Let’s face it. Whether your activity of choice is fastpitch softball, soccer, basketball, auto racing, marching band competitions, tiddlywinks or something else, everyone loves winning. As Nuke LaLoosh says in Bull Durham, “I love winning. It’s so much better than losing.” (Warning: the full quote is NSFW so turn down the volume.)
Yet there can be a thing as winning too much. This is something a lot of parents (and some coaches) don’t seem to understand.
In America in particular, we tend to measure success in terms of wins and losses. The more you win, the better you are, right?
Not necessarily, because there’s another factor that comes into play – the level of competition. Think about it this way: how much satisfaction do you get out of winning a game of tic-tac-toe? Probably not much, because once you learn a few basic moves is only possible if your opponent makes a really, really stupid mistake.
Or if you are an adult, how much satisfaction would you get out of beating a 6 year old at one-on-one basketball, or chess, or ping pong, or pretty much anything else? Not much, because there’s no challenge.
And that’s the key to what I’m saying. If your team wins every tournament it goes to, especially if it goes undefeated every weekend (or even worse dominates every game) it’s not that the team is so great. It’s that you’re not playing the right level of competition.
You don’t get better if you’re not challenged. Winning a tournament shouldn’t be easy. It should be really hard. If you’re winning more than 60% of your games, 75% at most, you’re playing the wrong teams.
Sure, it’s fun to get those shiny plastic trophies, or medals, or t-shirts, or whatever they’re handing out these days as prizes. You have the big ceremony at the end, everyone takes pictures and maybe goes out for dinner afterward. But how special is it if it happens every weekend? Not very.
Keep in mind that iron is forged in fire. That’s what shapes it into something useful. Fastpitch softball players are the same way.
In order for them to get better, they need to play competition that is either at their skill level or better. It’s what will challenge them and force them to go beyond their current skill level. It’s also what keeps it interesting and makes the wins when they come extra satisfying.
Because you’ll know you didn’t just beat up on some lesser team. Instead, you put something on the line – the very real possibility of losing – and came out the other side on top. Your players probably learned a little something along the way, too.
The same goes for making it to every championship game, by the way, even if you don’t win. That just means one other team was probably in the wrong tournament too.
It can be tough to lose. Another of my favorite baseball movie quotes comes from Moneyball: “I hate losing. I hate losing even more than I wanna win.”
But that’s a good thing. If you’re concerned about losing, you will work harder to make sure it doesn’t happen. And you will get better. If losing isn’t a real concern, however, you’ll probably let up and your skills won’t develop. And that will catch up with you one day.
Parents, especially today’s parents, like to see their children succeed. But that doesn’t mean they should shelter them from losing, which is what you’re doing when winning becomes so important that failure to win every game at every tournament means you start looking for a new team that will.
Again, shoot for that 60-75% winning percentage and you can be pretty sure your favorite player is being challenged and growing as player. It will also mean that the fruits of victory will taste ever so much sweeter.
It’s that time of year again. The time when we all get a little reflective and start thinking about how we can become better versions of ourselves in the coming year.
Perhaps we’re thinking it’s time to get serious about losing weight, which is always a popular theme. As a meme going around Facebook right now says, I’ve started on my plan by getting rid of all the bad-for-you food in my house, and it was delicious.
Or it could be to stop smoking or some other unhealthy habit, or to exercise more, get a new job or clean the house once a week instead of letting everything pile up until family is coming over. There are lots of things you can resolve.
That applies to softball as well. To help you get started, here are a few suggestions for resolutions you can make to help you become a better coach or player:
- Resolve to learn something new. Take a skill you’re sure you already have down and seek out new information about it. Or look for things you weren’t aware of before. If you’re a coach, learn new offensive or defensive strategies.You’re either moving forward or falling behind. Get out there and learn.
- Resolve to stay more in the present. The current buzzword for this is “mindfulness.” Google is offering classes on it on its campus, and other schools are teaching it as well. It’s a form of meditation that helps you block out distractions and worries so you can focus on the present, reduce stress and keep control of your feelings. In softball, you can only hit, pitch, throw, catch, etc. one ball at a time. Play the game one pitch at a time and it becomes far easier. This book can help you learn to do it more effectively.
- Resolve to enjoy the game more. Most people get involved in fastpitch softball because they love to compete. But sometimes in the desire to compete we forget that at the end of the day it’s a game, and games are supposed to be fun. (I know I definitely fall into this category.) Remind yourself from time to time to just enjoy the beautiful day, and the opportunity to spend time with so many great people. Smile more, especially in tense situations, and be glad your biggest worry at the moment is whether you’ll get on base instead of whether you’ll be able to find food or clean water. The days, weekends and even the seasons may seem long, but believe me the career is short.
- Resolve to put people first. If you’re a player, try to help those players who may be struggling. We’re not all given the same athletic gifts, or the same opportunities to learn, so it may seem like some players are dragging the team down due to lack of ability. If that’s the case, and they’re willing to get better, help them out instead of complaining. If you’re a coach, remember that kids don’t sign up to play ball so they can get a closer seat. They sign up to play. Be willing to sacrifice a few Ws to ensure all your players have a great experience. Besides, you never know who might develop. Pro sports are filled with undrafted players who outshine the top prospects once someone lets them on the field.
- Resolve to follow the rules – even if you don’t like them. This is part of respecting the game. If you are a pitcher who leaps (or coach one who does), work on stopping it. Don’t block the baseline (obstruction) just because you think the umpire won’t call it. Don’t throw a hard tag on a baserunner with the intent to injure them because you don’t think you’ll get caught. Know the rules and follow them. They’re there to make the game safe and fair for everyone.
- Resolve to respect the umpires. Again, you may not always agree with them, but it is a tough job. There will always be a few bad apples, but 99% of umpires are doing the best they can, and are out there game after game because they love the sport. Here’s another hint: just about every umpire could care less about the outcome of the game, i.e., who wins. So they’re not making calls to screw you over, no matter what you may think.
- Resolve to practice better. Notice I didn’t say “more.” That may be a part of it. But practicing better means being focused and productive for whatever time you dedicate to it. As a player, instead of just knocking balls off a tee to fulfill a time requirement, use that time to improve your swing. If you’re a catcher, use the time you’re spending catching for the team’s pitchers as an opportunity to work on your framing, blocking and other skills too. Be present, know what you’re working on and why. If you’re a coach, work to increase the number of touches each player gets while eliminating downtime or standing around time for each. Small groups doing multiple things often work better than one big group doing the same thing.
- Resolve to say “thank you.” Those may be the two most powerful words in the English language. Players, thank your coaches after a practice session, game or tournament. Coaches, thank your players and parents for their dedication, help, support, etc. Everyone thank the umpires. If a tournament director does a great job, thank him/her and the staff, and let others know what a great tournament they ran.
- Resolve to take better care of your equipment. Clean helmets, bats and catcher’s gear. Throw a little conditioner on gloves/mitts, and keep a ball in them. Avoid throwing your equipment when you get angry. Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you.
Those are some good starting points. What did I miss? What are you resolving to do for 2016? And oh, have a Happy New Year!