Little League begins this weekend for my son, BR, and me, his coach. This is his last year in the league, and he made his goals clear.
Me: What are you thinking about for the upcoming season?
Son: We have to win a championship.
Me: Well, every team wants to win, and only one will. I mean I want to and everything, but to say we have to…
Son: No. If we don’t win, it’s a fail. It’s our final year, and we haven’t won yet. So, it has to be this year.
So Little League wasn’t about the time we spent together. It wasn’t about him getting better as a player. It wasn’t about him getting exercise. It wasn’t about him getting to be part of a team.
I’ll be honest. The answer stung a little bit. My son is obsessed with winning, and nothing else matters. What kind of child are my wife and I raising?
But then I thought about it.
Was I that competitive?
Ummm, well, yeah. I am or at least I was that competitive. (Maybe still am in some ways but that’s another story.) When I was in Little League, all I wanted was to play and win the championship.
When I was playing Little League, I was on one championship team. I was 10 years old, and I didn’t get to play much that year. The coach played his son and his son’s friends more than the rest of us.
I played outfield primarily, and the ball only got out there a few times a game. Once during practice, I had a rock catch with a friend of mine, a fellow outfielder. No one noticed.
Despite my relative inactivity, I still have a few memories of that team. We were the Giants, and we wore purple jerseys. The friend I had a catch with was named Mike. We rarely talked after the season ended.
When I was 12, my basketball team made it to the finals. We started off the year poorly – losing our first few games. Then, there was a long strike involving the schools, and the league was halted.
When the league started up again after the strike, only seven of our 11 players returned. Those of us who returned got to play a lot. And we started winning and laughing.
I could give you a breakdown of the championship game – go all Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and TNT on you – but I’ll spare you the details.
While I can’t remember the name of the team or the color of our shirts (I might have a picture somewhere), the memory of that team and how we bonded still makes me smile.
Sure, I want my son and his teammates to be competitive and experience a championship. Having such an experience is special. So, along with my fellow coaches, we’ll try to put the players in the best position to succeed.
However, it will be the same balancing act as past years, one between winning and helping the boys improve their skills. When the only focus is winning, something is lost.
I hope my son can appreciate that as much fun as winning is, coming together as a team is even more special.
Maybe, this kind of thinking only happens with time, perspective and maturity. Either way, I hope my son and the rest of the team enjoy the season and, one day, will look back upon it fondly.