I played Little League baseball when I was a kid. I remember very clearly one player in particular, Charlie Moreno, who was in our league. We never played on the same team, which was terrible because he was the best pitcher in our age group year after year. He didn't throw a good curveball or anything as I remember it; he just threw really hard.
I played an entire year and never got a hit off of him. Maybe even two. I swung when it was a good pitch but mostly hoped he'd be wild and just walk me. Then one year (I'm guessing I was 10), in our first game, my team faced Charlie's team. He'd grown taller, and seemed to throw even harder. I distinctly remember wishing they'd forced him to play in the next age group.
Then a funny thing happened. In my first at-bat against him, I hit a grounder to second. I got out, but I really stung the ball. It was the first time I'd ever even hit the ball hard against him, and something changed within me. Charlie's mystique diminished a little. My next time up, I got a single. And my third time up I hit a solid fly ball to left (which was caught).
I don't remember the rest of my at bats against Charlie that year. I'm pretty sure he got me out more often than I got hits. But that first game changed me as a batter. I had hit the ball hard against Charlie Moreno! If I could do that, I could hit the ball hard against anyone. And I did. For the first time, I finished the year with a good batting average and became a truly confident hitter.
I mention this because I read a disappointing article today about a 9-year old kid named Jericho Scott. He's a very good pitcher for his age, with the ability to throw 40 mph. He's so good, in fact, that the league told his coach he wasn't allowed to pitch anymore. When his coach brought him to the mound in a recent game, the other team forfeited and left the field! Now his team is being disbanded! (!!!!!)
Essentially, the league has decided he's too good to play there. The other kids can't hit off of him. He throws so hard it's scary to other players (note: he's never beaned another batter). And of course, because adults are involved, it appears there are some petty jealousies that may be playing a role.
Anyway, this made me think about how these parents, coaches, and league administrators think about success and failure. And perhaps how we think of it, too. The league is trying to set up an environment in which everybody succeeds. And their assumption is that if Jericho always wins, then everyone else always loses. It's all black and white. Their only solution is, for the good of the rest of the kids, to ensure Jericho doesn't win.
There are obviously better approaches to solving this, like letting Jericho play against older competition. But the point I want to make is, success and failure shouldn't be measured by outs and hits for these kids anyway. It should be based on their execution, their approach. So what if you got out, how did you approach the at bat? Did you swing at good or bad pitches? Did you foul a ball off? Did you lay down the bunt?
Kids should be focusing on subjective success when they are young. They should be measured against their abilities and previous experiences. If a good at bat is fouling off a pitch before striking out, then parents and coaches should be embracing that and celebrating when the kid makes contact. And if the kids are focusing too much on normative success--striking out and getting hits--then they need to be reminded what their goals are when they are batting--good swings, staying patient--and encouraged to focus on them relentlessly. Make it a game within the game if you have to. And if they do get a hit, parents and coaches should treat it the same way. As the outcome of good (or maybe even bad) execution.
The time to learn how to focus on execution instead of results is when you're a kid. It's when you're playing things like Little League baseball. I can't help but think what I'd have felt like if my coach had forfeited our baseball game because Charlie Moreno was pitching against us that day. Not only would I have not been able to play baseball--my worst nightmare as a kid--but what would it have done to me to have all the coaches and parents agree that we had no chance--that we were simply not good enough?
I sometimes wonder if I didn't need to have that at-bat against Charlie. It certainly affected my confidence in baseball. And as a kid, my confidence in many things was related to my ability on the sports fields. I guess I'll never know. But what I do know is that kids in Jericho's league aren't getting the opportunity to hit that crucial ground ball to second off of him. And that's really a shame, if you ask me.