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Who’s the Winner? Who’s the Loser?

One night in May, my son’s baseball team was playing another team.  We had friends over to watch the game.  It was a pretty close game.  The parents on both sides were cheering their respective teams.  There were plenty of close plays and (being Little League) enough errors to wrench the gut of any coach.  At the end of the game, however, the score was higher for my son’s team than for our opponents.  “Hoorah!  We won!”

Our company for the evening came back to our home for a visit.  In discussing the game, my friend told me that while getting into his car, he happened to see one of the boys from the other team with his father.  The father from the other team was yelling and hollering at his son.  He was telling him that he didn’t play well, that he didn’t try hard enough.  In general, he was reaming him out.

Apparently, after they got in the car, the man was waving his arms so much that his son was holding up his arms as if to defend himself.  My friend couldn’t tell if the man was actually hitting the boy or just being “violently expressive.”  It made my friend angry to see the way this parent treated his child.

All over a game.

Not a World Series Championship at that, but just a normal run-of-the-mill season game.  Plenty of those to go around, folks.

Oh, did I mention that this was in a seven year old league?

The world is full of examples.  Some of them are good; some of them are classic bad examples.  In the spirit of learning, it is good to occasionally observe a bad example just to keep one’s edge.  From my perspective, this father made several grave errors which are worth NOT repeating.

First, he forgot the big picture.  Spring Little League is not about crushing anyone.  It’s about player development.  Now, it’s not always apparent by the way the adults act, but it’s still true.  One coach told me his perspective a while back:  “It doesn’t really count until you step onto a varsity field.”  Agree or disagree with that statement, you have to still allow for the general truth that seven year old children shouldn’t be made to feel as if the doom of the universe hangs on their next at bat.  Parents who forget the big picture fall into a lot of pits very easily, because they lose sight of the goal:  “I want my child to simply get better at something this season.”  Does your child bat like a pro?  Great.  There’s still room for improvement.  Ask Michael Jordan when he was in his prime.  Does your child always get put in the not-so-admirable positions?  He can still learn to play that position WELL.  And he can use every opportunity to throw, catch or swing to get a little better.  My son got put in the outfield consistently one season.  We worked on his throwing arm and his accuracy to get the ball to the right spot.

Second, this parent forgot his role:  protector.  Instead of acting like the big bear of a guy who is willing to tackle the world to rescue his child, he became the aggressor AGAINST his son.  It’s hard to find words less painful than “senseless” or “idiotic” to describe this behavior.  Maybe he had a bad day.  So what?  That’s no excuse for taking it out on the seven year old kid.  Maybe he’s divorced.  So what?  That’s no excuse for taking it out on his son.  Maybe he just got laid off and has bills piling up.  So what?  Keep piling up the excuses, and the answer is still the same.  “So what?”  You’re a parent.  You’re supposed to protect your children FROM the world.  There are plenty of people out there who are only too eager to make your child feel worthless and useless.  Don’t let it happen.  And certainly do NOT be a prime participant in the destruction of your child’s self-understanding.

Third, he gave such a fine example of childish behavior over — a game?  Really?  It is a game.  Even the World Series at the adult level is, in the end, no more than a game.  There are plenty of people suffering and dying every day over real issues.  Baseball?  Come on.  It’s a sport.  It’s RECREATION.  It’s supposed to be fun.  Parents have the opportunity to teach children how to put their life experiences into the proper categories.  When parents blow small things out of proportion, it can only confuse our children — or make them bitter.

Fourth, he seems to have been guilty of that old trap of trying to live out a dream through his child.  Yeah, I know there are plenty of men AND women out there shaking the fences and yelling at umpires because they never got drafted by the Dodgers themselves.  “If only I were out there, I’d sure show them.”  Well, I suppose that you would, being an adult and them being only seven year old kids.  But your time is over.  This is about an opportunity for your child to grow.  Butt out.  Let Johnny and Sally play their own game, make their own mistakes and learn how to play on a team without you telling them everything that you could do better.

Finally, this parent forgot the second life rule:  to love people.  Likely his son felt bad enough being on the losing team.  His coach might have already chewed out the team.  He needed a warm hug and a kind word.  I’ve told my children consistently throughout their various sporting involvements that they have our love.  After this issue occurred, I sat my seven year old son down and briefly described to him what my friend had seen.  I reminded him that at his next game, if he struck out every time, and if he missed every ball that came to him, and if he threw a ball so wildly that the other team won because of his error, that I would still love him just as much as when he hits for a double, throws someone out or makes a clutch play.  He reckoned that his coach would yell at him.  Maybe so.  But that’s a coach’s job, not the parent’s job.

I know.  It’s easy to say that after they’ve won.  But we say it after they lose, too.  Because our children are winners in our eyes.  We don’t believe that a game should define their sense of value or self-understanding.  That belongs to God.

And anyone who doesn’t teach their child that is a loser.  They’ve lost the plot.  And they will lose their child’s heart.

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