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Friday, May 10, 2013

Life Lesson #2 - Believe In People

Long ago I volunteered to manage a Little League team.  The league had it rigged so that when the players were assigned to specific teams that as the new manager I ended up with the boys that didn't know a thing about baseball. We practiced and we practiced when we could reserve the field and ever so slowly our players developed the basic skills to compete. Our players learned the rules, how to hit, catch and even run efficiently.  All except one little boy who could not master catching the ball, even when I threw it to him from a couple feet away. Catching that ball was impossible for him.  The harder he tried the worse it became. We put Tommy in right field as not many balls were hit to that area. Tommy was a shy quiet boy who didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the boys but tried his best to catch that ball.  

Our team then started to play games. Tommy missed a practice or two and a game. I thought maybe he was sick or had homework  but that was not the case.  I called Tommy's mother - a single mom - and she informed me that Tommy did not want to be on the team any more. I asked her if I could come by and talk to Tommy and she agreed. I drove to her house and we all sat down and I listened to Tommy tell about how all the other boys teased him because he couldn't catch the ball. Both during practice and at school and he believed they did not like him. I told him I didn't believe that was true and would he give the team another chance which he reluctantlly agreed to do. I then held a team meeting and explained to the other boys how Tommy felt and what team work really consisted of. Our team was not really a team without Tommy. That he was willing to give it another try and that we needed to work on his catching ability or actually the lack of that ability. It may take patience but WE needed to help Tommy. 

Tommy came back to the next practice and I learned life lesson #2.  The other boys all pitched in and worked with Tommy and encouraged him individually and collectively on how to catch.  Tommy could catch 'sometimes' but still missed most of the time. Tommy was made to feel a part of the team in spite of his not being able to catch and no one on our team gave up on him again.  

We ended up tied for first place which amazed all the other managers and teams. It came to the last game of the season for who would be number one. We went into the 6th inning, one run ahead of the president of the League's super team which he had handpicked. We were down to one out to win the game. Tommy was in right field and I heard the other team telling the batter to hit the ball to right field as Tommy couldn't catch the ball. Whack! It was a high fly to right field. OH NO!  I watched Tommy weave back and forth to line up under the ball. As the ball came down Tommy stuck out his glove and caught it. The look on his face showed he was as surprised as everyone else was. The team ran to Tommy and I heard them telling Tommy they knew he could do it, what a spectactular catch it was and how he saved the game. It was a team celebration with Tommy in the center. The game could have gone either way because that hit was to deep right which would have tied the game at the least. Tommy was the HERO!!!! 

That could be the end of the story but it wasn't.  A few weeks later Tommy's mom called me to reveal how Tommy had been struggling in school and how my coming to him and getting him back on the team turned his life around.  How she struggled in being both mom and dad as a single parent for Tommy.  He didn't have a father influence and was quick to give up when things got tough. How his Little League team mates were now his closest friends and how they encouraged him. She said before he didn't really have any friends. She thanked me profusely for having confidence in Tommy and reaching out to him. It would have been the easy  to just let Tommy quit because he wasn't much of a player anyway but I just couldn't do that.. I believed it was about playing the game to have fun, build character, learn to work as a team, and develop skills instead of winning at all cost and teaching young boys that to win is not always everything. I don't know what happened to Tommy as we moved  away shortly after that, but I doubt he ever went into the pro's or played college ball.  What I do know is that Tommy and the rest of the team all learned a valuable life lesson.  That a team is for everyone on the team not just the stars and good athlete's. Every small contribution is important and we would either win or lose together.  That  you don't give up on people because they may lack a certain skill and you reach out to them and encourage them and keep them as part of the team.  Life lesson #2.

I had a meeting before the season with the parents and players and explained that if they wanted their boys on our team it was about having fun and not winning.  I didn't care if they lost all their games, I wanted them to learn team play, develop character, but most of all to just be boys and have fun. I know a lot is said about parents and Little League but my parents were the greatest. I don't know of a single parent that ever put pressure on their son to win.  They just wanted them to have fun and as it turned out we ended up having fun all the way to first place.  Maybe that is Life Lesson #3, have fun and let the rest fall into place.


Robert said...

Good story. Thanks Bruce.

Anonymous said...

Yes, good story Bruce. It reads like a fact, there is even a song by Peter, Paul & Mary about a similar situation. There is indeed lifes lessons that can be learned from orchestrated fiction.
Thank You.

Bruce said...

Anonymous: Actually that story is factual and true and not fiction. It is non-fiction and while it happened years ago my memory is good because it was a learning moment in my life. It was not derived from a song by Peter Paul and Mary but from an actual experience.

Sakoieta said...

Excellent story!!