In the classic film, A League of Their Own, Manager Jimmy Dugan, a washed up, alcoholic, former major leaguer, is hired to manage a traveling women’s baseball team during World War Two. At the height of the movie, Dugan, played by Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, explodes on his right fielder for making a bad throw. She responds by bursting into tears, eliciting Dugan’s now famous rant: “ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!”
I’m no Jimmy Dugan. And I don’t coach baseball. But I learned one very important thing this afternoon…
There IS crying in SOFTball. A LOT of it…at least when you coach 10-12 year-old girls.
I’m not denigrating my team. I love these girls. And I may have learned more about leadership in one afternoon on the softball field than I did from all the speakers at the daylong leadership conference I attended the day before.
But there was a LOT of crying.
We got beat. 17-4. It was not pretty. It can’t be when you lose 17-4. But it was an incredible learning and growing experience…
I learned that there are a lot of parents who apparently derive their own sense of self-worth from the successes (or failures) of their children. I watched my third baseman make the RIGHT PLAY with a runner on 3rd, but because she did not make a good throw, her parents yelled at her that she should have made a different play…
Even though it would have been the wrong play to make.
My third baseman was in tears.
My catcher was in tears because she asked her mom to stop yelling about the misplays…to which the mom responded, “FINE! I’m never coming to another one of your games ever again!” before stomping off to the concession stand.
My catcher was in tears…
I saw my own daughter miss a couple of balls at first base. She tried…but she missed them.
She was in tears.
I saw a girl strike out, but she forgot to run when the catcher dropped the ball. You can run on a dropped third strike in softball. Everyone was yelling at her, she became confused…and burst into tears.
I saw my shortstop burst into tears of anger because the other team kept their best pitcher in the game for another inning, even after we were losing by 13 runs.
Yes, I saw a lot of crying in softball today.
But you know what else I saw?
I saw a catcher who fired up her team with motivating words when the score was getting out of control. I saw one of the youngest, and least experienced, players on the team start a rally by running as fast as she could to eke out an infield single. I saw the girls start to get excited as a few runs came across the plate. I saw a player hit a two-run double and stand on second base with her arms raised in triumph. I saw my own daughter make a couple of very nice plays at first base. And I saw a lot of the critical parents start to cheer.
What are we teaching our kids?
Are we teaching them that the only time to encourage them and root for them is when they are doing well? Are we instilling in them the idea that success, not honest effort, is the most important thing to be gained? Are we seeing our own failures in our children when they fail? Are we making it about OUR success, instead of about THEIR fun?
I used to be that way…When my kids would succeed, I felt like I had succeeded. And when they failed, I felt like I had failed. And no one wants to fail. So I would get mad at them because they had made me look bad. I took it personally when my son would lose a match in Tae Kwan Do, or when my kids would make a bad play or not run in soccer or baseball.
And then I started coaching kids’ softball.
And I came to realize that the kids just want to have fun. Most of them want to get better, hit the ball farther, run faster, and score more runs…but they mainly want to have fun. And we, as the adults, have made it all about winning.
I’m as guilty as every other parent.
After the game, I sat in a circle in the outfield with the team and we talked about the game. One of the girls suggested that we go around the circle and have each person say something good that one of the other players did during the game. It was a sweet time. Some of the girls were shy…some of them repeated what another player had said.
But they were a team. And they were encouraging one another.
I know that there are some parents who probably wish I was a more aggressive, “in your face” kind of coach. I question whether I need to be more hard-nosed. I hear the coaches of the other team yelling at their players, and I wonder if I’m not getting the best athletic performance out of my players because I’m not tougher with the players.
But one mom came up to me after the game was over-after all the players had left and I was shoving equipment into the bag, and she said six words that meant the world to me.
She said, “I’m so glad you’re their coach.” She emphasized the word “you’re.”
Being aggressive and “in your face?” That’s just not my personality. I am an encourager. I like to motivate people, and I like to help them recognize the situations that they are in so that they can plan their next steps.
And I’m okay with that.
There will be those people who are not fans of my coaching style…Most of those people are parents.
But when I took my third baseman by the shoulders, looked her in the eye and told her, “You made the right play. Don’t let anyone…ANYONE tell you otherwise,” she started to cry again.
Except this time, they were tears of relief.
And seeing her accept that was more important than winning a softball game will ever be.