Hey Now, You're an All Star

This is a great time of the year. When I used to teach I often joked that a few of the best things about being in education were June, July, and August. Seriously, teaching is much more rewarding than that, but school is ending, summer vacation is upon us, and Little League Post Season play is beginning. It is a most wonderful time. I love watching youngsters come together, step up there game against better competition, and take advantage of an opportunity to show how much they've learned during the season.

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In 1992 I was a high school basketball coach in the city of Long Beach, California and a group of young boys from the city were rolling through the Southern California post-season tournaments. I took my then 9 year old son to see them at the Western Regional Finals in San Bernardino, California. Long Beach won the West two seasons in a row, and we were hooked. My family has been to the tournament 17 of the 19 years since and we all look forward to it each year. That 9 year old is now a father himself, and we'll go with my youngest son who is, coincidentally, now 9 himself. My daughters both love to attend and my wife enjoys it as well, although she says, "someone is going to lose - and little boys are going to cry."

Post-Season Tournament play is an exciting time for many youth sports organizations, Little League and otherwise. It is also a very important time of the year that offers the opportunity to teach many life-lessons to everyone, both those who will be actively involved as well as those who will not have the chance to directly participate in the competition. 

Players and coaches who have been selected will obviously be very excited and should be humble in handling the honor of being chosen. No one wants someone running around the park and gloating to their peers. Just like in winning and losing, it is important to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. 

At the same time there will be some disappointment from some players who were hoping to be on the team. Participants will get the opportunity to compete and will be faced with some stiffer competition and some pressure that does not exist in regular season play. How all of these situations are handled will be guided by the culture of the league that has been established throughout the years of their participation.

Saginaw Township Little League in Michigan had an unfortunate incident after a parent outburst over the selection of the 8 & under tournament team! This forced his removal and drew much unwelcomed national attention. No charges were filed but it was enough to issue a trespass warning that bans the parent form the field pending board approval nest season. This is only one of many similar situations that happen nationally every season in every sport.

The entire league, which includes the parents, should develop the kind of culture encouraged by Positive Coaching Alliance where the focus is on the ELM Tree of Mastery. Through this lens the players, coaches, and parents realize that giving their best Effort, commitment to Learning, and their ability to manage their Mistakes is far more important than the results, comparing themselves with others and the feeling that mistakes are not ok. 

                                                                                       

If this has been reinforced from the time players begin playing in T-Ball it will be much easier to handle the disappointment in not making a post-season team, as long as the player knows they're doing their very best. Even this disappointment can be a great life lesson. 

I was presenting a Double-Goal Coach® workshop to a group of coaches in beautiful Buckhead, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. We talked for two hours about Redefining Winning, how to Fill The Emotional Tanks of their players and the importance of Honoring the Game. The entire time there was veteran coach in the back, slumped in his chair with his arms folded and peering at me over his glasses that were down upon the very tip of his nose. 

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I thought for sure he was an old "Win-At-All-Coast" Coach that was buying none of what I was selling. At the conclusion I asked if there were any questions and he raised his hand. He said, in a classic Southern drawl, "Coach, I believe in everything you had to say, but I need to answer this one very important question. The worst day of my year is when I have to tell a boy and his parents that they did not make the All-Star Team. How do I handle that conversation?" 

My answer lay entirely in the principles that were previously mentioned.  We can set our children up for disappointment when we spend time even discussing All Stars. That was a taboo subject in our household and on my teams. What I would discuss was the things my children and players needed to do to be the best that they can be. If asked I'd describe the qualities necessary to be among those considered for a tournament team. Then I'd have a conversation to find out if they were willing to do what it takes to be that kind of player.

What the player then uses to evaluate their success is whether they have the

That puts everything in perspective and once the player has that "peace of mind" the outcome is really irrelevant. Their effort and attitude is the only thing they can control, so why worry about the rest. The comparison with others who may make tournament teams is out of their control and does nothing to serve a player's individual performance or development.

There will come a day when the player doesn't get a promotion or a job they want, and worrying about who did does not help at all. Learning to handle the disappointments of youth in this way helps prepare them for the realities of life. I told the veteran manager from Buckhead, who had genuine concern for his players and deeply cared about their feelings that "someday one of his players may not get into Harvard and need to go to Georgia Tech". Just then a woman in the back blurted out, "What's wrong with Georgia Tech?!?"

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Georgia Tech - and that is the point. However, if a family had set the child up for disappointment by constantly harping on the need for getting into Harvard as the measure of their "success", then we are looking at a major setback if that doesn't happen... even though acceptance to a college like Georgia Tech might be a great achievement. The All Star situation is similar. If a family spends much time discussing, or even hinting, at the importance of being on an All Star team, if that were not to happen for one reason or another, the child will not only feel like somewhat of "a failure" but also like they let their parents down.

In the well-to-do community of Buckhead, this became a huge issue. Families wanted to plan their European vacations and Caribbean cruises. The uncertainty of All Star selections created some consternation in the Little League households when the tournament could end at Williamsport, Pa in the middle of August - or the player might not make the team at all and the summer might be free. This led to much more conversation around the topic than is productive. 

As parents, and coaches, we can do quite a bit towards making sure our players focus on their own personal excellence, the ELM Tree of Mastery, every day, every pitch, every play - rather than the outcome of any game, season, or comparison with others. When we do that we put our players in control, and that tends to create more confident players that perform as well as they can - which is what everyone involved actually wants anyway.

In Part 2 on Monday we'll talk about Managers duties and how to navigate through the tournament with the best experience possible. Talk to you then.. . 

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