When I was still toting a baby and a toddler to my older children’s summer ball games, I learned a thing or two from the experienced baseball and softball moms. I admired their perspective and patience; these moms seemed to have it all figured out. They knew more than the rules of the game; they understood that youth sports are about far more than winning games.
I remember a mom in a bag chair that included a built in cup holder and sun shade. She watched the game comfortably with few words other than cheers of encouragement. She followed the action like a hawk, yet she was still laid back enough to appreciate every outcome for what it was. There were no comments about umpires or coaches. There was an appreciation for the game itself. This was her youngest child on the field, and she was soaking up the moments, the sunshine, the scent of fresh popcorn, and the windblown dust of the infield.
These days, before heading to a game, there’s no need for me to grab a stroller, but I try to be well prepared. Sunscreen, bug spray, umbrellas, blankets, hats, extra hoodies and a first aid kit have a permanent home in the back of the family Suburban. If I’m really organized, there will be a thermal cooler with drinks, fruit, sunflower seeds, and other snacks fitting for a night at the diamond. But the best thing I can pack is the right mindset.
I’ve watched hundreds of games. I’ve seen the wide eyes of little kids who anxiously beg for their bat to hit the ball so they can scamper to first base and receive the coach’s proud high-five. I’ve seen the big boys and girls warm up their bats like they could play this game in their sleep and send the ball anywhere they wished.
Back when my oldest kids were playing those first games, I was both enthusiastic and nervous. These days when watching my younger two, I’m more relaxed while I take in these precious years. I’m grateful when the kids can compete without injuries on both sides of the field. I’m ready to look for the positives to be collected from any contest. I notice the friendships between players and parents that extend beyond the sports season.
I’m thankful for coaches who teach the fundamentals, and then take it a step further and teach sportsmanship, responsibility, and character. I am well aware that these leaders have far more strategy than whether or not they play my kid on any given day. They’re trying to multiply their instruction and motivation to reach every single player in the game and on the bench.
Wins are always a highlight, but sometimes the most meaningful triumphs have nothing to do with the scoreboard. I’ve seen my own kids hit an occasional home run and I’ve seen them ride the pine. I’ve seen them return to the dugout after striking out at the plate, and I’ve seen them strike out the batter from the pitcher’s mound. Between championship wins and losing seasons, it doesn’t change our roles as parents, players or coaches.
In the end, the goal is that the kids take life lessons from game no matter how long they play it. They’ll learn some fundamentals that they’ll share with kids of their own or kids down the street someday. They’ll be thankful when their bodies perform at their peak ability. They’ll know that positive team chemistry can make a valuable difference. They’ll become respectful and responsible to their coaches. They’ll be able to lose with grace and win with class and carry that example into adulthood.
I contemplate that many of the moms in the stands new to youth sports might be sharing the same thoughts I had ten years ago. We wonder which activity might become their passion. Maybe we’ll watch that little kid with an oversized glove transform into a college ball player. Or perhaps we’ll see this child give up summer ball in a few years to take on lifeguarding instead of catching fly balls. Either way, we’re proud to be their cheerleaders no matter what dream they chase. The best things we get to see aren’t the victories or the big plays, it’s the little glimpses into the future – and that’s my favorite view of the game, no matter where I sit the bleachers.