Lessons Learned at Mead Park
My Father used to say that the harvest from seeds of defeat can be greater than those grown from a success. I used to dismiss this and his other Mid-western agrarian sound bites as the ramblings of someone starved senseless during the dust bowl years. Yet, as I watched our New Canaan Tiger 10 year olds lose 12-0 in the local playoffs, I felt an ancient seed germinating from my father’s bag of insights.
By the fourth inning, our star pitcher had yielded eight runs. Our all-star first baseman was in tears tormenting himself over a rare error. The testosterone and bravado of pregame warm-ups were now dissolving in a deluge of hits, bad throws, walks and every conceivable form of human error. How could this be? Our little agents of competition who had become my vicarious instrument for exorcising all the unfulfilled demons of my work day were getting – – slaughtered.
My fellow coach, Michael K., and I immediately switched gears like captains salvaging a ship being ravaged on the rocks. As we let go of our dreams for a championship game and refocused on the boys and the experience playing out before our eyes, we discovered a redeeming dignity among the faces tear streaked with eye black mascara.
None of the boys pointed a finger at one another. Their disappointment was driven by the need to not let the other guy down. They never gave up. They dove. They sprinted. They slid. At one point, one of our more inconsistent players turned to me and say, “ Coach, this time I promise I will strike out…swinging !”
These little men came out each inning and circled the hilltop like Custer and his troops awaiting the further on-slaught , knowing no help was on the way. If life is measured by not getting ahead of the other guy, but getting ahead of yourself, we were winning the game. The seeds of future life lessons were being scattered among a rag tag crew of fourth grade boys who tears, sweat and toil were fertile soil and a great mirror for self reflection.
In the end, the game was mercilessly concluded and as we circled the boys, we told them how proud we were of them. “You never gave up. You never blamed anyone else. You tried your hardest and the ball just did not bounce our way. “ They shed their tears, shuffled through the victory line high-fiving their opponents, handing them this year’s bragging rights and then slowly broke off in groups of twos and threes, hugged by parents and consoled by siblings.
We learn best what we teach and that’s the beauty of coaching kids. We remind ourselves how to conduct ourselves – – “ Keep your head up . Practice makes perfect. Be a good teammate. Things will get better. “ There’s always going to be the green grass of summer and the promise of another chance at the plate…a chance, perhaps to fail better the next time. Some day, somewhere, those little seeds we sew will germinate in those young men. As parents, we hope our children will one day exhibit those attributes we value most in society – – compassion, tenacity, intelligence, humility and resilience. We needed to look no further than that diamond on that day to see the seedlings of maturity taking root in the red dirt and dust of Mead Park.