My oldest grandson’s team was coached by my son-in-law. His assistant coach was my ex-son-in-law. At first I was very surprised by this seemingly odd-couple arrangement, but because they get along just fine and both dads were there to support my grandson, he was the real winner in all of this. Then again, maybe all of us were.
Now my son-in-law is a competitive guy. He loves sports and is an involved fan. With his team of 9 to 11 year old boys, he did what all coaches do: he taught them baseball skills. But mostly, and more importantly, he taught them to have fun and enjoy the game. At a time when there are too many fans or “bleacher coaches” criticizing or offering conflicting advice that tends to confuse kids or make them lose confidence, he was their cheerleader. He could often be heard telling them to “just have fun” to start the game, in between innings, and after a particularly frustrating at bat or a bad throw. But he also expected that they pay attention, challenge the other team by being aggressive on the bases, have a solid at-bat, and take care of the ball. When I noticed other coaches yelling, he was encouraging.
His team was not comprised of gifted athletes - in fact many were far from it – but together they could turn a bloop hit and an error into run after run. And they won. A lot. Of course there were a couple of games that they were just flat and didn’t play well or respond to my son-in-law’s encouragement or prodding, or pleading. They were kids after all… too much pool time, vacations, or forgetting to eat before the games. Who knows what was distracting them. But in both instances, they bounced back in the 2nd game (they played doubleheaders each night) to win, ending the night on a high note. Between games he would be frank with them about the kind of play that led to the defeat, at the same time showing them that a window of opportunity existed for them to rectify the loss by winning game 2. He talked with them, not at them. And he sat a few of them down when they didn’t respond with the right attitude. Did he get upset at times? Of course, he’s human just like everyone else, but he found other ways to vent or redirect and get back to being that coach who didn’t take it out on or blame the kids. He picked them up when they were down and puffed with pride when they did well, making them feel like stars. And as I watched this season unfold over the course of the last couple of months, I saw kids grow up, get better, find ways to succeed, and just have fun. I saw that in their coach too.
I think about the parallels of my grandson’s team to the Kansas City Royals success in recent years, and the dismal start they had in the first 2 months of this season. When they went to the World Series in 2014, they had so much fun coming from behind to win in so many games. No one believed it would finally happen when they broke a 30 year play-off drought. They had fun together and they didn’t let the losses get them down. Then in 2015, they won it all. Everyone was having fun. The voices of critics faded behind the roar of the fans and the Salvy splashes that greeted every hero at home game wins. Last season was marred by injuries, but we were still competitive. But what happened to the Royals to begin this season? Tragedy struck the team with the death of a beloved player in the off season. The rumor mill was flying because some players, whose contracts will expire at season’s end, were thought to be at the end of their playing time with the Royals. Adult issues, but distractions nonetheless. There was no joy in the clubhouse, in the stands, or in the Royals kingdom. They had forgotten how to have fun and enjoy the game. And then came June. A bloop hit, stolen base or two…and more home runs than usual, fueled some wins. The joy was back. The boys in blue and their fans were having fun again, enjoying the game, less concerned with personal statistics, and more concerned with doing what they needed to do to win. And guess what? They are winning. A lot. And these men who play a boys’ game are now just going out every day to just have fun.
I take two valuable lessons from these baseball stories. The first is the power of joy… enjoyment, having fun, and focusing on the possibilities rather than the problems. Those silver linings give us hope. Without hope, we have no future. Hope allows us to have forward thinking and to make plans and goals. As the saying goes, “The joy is in the journey.” Passion goes along with joy. Finding our passion for work or play makes it more meaningful and enjoyable. (This topic must really be resonating in my mind, as my last blog was about finding my joy in all the busy things I do!) Another quotable reminder is from Mark Twain to “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s easy to find fault and to focus on what is wrong. Shortcomings and errors are easily spotted and hard to “unsee.” But if we focus on the good and what is going well and find our joy, then we can fix those “wrongs” and make them right.
The second lesson is one of relationships. As a lifelong educator, we often remind ourselves that students “don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” By intentionally reaching out to others, and connecting with them in meaningful ways, we become part of their emotional and social network. Then the encouragement or feedback we offer becomes important and something they can hear and take in. My son-in-law did that with his team at practice and at games; telling them stories and a few jokes, making them laugh and feel comfortable, encouraging them when they made mistakes and cheering their successes. After that the skills he was teaching them became more meaningful. Funny how that works….when you help someone find their joy.
With the holiday weekend upon us, we will all be seeking to have fun with food, fireworks, family and friends. These are the good times when finding joy and just having fun is pretty easy to do. So as we go back to work after the 4th of July holiday, my son-in-law’s team will be headed to their season ending tournament, hopefully continuing the attitude of just having fun as they do their best work to accumulate those wins. He’s having a blast helping those boys be successful on the field and in life too. In the coming weeks, I hope you will find your joy and help someone else find theirs. What we do for others often enriches us more than it does the other person. So just have fun and find ways to enjoy this game of life!
PS – Happy Birthday to my son-in-law too! Thanks for reminding me that writing is one way that I can “just have fun.”