But behind that veneer of shiny hopes for glory, the truth is that no matter what happens my kids have already won. It sounds cliché, but you see, each of my boys were lucky enough to have been drafted by coaches who understand that it is more important for kids to have an experience of growth, grit and of being part of something bigger than themselves than to win at any cost.
Don’t think that these are coaches who were coddling, praise gushing softies; that would be very misleading. There were lots of examples of yelling, muffled explicatives, and baseball caps thrown into the dirt. What made these teams special is that the coaches got the balance right.
There’s a fine line between the crazy ranting coach that the kids are scared of and the one who is so soft it feels more like a play date in the sandbox than a game on a baseball diamond. There are plenty of leagues, especially here in Marin, that don’t keep score and pass out trophies to every child on every team (don’t get me started on how this can squash intrinsic motivation, that’s another topic for another day). But on the other side of the ref’s coin, even at this early age these games can get very intense. Yet even with the occasional outburst, our coaches always followed up on their rant with a focus on what was right and what could be improved next time. Their focus was never on achievement, always on effort.
Research tells us that one of the core ingredients of success and motivation is a growth mind-set. Carol Dweck, Stanford Professor and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, states that individuals with a growth mindset understand that their talents and abilities are not innate, but can be developed through effort, good instruction, and persistence. Consciously or not, these coaches preached that fundamental baseball skills were developed, and that the kids who had higher batting averages weren’t naturally gifted, they had simply practiced more frequently and more consistently. In addition they fostered the kids’ internal locus of control by modeling things like never arguing with the umpire. It may have just been out of respect for league rules, but it modeled a really important lesson for the kids: don’t give up your control. If you’re arguing with the ump, you’re giving all your control away to an external factor. Instead, take on the task of doing it better and getting it right the next time.
In addition, growth mind-set individuals continue to work hard despite set-backs. The latter, referred to as grit by researcher Angela Lee Duckworth and her colleagues is a key factor in success and would be the reason for the final win for either of these teams. Neither one of my boys is playing on what you might call a “winning team”, but they are on what you’d call a fighting team and that gives them an edge in the post season. Why? Because these teams have struggled from being close to last place to now being close to first. They’ve fought back again and again in games they’ve almost lost and that gives them an advantage over the teams who have sat comfortably in first place since the beginning of the season. Duckworth’s research has demonstrated that the determining factors for success are perseverance, hard work and a drive to improve.
So, if you asked me to choose between a championship and the experience my boys have had this season, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second because they’ve learned lessons that will last a lifetime.