My son’s team played a game this past weekend which reminded me why it has always been important to me my children play team sports. It wasn’t the result (they won) or how my son played (not his best game) or how the game unfolded (a tight battle until they slowly pulled away). It was the fact the adults got out of the way and let the kids play. And play they did.
The pitchers pitched. Not pitches resembling something out of arc league softball but actual pitches. And while there were lots of strikeouts, a funny thing happened with the better pitching. Kids on both teams swung the bat and made more contact than we’ve seen all year long.
And then they made plays. Not all the plays, they’re only nine-years-old after all, but a lot of plays. Their third baseman made an over-the-shoulder backhand grab on the edge of the outfield of a ball my son hit with the bases loaded and two-out which would have blown the game wide open. And another kid on their team dropped a pop-up but still had the wherewithal to pick it up and throw it to second to get the runner who was on first. And we made plays – a two-out bases loaded come backer to get of a jam and a 5-to-4 get the lead runner play to shut down another inning.
And when the potential for controversy reared its ugly head when our first baseman dropped a ball thrown to him after making a great stretch which the umpire missed, it was over before it could even start when the opposing coach yelled out “nice play!” Hats off to him.
In winning, my son’s team clinched first place for the regular season and to watch them emulate their heroes with the pitcher and catcher jumping into each other’s arms to celebrate and then quickly stop and lineup to shake hands was to be reminded about all that is good about youth sports. Because isn’t one of the things we cherish about them playing is that it teaches our children about winning and losing and how to handle both.
The other coach is a good friend who played baseball in college. We often discuss the crazy things we’ve seen this year and debate whether having played in college provides a perspective that makes it a bit easier to remember they’re just little kids playing a game. The thing we always agree on is knowing the game is pivotal as a coach.
I knew he wouldn’t react to the out call on the dropped ball at first. And I knew that meant that the coaches could get out of the kids’ way.
To paraphrase Skip, they threw the ball, they hit the ball and they caught the ball. The game was a pleasure to coach and an even greater joy to watch. It’s amazing what can happen the kids are just left to play ball.