I’m almost reticent to admit this in public, but I’m not one of those parents that agree with the whole ideal that children’s sports should be non-competitive. Everybody wins, everyone gets a trophy, and everyone feels good. Nope, I think you learn by working with your team really hard, and trying your best... and then when you win it means something and you also learn that there are worse things than losing. I know, I suck.
And it’s not that I want to see kids feeling bad. I have kids. It rips my heart out when they get thrown out at a base or can’t hit the ball, especially when they get upset enough to cry over it. Here’s the thing, those little lessons and disappointments in childhood help strengthen us for the bigger ones down the road. We learn to cope by experience – we learn more than that, but I’m simplifying for the moment.
Littlest guy plays baseball. This is his third year playing and he was really looking forward to it. He loved tee-ball and the league he was in last year, and when it came time to get him new cleats and a big guy mitt... well, man, he was pumped. My older son plays football, and all fall the football dads were asking littlest guy if he’d be playing football next year. He always said, “Nope. I play baseball!” That’s his game, the one he likes and the one he picked.
Well, this year it’s kid pitch. Slightly different from last year, where the coach lobbed meatballs over the plate, and if you couldn’t hit one of those, they let you hit off a tee. This year, there’s another seven year old on the pitching mound, and he may just be seven but he’s throwing as hard as he can... and seven year olds don’t always have good aim.
Littlest guy got beaned his first time up. I know, I gasped, too. He wasn’t really hurt just startled... but startled turned into scared. For the next two practices and one game, he was so afraid of getting hit again that he struck out every he was up – and every time he struck out he was so upset that he cried. His dad took him out to the backyard and taught him how to jump out of the way using wiffle balls, so he wasn’t afraid of the drill... but still, for those first two weeks, he didn’t like baseball so much anymore. And it wasn’t that he didn’t like the sport. It was that he didn’t like striking out. It was the failure, not the game.
We talked about it before his next practice, and I told him I didn’t care if he got a hit or not as long as he did his best. But I also told him not to think about the parts he doesn’t like, think instead about the parts he does... He likes fielding – he loves playing any of the base positions and he likes catching and knowing which base to throw the ball to.
So what happened? As he explained to anyone in ear-shot, “I caught not one but four balls! In the air! Without them even touching the ground!”
I love the way he explains it.... in the same tone he might use to say he saved twelve people from a runaway train. But suddenly he was having fun... and of course, in his next game, he got a hit.
You should have seen him. He got to first base, realized he was safe, and jumped up and down on the base, clapping his hands like mad. Then, after about three minutes of cheering for himself, he found me in the stands, yelled “Mom!!!!” and gave me two thumbs up.
That one hit was enough to get him over the fear... it’s fun again.
So this brings me to writing, because I think underneath, we’re not so different from our seven year old selves. Writing means striking out a hell of a lot. But I think for me, I’ve been concentrating on the fielding – okay, enough baseball metaphors. I’ve been working on the end of things I can control – the writing. Playing with my voice and the way I use it. Working on a new wip and working with a few beta readers... well, a lot of things, but it’s the stuff I enjoy as much as it is the stuff I’m improving. For me, the hard part is the query letters and rejections. It hasn’t made me cry yet, but it has made me take a long break from submissions. Because I’m still writing, it doesn’t feel so much like caving... but let’s get real here, if I’m not submitting, all that writing doesn’t amount to a hell of a lot, does it?
How about you guys? How do you get over the parts that are hard and keep pushing?