For the past 30 years, I have been working in the field of sport psychology, and every day it seems that I am learning something new about people and how we act and react in different situations. Over the past 15 years, as I have raised two sons who are now 20 and 19 years old, I have observed and participated with them as they have grown up playing many sports including soccer, baseball, basketball, golf and swimming. My youngest son just completed his freshman year in college and was a member of his school’s swim team. I have watched both of my sons succeed and fail along the way. Sometimes these have been very pleasant situations and many times they have not. As both of my sons began to play on numerous teams, I saw firsthand the difference in coaching styles, motivation and the growth and destruction in confidence in both of them by different coaches.
This past weekend Kansas City Royals’ first base coach, Rusty Kuntz, and I presented a sportsmanship seminar at a local Kansas City high school. The turnout was small, but everyone who participated left with several methods and tools to help them as coaches and as people. I left with a renewed enthusiasm for what I do and what I have been talking about in the articles I have been writing and the conversations I have been sharing on my weekly radio show. My enthusiasm came from listening to Rusty share a great story about his son. I have know Rusty for the past three years as I have been the sport psychologist with the Royals and have admired his communication skills, his honesty and his love for coaching. He puts in countless hours, as do most Major League coaches, with little fanfare or notoriety helping and teaching baseball players to improve their skills. Even though they are in the Major Leagues, they still can continue to improve and grow as baseball players and as people.
Rusty talked about what happened to his son when he was 11 years old. His son tried out for a local baseball team in Florida and was cut along with several other boys. Rusty saw that there were enough kids cut to start up another team. He asked another dad, who had zero coaching experience, if he would be willing to help coach these kids. The other dad was willing, and with Rusty’s guidance, they put together a team of the 11 boys who had been cut. Rusty emphasized that they had one goal for the team, HAVE FUN. He stated that the score was irrelevant, winning and losing was irrelevant, and that the only thing that mattered was HAVING FUN. He emphasized that this rule applied not only to the boys but to their parents as well. After every practice and every game he always asked the boys if they had fun and they almost always said yes. They played two games on Saturdays for one hour each that first year and did not win one game. THEY LOST EVERY GAME. But the boys came back the next year and kept playing. None of them quit and they continued to play as they got older. The highlight of the story was that Rusty mentioned that all 11 boys not only played thru high school, but all of them are now playing college baseball. ALL OF THEM ARE PLAYING IN COLLEGE.
Why? I believe because winning and losing were not emphasized, HAVING FUN was. These boys were taught to enjoy their experience and not worry about the results. Remember, they were all cut from their team as 11 year olds, told they were not good enough to play on that team. I wonder how many of those kids who were not cut from that original team continued to play, even past 13 years of age. Yesterday, on my radio show as I shared this story, a mother called concerned about her 8 year old son who plays baseball. She stated that he cried himself to sleep recently one night because he had gone one for eleven in a tournament. Do you think his coach emphasized having fun or was winning? Too bad Rusty isn’t his coach.