He Finally Hit The Ball!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

I signed Abraham up for the Old Brooklyn Youth League tee-ball league back in April. Due to an en­roll­ment mix-up he got put into a coach-pitch soft­ball team in­stead. More than a lit­tle bit out of his league. He’s been strug­gling a bit with the gross mo­tor de­mands and fo­cus nec­es­sary to play on the team, but he’s just barely 6, so no one re­ally cares — ex­cept for him. He’s been fight­ing against it be­cause sports aren’t very fun when you’re no good at them. It’s the same whin­ing I dealt with ear­lier in the year with re­gard to writ­ing. He just wants to not do it be­cause it is hard. He hasn’t yet in­ter­nal­ized that the more you prac­tice the less hard things be­come. So play­ing catch or bat­ting prac­tice have been more men­tal strug­gles than phys­i­cal ones.

The biggest ob­sta­cle for him has been hit­ting the ball. It’s not easy. Each time he’s been up to bat and struck out 123, he’s got­ten more and more down­cast. He struck out on his first at bat and didn’t want to leave. He wanted to keep swing­ing. His next at bat he de­cided to go out there left-handed, and his coach let him. Lo, and be­hold, he knocked a ball foul and ran to first base! He was so ex­cited. And then crushed and not un­der­stand­ing why he had to go back to the box. He re­fused to leave first, be­cause he’d earned that base, by gum! Then both teams & the spec­ta­tors be­gan cheer­ing for him and en­cour­ag­ing him to go back and swing again.  Of course, he struck out again, but every­one let him run the bases any­way. It was a great change. He was so happy, and started singing “I Love Baseball!”

The en­cour­age­ment from the coaches, both teams, and all the spec­ta­tors made me cry. I’m glad I was wear­ing sun­glasses. This league is about as non-com­pet­i­tive as you can get, all of the adults are fo­cused on mak­ing sure the kids have fun and learn about good sports­man­ship, ca­ma­raderie, and how to play the game.

Tonight when I put Abraham to sleep he said: “When we get up to­mor­row morn­ing, can we prac­tice base­ball?”

Sportsmanship

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

I’ve pretty much al­ways not been good at sports. This holds true de­spite the fact that I have a huge NCAA Championship ring that I’m al­ler­gic to wear­ing. In Little League I played left field and chased but­ter­flies out of bore­dom. I had no idea about the cor­rect tim­ing to hit the ball. Elementary bas­ket­ball was sim­i­lar. Instead of steal­ing the ball, I asked if I could please have it. I was the tall kid, but had no hops, and no ag­gres­sive streak. I was okay at golf, but out­grew my clubs. In Junior High and High School I ran. I was the slow guy.

In col­lege I walked on to the fenc­ing team, worked my ass off, and mostly due to the ben­e­fits of hav­ing team­mates of world class, Olympic cal­iber, was good enough to beat those op­po­nents who didn’t have the op­por­tu­ni­ties and ac­cess that I had.

I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered my­self more co­op­er­a­tive than com­pet­i­tive. I still am, but I’ve come to a dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing about what it means to be com­pet­i­tive. I used to think be­ing com­pet­i­tive meant get­ting re­ally up­set at los­ing; want­ing to win so badly that los­ing is anath­ema. I think I’ve re­al­ized where I (and other folks) have gone wrong. Being com­pet­i­tive can also mean rev­el­ing in the com­pe­ti­tion, no mat­ter what the out­come. Sounds like a ra­tio­nal­iza­tion from a guy who’s used to los­ing, right?

What keeps me in the game then, if I’m such a loser? It’s the com­pe­ti­tion, the striv­ing, the test­ing, stu­pid! I en­joy it. Trying to win does not mean hav­ing to win. The mind­set is sort of zen with a lower-case z. Would you rather be com­pet­i­tive as a test of your own abil­ity or that of your team’s, or be com­pet­i­tive be­cause you en­joy beat­ing your op­po­nent? If the lat­ter, why is beat­ing your op­po­nent so im­por­tant? Answer that ques­tion and you’ll know what fu­els your com­pet­i­tive streak.

I’ve pretty much al­ways been good at trash talk. I’m mouthy. I’ve been known to play games with my own goals in mind. I used to play chess by try­ing to see how many pieces I could take be­fore los­ing. I used to have a Magic: The Gathering deck which could pretty much not ever win, but would make the process of win­ning as ab­solutely mis­er­able and drawn out for my op­po­nent as pos­si­ble. The sadis­tic psy­chol­ogy of com­pe­ti­tion lives in this kind of trash talk, and asym­met­ri­cal strate­gies. But like the two types of com­pet­i­tive­ness I’ve cre­ated, there’s an­other type of trash talk, too; sports­man­ship.

What?

Taking the high road is al­ways a win. My friend Chas is a huge Pitt fan. Being a Domer my­self, we’ve got an un­der­stand­able ri­valry. Chas loves to talk smack. I’ve not talked to him in a few years, but it used to drive him ab­solutely crazy that I wouldn’t rise to his bait, and would in­stead com­pli­ment Pitt whether they won or lost. Graciousness and class can be just as ef­fec­tive at un­set­tling your op­po­nent as any­thing else.

I guess this boils down to the fol­low­ing: The stereo­typ­i­cal com­pet­i­tive streak, and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing trash talk & other be­hav­iors seem to re­flect such a strong need to win, there’s got to be some lack dri­ving it. For folks who just re­joice in sport, how­ever, win­ning and trash-talk­ing aren’t nec­es­sary (al­though both are quite fun in dif­fer­ent ways), just be­ing in a po­si­tion to strive, and hav­ing the abil­ity to do so is enough. At the same time, that zen-with-a-small-z state of mind can be just as ef­fec­tive a tac­tic as telling your op­po­nent that you’re sleep­ing with his girl­friend.