For Everyone Who Worries About The Kids In Their Lives Who Worry

Friday, June 25, 2010

Play Ball!

Brandon's last baseball game for the season is tomorrow. I really feel that he has been blessed with great coaches. They really have been helping the kids to learn the game. Every practice and every game is about learning to hit, field, play different positions, and be a team player. The kids are taught to root for each other and to appreciate the successes of their teammates as well as the members of the opposing team. Most importantly, they are encouraged to have fun. And isn't that they way it should be for a team of six and seven year old boys?

Maybe. But that is not always the case. I have heard stories from other parents of kids Brandon's age, where the team is already more about winning and not so much about learning and loving the game. On those teams, only the best players are allowed to try playing any of the bases or infield positions. Kids are yelled at during games for making mistakes instead of being taught what the play should have been. And practices are all scrimmages instead of opportunities to learn and practice new skills.

Competition and the emphasis on winning seems to be coming into our kids lives earlier and earlier. I don't remember playing competitive organized sports until I was at least 8 or 9. Now it seems that if you don't start your kids playing soccer, baseball, basketball, or another sport by age 3, they will be left behind everyone else later on. 3? Really? Not only is the pressure to start your kids earlier felt by many parents, but also the pressure to have your child choose one sport to focus on at an early age. Sports aren't just one season anymore. Most sports can play year round. Fall soccer, indoor soccer, spring soccer, travel soccer, soccer camp. Spring baseball, fall ball, batting clinics, baseball camps. Try having your child participate in more than one sport a season! The schedule can be overwhelming!

Brandon played soccer at age 3 and started baseball at age 5. But like I said, we have been very lucky that he has had wonderful coaches who have focused on teaching and building his skills rather then on winning a game. But as he is getting older, I know that the focus is going to switch from playing to learn to playing to win. And I can't help but wonder what kind of anxieties that will bring for both my son and for me!

Looking back at my childhood and how I dealt with competition, I know that I couldn't stand it! I avoided it as much as possible. From team sports to friendly board games, I was not one who liked to compete. But was it because of my own anxieties or because of the external pressure to win and be the best? For me, I would have to say it was my own worries about making mistakes. I don't think it would have mattered if my softball coach focused on building every member's self-esteem and having fun, or if she emphasized winning as the main goal. My pressure came from within. I didn't want to make a mistake in front of everyone. I was afraid to blow the game for my teammates. No external pressure needed. I had plenty of my own to go around! Even when people praised me for a great hit, an award won, or an A+ report card, that didn't make me more confident. If anything it made me more worried about being as successful the next time. My perfectionism made me feel as if I had such a high standard to always live up to.

I guess my own experiences confuse me on what to believe in regards to competition in my children's lives. How much competition is good and how much is too much? How do I teach them to handle the wins and the losses? At what age is competition more helpful than harmful? We have all seen the shift for our kids in schools and activities where now everyone is a winner. Everyone in field day gets an award. No one gets out in musical chairs. When you are left without a chair, you get a treat instead. All students get a prize after the read-a-thon is done, even those who didn't read. No score is kept at a rookie baseball game. Everyone is a winner. Well, that is what the adults think anyway. But in reality, the kids all determine for themselves who was the fastest runner at field day, who got the last chair left in musical chairs, and which team scored the most runs and won the baseball game. Kind of like putting kids into reading groups labeled blue jays and red robins. Every kid always knew which group was the most advanced.

So which is better? Making everyone a winner so no one's feelings are hurt or teaching kids that there will be competitions in which there are winners and losers throughout their lives? Maybe the answer is a little bit of both. Personally, I don't think a child at age 6 needs to be pressured to win a game they are just learning how to play. But from experience, I know that many of those kids will place the pressure on themselves anyway.

Then maybe the real question is how do we help our kids deal with competition. With winning sometimes and losing other times. And with not being so hard on themselves that it deters them to want to compete in the first place. For my answer, I try and look back at what would have helped me as a kid to be less anxious about competing and more motivated to just do my best and have fun. Maybe if I was praised more for my efforts rather than the end result, I would have wanted to keep up my efforts without feeling that the end result was what I had to always be successful at? I went to competitive catholic schools, and the emphasis was always on the grade. We were even ranked on our report card and given a number as to where we fell in comparison to all of our classmates. I was a good student, so I achieved many perfect report cards, test scores, and grades. My teachers and parents were very proud of me and never needed to push me or pressure me to do well, but the praise was always for the grade. The hard work put into those grades was not always recognized. I wonder if more emphasis were to be put on the effort - the work involved in getting the A, the home run, or the 9.9 on beam - children would take more pride in the work they put into winning rather than the win itself. Then they would feel successful and confident in their abilities whether they win or lose.

Once again, it comes down to balance. While I want my kids to enjoy what they do and learn and have fun, I also want them to learn to deal with competition in all areas of their lives. I don't want them to run away from it in fear of not being perfect, but embrace the challenge, put their best efforts into it, and then let go of the outcome knowing that they did everything they could at that moment. I want them to always feel proud of themselves and confident in their abilities when they do their best.

Who knows? Maybe if they learn to appreciate the journey rather than the destination, they can teach me how to enjoy a game of pictionary or balderdash every now and then!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

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