Friday, May 01, 2009

Playing Ball

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?


spyscribbler said...

The best thing that happened to me playing piano, growing up, is that when you're up there on stage, you're going to have moments where you don't remember the next notes, everyone is looking at you, you're absolutely terrified, and you think the whole world is going to just END. You're certain you just won't survive.

But in the end, I learned to just keep going. I learned that no matter how bad things feel, you will always get through it, somehow.

I seriously can't teach that to my students. If they have ONE performance where they make a mistake and cry, parents will immediately quit or pull them from the studio. There's no waiting until the next recital to get back up again.

So while people always commend me on recitals where everyone is solid and prepared, and there are none of those awkward moments, I feel it's one of my failures as a teacher.

Merry Monteleone said...

My daughter was bereft that she made a mistake the first time she played piano for a talent show. She'd only been taking lessons for two months at the time. Her teacher told her "You know, no one else even noticed the mistake. If you just play through it, and have as much fun with it in front of people as you do at lessons, no one will care if you make a million mistakes - they enjoy it when the performer enjoys it."

I don't think the failure there is yours, I think it's the parents. You can't protect your kids from disappointment. Your job is to help them learn to overcome it. They might have squelched a world class concert pianist of the future by letting them quit the first time they were disappointed.

My daughter's been out of piano lessons for a year now, because she wanted to play percussion in the band and we only had time (and funds) for one instrument at a time... hopefully we can get her back to piano next year.

Sun Singer said...

The game is fun in spite of striking out. If nobody struck out, what a bore that would be--it would be the everybody's happy with winning that takes no effort kind of philosophy.

Hard to see how everyone getting on base improves skills and self-image whether it's writing or whether it's baseball.

I liked real little league--except for the nasty parents berating the coaches.


P.S. Long time, no see. I hope you're doing well.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Malcolm,

I tend to agree with you... and yes, some of the parents can be downright silly.

I'm good - how have you been?

silken said...

great analogies! I think we've raised a generation of kids who think they should "win" just cuz they showed's hard to teach them now as adults to get over themselves...those kinds of leagues are not so good at teaching you how to deal w/ real life...

Chris Eldin said...

This is one of those difficult issues in parenting, but ultimately I agree with you. Things mean more when you have to work and even struggle to get them. Nice baseball story!!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

re: writing. I just read something the other day by a famous, successful author, it goes something like: I write for free. I write for the love. I write for me. But other people have to pay for the privilege of reading it.So if you just want to tell yourself stories, then not submitting is cool. If you want to be read, writing without ever submitting is pretty pointless.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Silken,

I agree - to me, it just prolonges the inevitable. Eventually they have to learn they won't always hit the ball - and they have to learn to win and lose with equal grace.

My husband works in a techie field and he shakes his head at the number of kids who get out of college thinking they should just be given these huge salaries. Yes, the degree is important, but it doesn't trump experience and work ethic...

Hi Chris,

Thanks - I actually hate the part where they get upset about it... it happens, it's part of getting older, but all of my instincts say to coddle them, and I know that just doesn't teach them anything.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi SS@S,

You're absolutely right - or your author is. I'm trying to remedy that at the moment.

The fine line is figuring out when it's as clean as possible, so you're not shooting your chances by sending too early. But I think I've been balancing on that line a little too long - it's time to start trucking forward.

Mary Witzl said...

It hasn't made you cry yet?'s made me cry.

I was utter crap at all ball sports. I'm strong and flexible and have lots of energy, but I have zero coordination. As a kid, I always hated having to be in competitive sports when there was no way in hell I was going to even get through a game with my dignity intact, but I'd have thrown away a trophy given to me for 'being a good sport'. It's stupid to reward mediocrity and incompetence, then expect kids to learn how to cope with rejection later in life. I get students who show up to class and expect to pass even though they NEVER study.

As for the writing, I'm just clinging to the hope that I'm building a good character. The rejections don't get any easier.

Angela Williams Duea said...

I agree that competition is a good thing...even in the writing world,where there is SO MUCH of it! Like you, a bunch of rejections at once take away some motivation to keep sending submissions, but eventually I dust myself off and keep going.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary,

Yeah, I think we're on the same page with rewarding mediocrity... My daughter's not naturally graceful, but she tries hard. She's been playing softball since she was in kindergarten, and she wasn't at all one of the most coordinated players - but she's worked hard to get better and specifically as a catcher. She was one of the only players who actually knew how to play home plate last year, rather than just catching and throwing to the pitcher. It wasn't a matter of being naturally good, it was really working at getting better and learning the position she wanted to play.

The rejections never really get easy. I'm convinced they'll always be hard to take. Right now I'm finding it's more disappointing when it's a rejection on a partial or full, maybe because you have more hope invested in those. Though I will say, I'm so excited about the one I'm working on right now that it's a little easier to take. (I've heard that before, but I never believed it until now - go figure)

Hi Angela,

You know, I don't really view other writers as competition. I mean, technically, I guess they are because there are only so many books that can be published. But I've never really viewed it as competing against anyone else, it's all about improving my own writing and story. But yeah, it's great if you can dust yourself off quickly and move on. I'm getting better at it, but I think it'll probably always sting a little.