Like any sport or extracurricular activity, baseball is a huge investment. From the rides to practices and games, to the checks for player fees and uniforms, to the trips to the sporting goods store for new cleats or a ball glove, playing baseball takes time and money. And given that baseball won’t be the career for the vast majority of our kids, as parents we need to ask ourselves “why?” Why do we commit to baseball? Why make the investment?
There comes a time for every player where they walk off the field for the final time. For many, that day comes in high school. For a much smaller number, they’ll play their last game sometime in college. For a very precious few, they may play professionally. But when that day comes and your child hangs up his cleats for the final time, what will he take with him? If all he has to show for our investment is a few plastic trophies, then as parents we have missed the mark.
Baseball can be a valuable tool for molding young boys into honorable men. But we have to recognize these opportunities and be intentional about making baseball more meaningful than just winning games. Here are a few of the reasons why I love baseball.
Baseball creates tangible opportunities to teach life lessons
One time in a close game, my son was playing shortstop with runners on second and third. A ground ball was hit to him, he fielded it, and lunged for the player that was running in front of him towards third base. He made the tag, held onto the ball, but the umpire called him safe. After the game, I asked him if he tagged the player, and he said yes. We looked back at a photo of the play, and sure enough, we could confirm that runner should have been out. It was a great opportunity for me to teach him that umpires are humans, they make mistakes too, and we have to be respectful even when we don’t like the call.
Seemingly abstract concepts like teamwork, responsibility, respect, encouragement, and many others can take on a very real meaning for a bunch of 7 and 8 year old boys on a ballfield. As a parent, there have been countless times outside of baseball where I have used an example from baseball to communicate with my sons. Baseball experiences create real life anchor points, and give us the ability to apply it to other areas of life.
Baseball gives my kids a chance to fail
We often hear “it’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get back up.” Baseball is one of the best examples of that. It is a brutal game that is predicated on failure. The best hitters in the game still fail to reach base 7 out of 10 times. Even when you first begin playing, there is a big learning curve for basic skills like catching and throwing. Want proof? Go to a first year t-ball game. Parents will cheer for a homerun, but pandemonium and celebration will ensue if the fielders can manage to cobble together one out.
As parents it’s so tempting to do everything we can to shield our children from the feelings of failure, when we should instead be teaching them that their failures do not define them as a person.
Hang around a typical little league dugout and you will see the following scene play out: a player gets out, bursts into tears, and his parents rush over from the stands to tell him how proud they are of him, or that it was a bad call, or the coach gave them bad advice, or how he at least got some RBI’s. But in their well-meaning attempts to console, they’ve actually taught their player that failure is such a horrible, rare event that we have to mourn it, minimize it, blame others, make excuses, or find a silver lining. Failure is a part of life. Our boys should never be content with it, but they must learn to see their mistakes in perspective.
As parents it’s so tempting to do everything we can to shield our children from the feelings of failure, when we should be teaching them instead that their failures do not define them as a person. Baseball creates that opportunity to teach kids to get back up, learn from their mistakes, and focus on the next play. When you think about it, that’s what real life is like too.
Baseball helps my kids realize that good things don’t come easy
I want my kids to grow up understanding that they have to work for the good things in life. It’s important that they work hard not only for their own benefit, but to be able to help others too. Baseball provides so many hands-on opportunities to experience the joy of working hard for something and attaining success. This happens on the field when they get their first hit, or make a big catch.
The boys on the ball field today will be men in the workplace tomorrow; the values we teach them today will be the values they practice tomorrow.
Baseball players also learn about the value of hard work when they have to haul dirt and rake practice fields. Or finish their school assignments before they can play in a game. Or keep track of their gear. As a coach, one of my team rules is that each player is responsible for showing up to games with their uniform and equipment. If they are missing something, they run one lap. If they blame their parents for not washing their uniform or putting their glove back in their bag, they run three laps. The boys on the ball field today will be men in the workplace tomorrow; the values we teach them today will be the values they practice tomorrow.
Baseball helps dads (and moms!) to invest in their sons
We live in a society that is fast paced, busy, and has way too many electronic gadgets to distract our attention from real relationships. Baseball is one way to get parents and children unplugged, outside, and focusing on each other. It creates precious “shoulder to shoulder” time for parents and their sons. As a coach, I welcome and encourage parent involvement in practice. Regardless of how much or how little a parent knows about baseball, if they are willing to help, we put them to work. If I can have 12 dads out there with 12 boys, I’ll use them all. It not only helps us create a better practice experience – it builds the relationships between dads (or moms!) and their sons.
Baseball gives my kids community
There is nothing like a common cause to bring people together. Baseball is no exception. In the OKC Broncos organization, we emphasize to parents that they aren’t just joining a team- they are joining a family. Over time we’ve seen friendships between players, families, and across teams in multiple age groups grow and flourish far beyond just baseball. This creates valuable relationships for our kids as they gain a sense of belonging within a growing community.
At the end of the day, baseball is a tool for developing boys into young men. How effective it is depends on the adults in equation. Are they setting a good example? Are they taking advantage of teachable moments? Are they being intentional about using baseball for more than just an opportunity to amass trophies? If the answer is yes, then there’s a great chance that the lessons your son learns from baseball will last far beyond his time on the field. And that’s what I love about the game.
Those are my reasons – what are yours?
David Prentice is the OKC Broncos youth baseball coordinator, and coaches two of his sons in the 7/8U age groups. He and his wife are both homeschool alumni, and currently homeschool their 5 children.