While I was at the homecoming celebration for my hometown New Albany, Indiana Little League State Champs Baseball Team, I witnessed something that really spoke to me about what true victory in youth sports really is. Lately, it seems like the adults around the game are getting further away from recognizing and teaching the crucial life lessons sport can provide. So I decided to put in my two cents with this post.
The gathering was on a Friday night at a local pizza eatery where the players helped themselves to all-you-can-eat pizza, soft-drinks, and dessert buffet. They had an autograph session, photos were taken, congratulations were given, hands were shook, fists were pounded, and babies were kissed. An all around great idea for any team ending the season!
After the pizza was consumed, refills of caffinated soda poured down hatches, and desserts a sweet afterthought, the kids blood sugar and activity levels had spiked to the party's energetic climax. Obviously, this is when I decide I would like my own team picture, so I looked around to take inventory of whether this "great idea" was possible.
By then, in the parking lot, most of the players were showcasing their athletic ability in some form or fashion, but without any direction or purpose. In other words, they were running around like a pack of wild coyotes, and actually making some of the same noises :). Without thinking twice I walked to the edge of the patio deck and muttered "hey fellas, can I get a group picture real quick"?
A couple of players heard my request and herded up the team with what seemed to be a giant invisible lasso. They all stood in a neatly formed arrangement of two lines with textbook smiles and proper postures. I took a few shots with my iPhone and realized that they had probably already taken 100 photos like that during the party. So then I told them to have a little fun in the next couple photos. That's when I saw the tight bond, the real smiles, the individual character, and everything forming into the team chemistry that carried this team.
What does this five minute experience tell us about the true purpose for the players of youth sports?
The one or two random players (leaders in this case) that heard my request for a photo took charge of the situation, communicated instructions, organized people, and followed through with the task in a time of chaotic energy. Not only are the leaders to be commended, but so should the rest of the players for dropping whatever they were doing and being part of the what the team was asked to do.
As adults, what can we learn from this experience and teach our youth?
It's about the process and not about the final score. It's about teaching kids leadership, being a good teammate, and working as a single unit towards a common goal. The kids practicing these skills when they are not directly supervised are the real youth sport victories.
So the next time your youth player suffers a heartbreaking defeat (by score) and you don't know what to say after the game or on the ride home, pull out your camera phone and take a picture of them, the exact same way I see so many parents taking photos of their kids with winning score trophies after games. Tell your player that the plastic trophy the other team won will be a good dust collector. Tell them you're equally as proud regardless of the score and the real trophy is the team player persona they showed. Tell them that's what you took a picture of, the true victory of youth sports.