One photo captured it all
We have a picture in our family room of a twelve-year-old baseball player in mid-swing. A split second forever frozen in time. Ben’s final at-bat in the district championship game.
There is so much detail in that photo. The determination in his young eyes. The sweat on his royal-blue jersey. The fine blue lines of his pinstriped pants. The swing is textbook perfect as the bat makes contact with that outside fastball the pitcher had tried to sneak past my son to get ahead in the count.
However, the picture also captured one other heartbreaking detail.
Going after that first pitch, Ben did everything right. However, that CRACK we’d all heard from beyond center field was not a perfectly swung bat crushing the laces off the ball.
At the worst possible time, in a moment when he was completely in the zone, in his groove, and prepared for whatever was thrown at him, the head of his bat snapped off at the point of contact.
The bat broke.
The shortstop collected the ball and fired it to the catcher for the play at the plate.
“You’re out!” screamed the umpire.
Our boys ended up losing.
Our society is unforgiving — but we can teach differently
In a performance-based society that can be cruel and unforgiving to our kids, we need to reevaluate what we’re teaching them about success and failure.
I’ve watched parents go crazy with enthusiasm when a kid does well. I’ve also seen them go stone-cold silent when things take a turn for the worse. That silence speaks volumes into the heart of a child. As a result, kids grow up desperately chasing applause, and that usually gets twisted into a fragile, warped sense of self-worth.
When your sense of self-worth is tied to the applause of others, you surrender control of your own joy — indeed, your life — and put it in the uncaring hands of strangers.
Our kids need to know they are loved, they matter, and their value is not handcuffed to some performance. They are far more than their successes and failures. We all are.
But how do we send that message to a child growing up in a world that is grasping for Likes, Followers, and ReTweets?
We learn to dial back the praise.
We should celebrate our kids for who they are and not what they do, and we need to become intentional about how we cheer from the sidelines of their lives. Whether they succeed or fail, Cal Ripken (MLB’s Iron Man pitcher, coach, and dad) urges parents to support kids “at a consistent level.”
“They [cheering adults] can drive the kids’ emotions way up and they can help them crash,” Ripken writes, and child psychology experts agree.
Praise can actually damage your children and cripple their development. “Praise,” writes psychologist Robin Grille, is merely “the sweet side of authoritarian parenting.” If you’re not careful, you risk crushing your child under the weight of your applause.
It’s too easy for kids to equate their performance with your approval … and your love.
A life-long lesson
After the game, Ben walked off the field and collapsed into my arms as he fought back tears. I hugged him.
“I’m proud of you,” I told him. “I love you.”
He’d played his part and played it well. He’d worked hard. He’d prepared. He did everything right.
But sometimes the bat breaks. A lesson for all of us, and one we should be teaching our kids.
I now look at that photo of my son in that beautifully heartbreaking moment and I refuse to see a broken bat. It’s one small detail, an unfortunate hiccup in an otherwise awesome display of who my son was becoming in that season of his life.
And after that?
Ben went on to play college baseball. He became a teacher … and I pray he’s passing on the lesson that every kid needs to learn: You’re loved. You matter. Even when the bat breaks.