Tears flooded his eyes. Dragging the bat behind him, my son walked back to the bench and sat down. Struck out. Again.
Baseball is a sport that can eat a kid up and spit him back out without a second thought. And knowing how to support our children as they navigate team sports is a difficult proposition for parents everywhere.
Watching my boy on that hard metal bench broke my momma-heart. No one patted him on his back. No coach came alongside him with a kind word or bit of advice. He wiped at his eyes with his dusty shirt and dug in his bag for a drink to help him swallow the lump in his throat. He was 6 years old.
How I wished for someone to offer a word of encouragement. The Apostle Paul wrote to the the Thessalonian church saying:
"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing" (1 Thess 5:11).
We are called to be people who encourage and build one another up, but is that what is happening?
I have sat at hundreds of games. I have watched my children participate in soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, track, volleyball, and cross country, and all the while I have done my best to cheer on their efforts and support their play. Sometimes, I sit in crowded stands with other parents who are all seeking to do the exact same thing. And sometimes, I do not.
Words carry power. We get to choose how we use them. I have watched parents scream at their children, berate them aloud, haul them off of fields and lecture them loudly while walking off to the car. I have seen little shoulders slump and eyes fill with tears and tantrums begin all while standing still, at bat.
As I watch and listen and try to do right, I want to remember that that child at bat is somebody’s baby. That child at bat is probably doing her best. Mistakes happen and we can learn and grow through those experiences. Our learning will be cut short if we are demeaned in the process. That child who dropped the fly ball, missed the pitch, walked the batter, or flubbed the play is the same sweet baby whose birth was celebrated, who was cheered on for walking, who learned to ride a bike, who still sits on his momma’s lap. Because even in the biggest game, that child is still a child.
I can encourage competition in a way that is joyful and fun and inspires the kids to perform to the best of their potential. After all, kids need to learn to compete. But it seems to me that there are more than enough folks urging kids forward and telling them what they need to do better the next time they are at bat. There are already enough critics in the world. So as I sit at games and watch kids play, I am going to remind myself that the kids are doing their best, that they want to succeed and that a kind voice saying, "just keep trying" may be just what they need. If a corrective is needed it will happen privately with compassion, not publicly causing humiliation.
Knowing how to encourage our children as they navigate team sports can be a very difficult thing. Until we look. Until we see. Until we remember what we surely know. Our children need us there to wipe their tears and acknowledge their efforts and cheer them on while they work it through. Even when they drop the ball.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster