Maybe it is the adrenaline from competition. Maybe it is the desire to show his friends he can play. Maybe it is want of attention. Or maybe he just craves (needs?) the spotlight. My son’s demeanor has a linear relationship to the number of players at practice and an even stronger correlation to the number of people watching. Maybe he thinks he’s playing on the Lakers of the 1980s though I doubt he’s ever heard of Magic Johnson. Whatever it is, he needs an audience. He shines when he’s putting on a show.
It used to drive me nuts.
He doesn’t play fall baseball. Fall is soccer season, and I think fall baseball following a spring rec and a summer travel campaign is insane for nine-year-olds. Way too much, way too soon. From January through February though, we dust off the bat and the gloves with private lessons once a week. This year, I added a weekly winter session with seven other kids, most of whom played on my travel team. His approach to each is as different as night and day.
In the team setting, he is intent on trying to outperform his teammates. His focus is sharper. His intensity higher. He revels in the oohs and aahs they all shout whenever one of them smokes a baseball or makes the catcher’s glove pop.
During the private lesson, it’s a slightly different story. His lesson is divided into pitching drills, catching drills and hitting drills. Without fail, he will become lackadaisical and unfocused for one stretch of the hour. Usually, it’s with hitting. He’ll be swinging the bat well when suddenly he’s stepping out and lazily bringing the bat through the zone, popping up balls he is capable of driving.
There’s a fix, and it works every time.
Last week, his swings were so apathetic if you were seeing him for the first time you would have thought, “Poor kid. Yet another father believing his kid is the next coming, putting him in private lessons when the kid can’t play.”
His coach called over seven players from our local high who were hitting in the cages and told them my son had said he wanted to show the big boys how to hit. I told the high school kids to feel free to ride him. True to form, with all those eyes upon him, he started swinging the way he can, the way he does in a game. And he started smacking baseballs all over the place, pulling inside pitches down the line with some pop and stroking line drives the opposite way on outside pitches. The high schoolers hooted and hollered, telling my son he could be their starting catcher and he was better than this kid or that kid on their team which, of course, only made him up his game even more. They gave him an ovation when his little clinic was done. He even asked me who were the players the high schoolers said he was better than. Exactly the opposite message I had wanted.
This kind of stuff used to infuriate me. It shouldn’t require a spotlight for him to approach practice with the same intent with which he plays during the season. Practice is where players learn and the hard work happens. Then one day his instructor leaned over to me and said, “I bet you never have to worry about him losing focus in a game.” I thought about it and realized his coach was right. Game days he is ready to play. Always.
At nine years old, my son has a lot of growing, physical and mental, ahead of him. At some point, if it doesn’t click and he doesn’t change, his pattern will catch up with him. Hopefully, he will mature to understand he needs to be focused every time he puts on his cleats. I’ve never met a coach who doesn’t want no nonsense players who come ready to work. But we also don’t practice for practice’s sake. There’s so much to teach them at this age and prioritizing the teaching requires understanding what you can control and impact given his physical and mental maturity and looking at what he is achieving regardless of how he is getting there. Sometimes you have to look at the end results.
It doesn’t mean I won’t do my part to help him understand why he should be doing it the “right way.” But it’s a learning and a growing process and they happen at different speeds and at different times. Just as I don’t expect him to have mastered all the physical aspects of baseball, I can’t expect him to have sorted out how to motivate himself at all times and not just showtime. Hopefully, it all comes together for him somewhere farther on down the road. All my pushing and prodding isn’t going to change his path too much. At least not now. He’s a little kid. He’ll figure it out. Or he won’t.
Showtime or not, after one year of actual baseball (nothing against t-ball), he’s doing alright and getting better all the time. I really can’t ask for more.