20. Little League

I feel as if I ought to write an article about little league. I really want to spend most of the article comparing little league to children’s musical theatre, but perhaps that would be a little self-indulgent; I’m more of a thesbian than a jock. I’ll start with a little league moment I’ll never forget.
Our team was undefeated (or selective memory is superceding accuracy). We were playing the only other undefeated team, and we were playing the final game. The score was tied, it was the bottom of the ninth, and there were two outs. The ball was hit – a good solid fly out to center field. My daughter, Katy, (because I’m writing the article) moved back and caught the ball.
Some of the parents wanted another inning. The weather was good, we “needed” a champion, and the soccer season was over, so no one had anywhere they had to rush to. Barry and I, the co-coaches voted least likely to be George Steinbrenner, had had a few discussions about the degree of competitiveness we’d seen, and we had both worked hard to encourage other kinds of motivation. We decided to end the game in a tie, and we convinced the coach of the other team.
Maybe there was no “champion,” but two teams went home (or to some pizza place) undefeated. That’s not the whole league, but it’s better than one. My philosophy about this is my philosophy about children’s musical theatre. I believe that life offers ample opportunities to feel defeat and disappointment; I’m not at all worried that a child who gets to play the part she/he wants or gets to pitch will grow up spoiled. Whether a song is sung off-key, a child strikes out with bases loaded, an important line isn’t heard by the audience, or a shaky pitcher gives up a home run, the important thing is to give a child a chance to shine. With coaches’ and peers’ support, any potential disappointment will be far less harmful than exclusion. So if a child wants to be Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” or clean-up batter, let it happen.
Support for all children has to be as whole-hearted as the kind traditionally given to winners. You can’t go berserk when your child hits a grand slam, and then expect to be believed when you say, “That’s okay,” after a strike-out. I’ve watched children’s faces after they’ve struck out, and I think they immediately translate “That’s okay” into “You’re a failure.” Some of that feeling may be inevitable, but we can help put it into perspective by more sincerely congratulating the child for the good swing that hits air instead of baseball. Try not to be automatic about it. After all, a good swing really is a good swing.
I’ve been both the star of the high school musical and the last kid chosen for the team (“Oh, no! We got Blue!”) I know how both feel, and I’d gladly trade memories of being the lone star for memories of feeling part of the baseball team. And it’s not that I like baseball more than theatre; it’s that I like being part of a team more than I like shining alone. I think your child does, too.

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