their personal interests? 

Sure, our kids may need an occasional nudge to try something new or finish an activity they started. We may even need to give an extra boost of encouragement when they don’t want to hit or play left field when it’s their turn. There’s also nothing wrong with a little competition. 

But our children must be set free to be the kids they were created to be, not the kids we wish we would have been. Their worth must not be reduced to how he or she stacks up to the next kid up to bat.  So enough with the verbal shaming, constant pressure, and unrealistic expectations of children; this will not result in model citizenship, accelerated athleticism, excellence in academics, or faithful discipleship.  This "old-school" method will not even result in coveted personal glory. Instead, our children as immortality symbols will merely lead them down the road of entitlement and angst as they are surrendered to a performance and approval-based narrative that makes them feel like they are never doing enough, not quite good enough, or that what they do only matters in so much as it is valued by another who claims to be their superior. 

I guess what I mean to say is, relax ball-field dad, mom, and whoever else sits on the sidelines. Let them be kids. Let them learn and fail and cry and express their frustration in ways appropriate to where they are developmentally. 

Let them play ball. Let them dig in the dirt a bit and even fill their gloves with rocks. 

As long as they are not in the line of fire when the little slugger steps to the plate.

But don’t ask him or her to "man up." 

What does that even mean anyway?