My son, Jacob, was playing in a Little League playoff tournament this past Monday. We had practiced one-on-one for days fixing his swing, meditating on confidence at the plate, and fielding. He was doing great in practice. Jacob's throws were long, fast, and accurate. His hitting was consistently putting line drive hits into the outfield. I truly felt like he had a shot and having a great showing in the playoffs, and even earn a spot on an All-Star team. Jacob said he felt very confident.
Monday's game came, but Jacob's game didn't. He was off the entire night. At catcher, his throws back to the pitcher were scary going everywhere but to the pitcher. It was frustrating to see all that training, and all that progress go to waste. When Jacob came to the plate for what would be his only at-bat, he struck out on three pitches. On the first pitch, he loaded perfectly, his timing step was perfect, and when it was time to swing, he did...nothing. There was no movement to swing, no effort, just a complete stop. On the second pitch, he swung late, and threw all of his training out the window for a swing with poor technique. On the third pitch, he did exactly what he had done on the first pitch, nothing. He walked to the dugout holding back tears. He was obviously frustrated with himself, too.
I walked to the dugout to talk with him. Instead of a gentle, you'll-get-them-next-time, I gave him a typical frustrated coach's wake up call. My first words to him were, "You loaded perfectly, you stepped perfectly, then...you did nothing when you were supposed to swing. Why?"
Jacob looked stunned. He was hoping to get some answers from me, and instead I turned the questions back onto him. Why did he choose to do nothing? What happens when you do nothing? Nothing. (Gotta love Mel Gibson from "Braveheart" for that line.) "Stop doing nothing when you need to be doing something!" I continued. "Wake up, son. I know you are tired, but you need to concentrate and force yourself to do your best when you're tired. It's when you're tired that you have to use your mind the most." I told him I loved him, and I wanted to see him do his best. I didn't care if he hit homeruns, I didn't care if his team won or lost, but I cared whether or not he was trying his best. He insisted he was, and I said for him to stop lying to himself, face the truth, and fix the problem. The truth is that I really wanted to see him hit a homerun more than I wanted to see him do his best.
I walked back to my seat feeling bad. I gave my son the crazy dad talk. When I sat down, I said to myself, "He needed to hear that. He needed to get a wake up call and think about how he is playing this game so he can do his best." I was reassuring myself.
Then, I heard a different voice in the back of my head say something that nearly brought me to tears, "Funny. All this effort to concentrate on a baseball game. When is the last time you encouraged your son to focus on me?" Uh oh.
All this pressure to hit a baseball, play a game, and win a tournament, but where was the effort to build his spiritual life and relationship with Jesus Christ? How was I encouraging him to pray, to seek God, to find comfort in Him, and to be an example for others to follow? How was my leadership as a father setting a Godly example? That scolding totally missed the mark. It wasn't like I caught Jacob cheating or being a poor sportsman. He was simply having a bad day, and rather than encourage him, I berated him. Caught by my own hypocrite radar.
His team lost 11-1, and we had a good talk about the game. I wanted to be sure to let him know that he is my son, and I will always love him without condition. As his father, I wanted him to understand that I will always want him to do his best, but my love for him did not depend on how he performed in a baseball game. He smile, and that's all I needed to see. My boy is such a loving boy.