Being a baseball parent is having an invitation into a special club. I’m sure there are soccer parents, scout parents, dance parents, etc. that feel like they have their own special club too. You lose a little of your own identity and become the parent that is supporting his/her child. With baseball, you leave the house with a car full of chairs, coolers, blankets, warmer clothes (for Fall and Spring ball), sunscreen, etc. For travel baseball, you may include 2 meals worth and a pop-up tent for the sun-scorching days. If you have more than one kid that plays, you could spend all day at one set of ball fields. Or all day dividing and conquering the various fields so all of your children are being supported. When you see other “baseball parents”, you wave, give a knowing nod and stop to chat, catching up on the trials and tribulations of your child’s season and very often ending up with trying to schedule time “after baseball season” to go out for drinks. The parents you hang out with on your kid’s team become part of your tribe, and you become part of theirs. Especially as travel baseball begins and the time spent at the fields increases, all while the competition and stress grow exponentially.
Since my wife and I were both pretty competitive athletes our entire lives, including through college, we thought we knew a thing or two about being sport parents. We have learned A LOT since we’ve started this journey and I can imagine we’re on a path to learning a lot more.
Our 10-year-old loves baseball. That’s his main sport right now. He’s going to work on some other sports throughout the year after this Fall, but he’s played baseball steadily for the past 2 years and has played 2 summers in a travel “all-star” type league (Cal Ripken). It’s during those summer travel seasons, we’ve learned the most. This summer, in particular, definitely brought some of these lessons clearly to the forefront….
Let him struggle.
We can’t control the ups and the downs on the field. Andrew started his season with an over-the-fence homerun at his first at bat. He hit 1.000 in the first 3 games and had a .600 average after almost 15 plate appearances. He ended his season with 3 hits in his last 30 plate appearances. This is baseball. He struggled with confidence, he made some boneheaded base running errors at times (he prides himself on being a base stealer) and got burned a few times in center field. I can’t help him fix it. He has to take his lumps for the errors and learn how to rebound in the slumps.
He’s going to have to learn to “Plan B it” and be flexible.
He’s not going to always get the uniform number he wants. He won’t just be handed the position he wants to play, he will need to play the position his team needs him to play. Things may not go as planned in the game, in the play, or in the moment. He’s going to have to learn how to adjust and find a “work around”. This is the closest thing to our day-to-day world off the field and he has to learn how to handle change and adjusting plans.
Lose like you have class and win like you’ve been there. Things can really suck sometimes, but throwing your helmet and kicking a wall don’t fix anything and can definitely have more consequences than it’s worth. Learn how to lose with your head up. Learn how to win with class – remembering that you’ve been on the losing end and didn’t like the feeling when the winning team “over-celebrated”.
You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control how you respond to them.
Even in 10U baseball, we’ve encountered obnoxious fans, some heated and uncool coaches and (far more rare) some unsportsmanlike behavior from kids. Our kids have been rattled but have learned to not respond. The next trick is getting them to ignore and not let it sink into their heads. They will encounter annoying fans, siblings, classmates, coworkers, bosses, etc. as they grow and hopefully the lessons they learn on the field to stay focused and strong will stick with them.
Accountability versus blame.
Things will go wrong. It is so. damn. easy. to blame someone else when things go wrong, the umps, the other coaches, the fans, the weather, your coach, your teammates, etc. What’s harder is holding back the blame and seeing where accountability exists, lessons can be learned and empathy can be reached.
This time will be over before we know it.
I want to whine about the driving to games and sometimes sitting at the fields for 10 hours between the boys. But I know that Andrew will be off to college in 8 years. I know that in 10 years, I’ll be wondering how this time flew by. And I will miss this all.
Be okay with not being #1 in the world.
I think my son is a decent ball player for where we are right now, but I’m pretty damn sure he’s not the next Derek Jeter. It would be quite wonderful if he got a full ride to pay for college, but that is probably far from our reality. I’d love to see him hit a homerun at least once a game and it would be great if he never lost – you know, sunshine and rainbows on the baseball field. But that’s not how baseball (or life) works. This kid has endured 3 in-house seasons where they have won 1 game or even less. He’s learning how to lose, how to find his strengths and work on the weaknesses while not thinking he’s the best player in the entire world.
I’m his mom, not his coach.
I really want to talk to him about watching that 3rd strike go by. I want to replay the moment with him when he should have backed up 2nd base but he wasn’t there. I want to talk through parts of the game that were great and those that weren’t. But that’s not what he needs from me. He needs his mom to tousle his hair, hand him a granola bar and an Arnold Palmer and tell him it was a fun game to watch. And when he does want to decompress, I’m trying to just listen.
There will be success and joy and glory and pure euphoria when the magical things happen. There will be heartbreak and pain and disappointment when things don’t go your way. There will be all of those feelings in one single game. We had one awful game this season that would have secured our spot in the state tournament. We were up 5-0 in the bottom of the final inning and we just let it all slip away, one run after another, one error or misstep after another. It was heart wrenching. Maybe not as hard as a fatal tragedy, but as a sports parent, we had our hearts trampled on. The coaches were broken. The kids were broken. The parents were broken. We spent the rest of the season trying to mend that brokenness. Sometimes, the kids mumbled about wanting to give up, others really put their heads down and lumbered on. Andrew wanted to quit in the tears following that game. A good cry and some mature talking points later, he kept on moving forward.
This is baseball.
This is life.
These are those lessons that maybe learned on a field when you’re 10 will give you a little something for the heartbreaks at 20 and 30 and beyond. And for me, this is my time to let him go out into the world (even if that world is just the size of a baseball field) and let him just be his independent self, learning his own lessons, taking his own lumps and rebounding by himself. But staying close enough to be right there when he does even truly need me.