“You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy”.
We kicked off our Memorial Day weekend with a hastily arranged Little League baseball tournament. Each team was scheduled to play 3 games in order to claim a berth in the playoffs on Sunday – one game Friday night and two during the day on Saturday.
After an auspicious start on Friday, Hayden’s team ended up losing a 7-run lead in the bottom of the 5th inning (they play 6). The other team only had one run up on us though, so just as we all thought they could launch a comeback in the last inning, the game was called for time (it’s a 2 hour max). I don’t care what anyone says, losing sucks, especially like that.
Unfortunately, Hayden has a hard time letting go of a loss. The rest of the evening, he sequestered himself in his room and no one was allowed to speak of the game. I became aware of seriousness of this mandate when I made the mistake of making a comment about said game to our sitter. “I can HEAR you,” Hayden yelled from behind a closed door one floor above.
Saturday morning, Hayden was still stewing, but I pulled from my stores of “good sport” adages as we headed to the field and hoped for an attitudinal turn-around. During the first game, Hayden’s team beat their opponents handily, and I breathed a sigh of relief, but that relief didn’t last for long.
Because I am an A1 parent, I have this awesome iPhone picture of Hayden in action.
Going into Saturday’s second game, Hayden’s team had exhausted the pitch counts for all of their starting pitchers. Hayden, usually a closer, was selected to pitch the game. Immediately, he let the pressure get to him, and even though he struck out the first batter and threw several more strikes, he was rattled by a quick succession of hits by the next several batters. Technically, many of the “hits” resulted from some basic fielding errors by his teammates, but nonetheless, I could see the weight of frustration bearing heavily upon my son. His shoulders sagged, and he shook his head woefully before every pitch in a “What’s the use?” fashion. Even worse, every time the umpire called “ball,” Hayden would splay his hands out in disbelief. The more I watched, the more irritated I started to get. He was losing confidence – fast. He finished the inning by striking out the batter, but not before the other team had left the score 7-1.
When his team returned to their benches, I approached the chain link fence behind the dugout and found Hayden fighting back tears and griping about bad calls on the part of the ump. Summon Tiger Mom! Although I’m sure the last thing Hayden wanted was me giving him advice, I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let him go down like that. (P.S. I am positive that the moms of a lot of major leaguers would be doing the same thing if that doggone dugout wasn’t so darned inaccessible!!)
Don’t worry, I didn’t turn into Brooke Shields’ mother. All I said was this: “Change your attitude. You can do this. Every time you shake your head, you are giving your confidence away to the other team and letting them have it. Don’t start blaming people. Suck it up, hold your head up, and do your job.” Honestly, I don’t care about winning so much, but I sure as heck care about attitude, commitment, effort, and seeing a task through to the end…even if it’s hard.
Hopefully, I didn’t come off as a jerk, but nothing irks me more than a poor sport…or a quitter. There’s one kid on the team that goes totally Carlos Zambrano when he’s not doing well – helmet throwing, bat chucking, refusal to shake the other team’s hands, talking back to the coach…ugly stuff. This kid is a good player, but when he pulls that routine, he lets everyone know that it doesn’t take much to throw him off his game. Not to mention, the reputation that precedes him is that of a poor sport rather than a talented player. When you make it obvious that your confidence has been rattled, you give away your power.
I have no idea if it was my pep talk (pfft – of course it was!!) or whether Hayden just wanted to avoid me coming over to the dugout again, but for the rest of the game, he was an Easter Island statue. Whether he struck someone out, tossed a dud, or let someone get on base, he stood up straight and focused on his job. After that tenuous 1st inning, Hayden didn’t let another run score. In fact, at his next at-bat, he smacked a stand-up double all the way to the fence (which is saying a lot – Hayden has the physique of a stick figure). The rest of his team pulled it together too. His teammates hit AND fielded like the real NY Yankees, snatching a 7-1 advantage from the other team for a 9-7 win. The other team was actually stunned.
Later on in the car, I talked a little more with Hayden about attitude. The best pitcher on his team is tall, gangly, wears glasses, and looks more like this:
He has some real talent, but I swear to you, it’s his confidence on the mound, no matter what the score is, that makes batters fear him. Any kid in the league – including my son and his teammates – will tell you that they are scared to go up against him. He morphs into a beast once that ball is put in his hand.
Anyway, this sports thing has been tough. My kids all have different personalities and different attitudes about winning and losing, so the same lessons don’t apply across the board. Eliza scored two goals yesterday and her team won their first soccer game in TWO YEARS. She was excited, but no more so than after any other game – that’s just Eliza, she’s just happy to be playing. Weston used to be one of those on-field tantrum throwers, but we didn’t let that go on for long. Now, the threat of losing propels him forward, and he turns his frustration into motivation. Rob said that the same kid kept pushing Weston, and he could tell that Wes was on the verge of blowing, but instead, he turned around and smashed the ball into the goal. He will not be undersold. He’s the opposite of Hayden – it kills him if he thinks anyone believes for even one second that he or his team can be beaten.
Hayden’s team ended up being one of the 4 teams scheduled to be in the playoffs today, but of course, our awesome weather served up an entire day of hardcore thunderstorms and it was all called off. So now we’ll never know how it would have ended. (We coulda been a contenda!!) That was okay by me, though. I’m trying to find the inspirational words to tackle my greatest opponent: the post-game laundry pile.
Sports uniforms are the “Groundhog Day” of laundry.