After coaching softball for over 25 years at recreational, Little League, travel, and high school varsity levels, I have a few tips for parents and coaches. First, let me say that 99% of the girls’ parents (and the girls!) were a delight to deal with and some remain good friends long after their daughters have given up the game. For the most part the parents were realistic about their daughter’s talent and sincerely cheered on her teammates. As somewhat of an athlete myself before the days of Title IX when girls’ sports were at the bottom of the heap both in funds provided and opportunity, I relished the chance to be on a team, and to strive with others to accomplish a common goal. It was disappointing to me that the softball team my senior year played a schedule of 7 games while the baseball team played 21. Our basketball team, which played right after school with a handful of spectators, if any, and gym tunics as our ‘uniform”, likewise played fewer than half the games of the boys team which had real uniforms, played at night, and charged admission. Consequently I always stressed to my players how fortunate they were to be able to play on a team and that they needed to work hard to honor that opportunity.
Obviously at the younger level when kids are learning the skills, more TLC is necessary but not to the point where the adult applauds obvious bad mechanics. When a ball passes between a player’s legs, rather than say “good try”, remind her that her glove needs to be on the ground the next time a ball comes her way. Likewise, when a girl throws with the wrong foot forward, don’t just let things be, show her the correct way because muscle memory is a tough thing to change later on. The practice of bolstering a kid’s self-esteem by awarding everyone what I deem a “participation trophy” is ill advised and counterproductive. It makes kids think that everything they do is worthy of a prize. Kids need to learn how to win and how to lose and to do both graciously.
Self-esteem is important but it should be based on accomplishing something through dint of hard work. Everyone cannot be the MVP, but everyone can improve and take satisfaction in that and that is what builds character and resilience. And resilience, the ability to bounce back from a setback, comes in handy when your child meets with the inevitable disappointments that come our way.