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One of the most valuable benefits of recreational sports is feeling part of a team. To acknowledge an obligation to your teammates (after all, you want to win) and experience a level of collective will with those around you are experiences that both children and adults can benefit from.
As is often the case, the most nourishing benefits of sport are the hardest to develop. Have you ever heard the phrase “team chemistry” before? The comparison with science is accurate in this case because teamwork is based on attitude. Working on the collective attitude of your team means building trust, compassion, and genuine friendship amongst the players – no matter the skill level or competency of the players. Teamwork overrides all the individual attributes of players by generating a collective willpower that is far stronger and more effective.
As you can imagine, creating a sense of teamwork is harder with a new team. If your child is just entering a new team, here are some recommendations to give the coach to help generate positive teamwork:
Most of the interactions the kids have with each other is on the field, either practicing or playing. Sure, there is the brief time for preparation and set-down once the activity is over, but this is hardly enough time for kids to get to know each other.
The solution is paired interviews in the first week of practices with a new team. Have the kids separate into groups of two and ask each other a series of questions. After 15 minutes the group will reconnect and each child can share the funniest answer they received. It’s a great way to break boundaries and get kids to know each other on a personal level before playing together.
Do a Non-Sports Trip
As a parent, you can really spearhead this one. Why not take the group out to the movies? That way they can all hang a little bit outside of the strict confines of the diamond, pitch, or court. Maybe the movies are not as ideal as the arcade – whatever social activity you pick is fine if it brings the kids together. It might surprise you to notice the psychological impact traveling as a team will have on your child. Going places in public as a group instills the notion that they are a ‘pack of wolves’ so to speak. It’s great for team chemistry.
Emphasize Group Goals over Individual Goals
Let’s say your child is really driven. Let’s say they want to be the best baseball player in the entire league, hitting more home runs than anyone else and being the start-short stop of their dreams. That’s all fine and good, but as a parent, you should be warry of hyper-individualism. Take some time on the way to or from practice to discuss the merits of teamwork to your child – especially if they are playing with new players who they might not like initially. It can be an informal discussion about how teamwork is the key to winning, or a more specific example about how selfish individuals don’t usually get as far as they would like in life. Encouraging the merits of teamwork in your child will help them realize that he or she is only as good as the team they are on.
Breaking the Ice is Hard, But Necessary
Getting to know new teammates is an important process for all recreational youth league teams. It’s always best to break the ice and encourage empathy and trust before the selfish instinct kicks in and biases are formed between teammates.
The baseball swing is a lot like the golf swing in that each player can personalize and perfect their own approach. While there are some standard techniques to be learned when you are just getting started, these fall away from importance as you come to realize what your natural inclinations are as a batter.
No Two Swings Are the Same
Do you prefer the open-leg stance to the closed front leg stance? What about your front foot – is it pointing towards the pitcher or directly horizontal. These are questions that no coach out there can be certain about. As a player you have to learn what style works best for you. No coach should ever tell you exactly the ‘right’ kind of baseball swing. The advice of a coach should come from watching you bat. It’s in the observation mode that a coach can see what your strengths and weaknesses are. Having an objective set of eyes judge your posture and form is helpful because it will guide you towards finding your own personal, unique batting technique.
Find Your Swing with these Tips in Mind
Granted it’s not an easy process to find a swing that works for you. In order to help you find your perfect swing, here are some tips to keep in mind:
If You Want to Hit Home Runs, You Need Leg Strength
Have you done everything you can physically to improve your swing? Sometimes it’s not technique that needs improvement – it’s strength. Start with the legs and work your way up to the core. Keeping your lower body in shape will give you the torque required to really turn on the ball and drive in 15-20 yards farther than you used to.
A Smooth Weight Transfer
Weight transfer is another similarity to the golf swing. In order to harness the power of your newfound lower body strength, you need to step into the ball and transfer weight from your back foot to your front foot. The more seamless a process this is, the better.
Don’t Let Your Arms Out
A common mistake made by amateur players is to let their elbows hang far too wide over the plate. It’s best to keep your elbow and shoulders tight and close to your ear. That way you can swing through the ball rather than catch it on an angle by swinging down on it.
Don’t Over swing
The second most common mistake is to swing with your arms rather than your hips and legs. Pushing with your forearms and wrists will cancel out most of the momentum generated by your lower body. Just let the bat flow with the force of your weight transfer and things will come a lot more easily for you.
Partly Mental, Partly Physical
Baseball is a very mentally-focused game. Dialing in on your focus and remaining confident in your technique will go a long way to improving your performance at your next league game. It’s important to be confident and never second-guess yourself when playing otherwise you are bound to strike out.
Nothing ruins a great sports team like a bunch of bullies. No matter the social situation that produced such behavior in the first place, dealing with a bully as teammate will drop the morale of the entire group of players to a pretty low standard.
It’s even worse when bullying becomes a group activity and is directed at a single (or select few) members of the team. You want players on your team to be fighting together and giving each other positive reinforcement as much as possible. Unfortunately, the realities of pre-teen and teenage kids is that jealousy and fear sometimes get the better of them.
As a parent, there is something you can do to help your child overcome the unwanted attention and continue having fun and learning about themselves – all the positive sides of playing recreational sports.
If your child is dealing with some nasty bullies on their team, here are the steps you should take to ensure it stops as soon as possible:
Speak to Your Child
The most important thing you can do as parent is get an idea of where your child is at. If they are totally distraught by the bullying, it’s time to take immediate action. However, if it seems bearable for them in the short term, then take the opportunity to offer some positive reinforcement. Overcoming bullying through strong self-esteem is one of the most positive lessons a child can learn. This does not mean you should let the bullying continue; but simply that you can take this unfortunate circumstance and make a ‘teachable moment’ out of it before going through the steps necessary to stop it from continuing.
Contact the Coach
The coach is the first person who should be made aware of the group bullying going on within the team. They have the power to enforce certain structures and rules to keep the team operating smoothly. Though the coach has a pretty solid grasp of all the kids on the team, they are unable to catch all the internal dialogue between players. So don’t take it for granted that the coach is aware of the bullying and is complicit. Let the coach know as soon as you can, and if they are responsible in their position, they will pay special attention to it.
Reach Out to the Family
Usually group bullying springs from one or two influential ringleaders. These ringleaders have strong social influence and seamlessly guide the attitude and behavior of those around them. Ask your child who those ringleaders are, and make a point of speaking with their parents. It’s not to say that you should be direct and confrontational with the parents, but simply letting them know the impact of their child’s behavior should be enough to engage their attention. This, in combination with alerting the coach, is probably all you need to do to end the unwanted attention on your child. However, it depends on the severity of the bullying.
Ask to Change Teams
If the first and second steps have not made measurable improvements over a couple of weeks, it’s time to ask for a team change. Speak with your child and see what team they would like to play on. Usually, if they have friends playing on another team, it will be possible to ask the league administrators to place them together.
Don’t be an Absent Parent
It’s important not to lose sight of how your child is doing in their recreational sports endeavors, and whether bullying is something they face every practice. Follow these steps to ensure that if bullying is something they experience, it is only for a short period of time and that you are offering support to your child to help them get through it.
In the world of sport, there is little than can surpass the marvelous lore of the Kevin Laue story. His ability to persevere through adversity and find success in sport is a testament to his character and the valuable role recreational sport can play in personal development. For those have yet to hear the fascinating story of Kevin Laue (or for those who can’t get enough of his amazing story), let’s run over some of the details again here.
This is the claim to fame that brought people in to Kevin’s life story. Kevin was born with a left arm that ended at the elbow, leaving him rather deficient in dexterity and ability – or so it seemed. He refused to get a prosthetic arm and forged ahead with the body he was born with. As it turns out, by the 8th grade he grew to be quite tall and strong.
He used his height and strength to his advantage throughout high school, quickly becoming a high school star of some renown across the nation. This prowess lead to a basketball scholarship to a top-level program at Manhattan College – and the rest is history.
If being born without a left arm was not enough adversity for a young child to face, Kevin also had to deal with the grief from the death of his father at the age of 10. His father was a gifted athlete and demanding coach for his son’s teams. His untimely death due to cancer sparked a fire in Kevin to make his father proud. Suffice to say he channeled all the adversity he faced into a work-ethic and self-belief that was unrivaled amongst his peers.
Part of what helped him on his path to success was the fact that Kevin grew to be nearly seven feet tall. It was the only physical advantage he had over his peers and he made the most of it. However, it did not compensate for his single limb, which made it impossible for him to defend or dribble with the same competency as others.
- His Brain Was His Best Attribute.
For parents with kids in recreational sport, the story of Kevin Laue offers an important lesson. It teaches parents and kids that you don’t have to be the most athletically gifted player on the field in order to succeed. Kevin realized early on that he had to develop mental smarts in order to outperform his peers, and the extra attention he gave to strategy made the difference in the long-run.
What Does the Kevin Laue Story Mean for You?
As a parent with kids involved in recreational sports, you can take many lessons from the story of Kevin Laue:
- Adversity Builds Strength
- Sports is as Mental as Physical
- Perseverance is the Key to Success
Keep these in mind the next time you (or your child) gets frustrated with their performance and let Kevin’s story become a true inspiration for the young athletes in your family.