Monday, October 16, 2006

Lessons in softball

Recently, our 8-year-old made an impressive out at first base (pardon while I bask in the glow of her moment of softball glory). One kid actually fielded the ball, thought about where it needed to go, threw the ball to her, and she caught it. Then she had the presence of mind to step on the base to get the runner out.

For all her tender youth, this is her third year to play softball. It’s been fun watching her friends go from a bunch of six-year-olds picking grass and making dust angels to a remarkably good little softball team. She is now starting to pull a few of the pieces together to make the game fun and enjoyable.

Learning a game just takes time. With our kids, learning any game seems to take a pretty standard course.

Here’s how it goes for us:

Stage One: I have a uniform.

The thinking goes something like this:

Kid: “I play softball.”

Mom: “Oh, really? How is that?”

Kid: “Because I’m a Dodger.”

The kid does not know home plate from right field, but, by golly, she has a uniform (and looks ever so cute in it), she is part of the team, and that surely means she is the greatest player ever. Everyone knows the clothes make the woman.

Stage Two: I have some skills

Note: this stage usually starts with a very expensive trip to Academy Sports for some gear.

In this stage, kids are usually attracted to one skill to the detriment of all others. In softball, every kid wants to bat. Most kids struggle with accuracy to the nearest yard, but eventually get the hang of throwing. But very few little guys out there can catch worth a flip.

That’s why most little kids’ softball games have scores of 25-29, because everyone can bat (the ball is either on a tee, or the coach is pitching it as perfectly as he can right to them). But no one can field to save their lives.

By the end of this stage, if you have a decent coach, and if your dad takes you to the batting cages occasionally, your child will think she is playing softball. This is because she has rudimentary skills in batting, throwing and catching.

Stage Three: I know some strategy (but I’m 8).

Here is where parents go wrong. They mistakenly think their kid knows what she’s doing, because she has a few skills. And there WAS that occasion where the child actually completed a play in a real game. They yell their heads off, thinking this will help their child repeat last week’s glorious performance. No, my friend, this does nothing but give the other parents in the stands a headache.

But I digress.

If your coach is worth his salt, he has taught his little team that they should throw most balls to first base. This is where parents’ sense of humor gets tested time and again. They know their child can bat, throw and catch.

But, alas, she is eight.

If the ball comes to her, there is just that chance (glorious performance last week or not), that she will stand there, frozen, bewilderedly holding the ball as if it were a moonrock suddenly fallen onto her softball field.

After a time in La-La Land, she happens to glance at her coach, who is yelling, “Throw it to second! Throw it to second!”

The child yells back, “I thought you taught us to throw it to first?” The runner now advances to third, while the child shrugs her shoulders and finally throws it to second (the second baseman is looking away, so the ball goes to center field, but that’s another story).

Parents in the stands are hushed and subdued.

Yes, she has some strategy (but she’s 8).

This is the stage at which we find ourselves with most of our kids, even though their sports are different, and their level of skill varies with their ages.

They are, after all, kids.

Yes, some day they may improve their skills, and they may actually watch the ball, the runners, and the other players, and make split-second decisions that will affect the outcome of the game.

Of course, then they would be in Stage Four: I am a Professional Athlete.

If it weren’t for us parents, most little kids would be pretty happy with Stage One. “I play softball, because I’m a Dodger.”

And everyone knows the Dodgers get snacks after the game.


Anonymous said...

Too are exactly right.......I love stage 1.....ours of course is Soccer we have watched Madison grow in.

sarah cool said...

I loved this story!! :-)

Susanne said...

You write out the experience so well! Except would have been a big round orange ball with baskets set at either end of a long court!

Anonymous said...

Yeah - I want to be a dodger if it means I get some snacks after the game! :)
Cute breakdown of the stages!

mommy to six J's said...

Tht was so cute. I have seen the same thing happen with my little girl but her sport is soccer. She has been playing for aobut 4 years now,I have seen her become a little soccer player. Her skills are so m uch better than when she first started.
Char said...

Very true! We have yet to progress beyond stage 1 1/2 yet. Mainly cuz we don't continue playing the same sport! :)

blestwithsons said...

And if you have a first born like mine (who takes after his mother) there is a stage somewhere in there - perhaps around 2.5 which states I have read several books about the sport, therefore I now know everything and can instruct the other players...and the coach

Nettie said...

My son just wrapped up his cross country season. Even though he is 13, we are still in stage 3, too. He seems so grown up and skilled, and then he doesn't remember to tie his shoes tight and loses one in the mud.

It is exciting to see them progress, and see them excited about their progression as well. I can't help but be one of those annoying moms and stand on the sidelines yelling "GO, go, go!" as if he wasn't already!