Last week, logging onto the computer, I saw a headline for a baseball story. Curious, I clicked on the
link. I don’t want to go into too much detail without the express written consent of Major League
Baseball, but the story can easily be found by doing a search for “Cincinnati Bat Boy.” Basically the bat
boy asked a player to hit a home run for him, which the player did. After the game the players were
crediting the bat boy for their win, calling him “good luck,” and stating how great it is to have someone
with his enthusiasm and positive demeanor in the dugout. It was an incredibly powerful story, and
I’ve talked about little else since seeing the video last week. Yesterday my wife finally said to me, “You
know, if you love this story so much, you should find a way to make it the topic of a mat chat.” At first I
laughed, but I think I have figured out a way to relate this story to performance in the martial arts, and
life in general.
The players called this bat boy good luck, because whenever he is their bat boy they play extremely well.
Now, this young man may indeed bring the team good luck, but I have another possible explanation as
to why the team seems to play so well when he is around. You see, the players remarked that this bat
boy brings an amazing energy and excitement to the team, as was evident in the video. He has a great
time, and anyone around him cannot help but have a great time as well.
Professional sports can seem like the most serious things in the world sometimes. Players’ and coaches’
livelihoods depend upon wins and losses, and we routinely see fighting between players and even fans.
Yet, the team in the story seems to be at their best when they are having fun, laughing, and joking
around. I believe that we do our best work when we are enjoying ourselves. Rather than worrying so
much about whether we are making progress, or how many points we are scoring, we can just go out
there and have a great time, and then we WILL succeed.
Ah, spring is the air again (that should be pronounced uh-GANE)! What a wonderful time of year!
Many of our students have told me that they are participating in other extracurricular team activities/
sports, and I think it’s wonderful that our students are so active. In an effort to help our students with
these activities, I’ve been doing some research. One great thing about the internet is we have access
to priceless information that was hitherto known only to a few. I’ve been reading several great articles
about coaching and working with children, and I think some of the things I’ve learned might be of
interest to our parents. Even if the child is not involved in team sports, these ideas apply to almost any
activity, including the martial arts, and child development in general.
OK, first off, let me admit that my research really got rolling while I was watching the NCAA basketball
finals. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if one day my future child grows up to be a collegiate or even
a professional athlete?” With less than altruistic intentions, I quickly set out to read everything I could
on developing young athletes. The first thing I learned was that my original plan (to have them dribbling
a basketball as soon as they could walk) would have been going about this the wrong way completely.
Children, and people in general, will excel in activities that THEY are passionate about, so if we want
them to reach their full potential we should let them choose their sports/instruments/activities/etc.
Secondly, children do not have to specialize in one activity to be successful. I used to think, “Instead
of having Johnny Jr. play soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, I’ll put him in basketball year round. He’ll be
thrice as good!” There are many problems with this line of thinking but here’s one of the main ones
(I know this is true in basketball but I would wager it is true of most physical activities): As the child’s
body grows, the technique they will use to shoot a basketball will change dramatically, so it doesn’t
matter much whether they can shoot the ball until a certain age. What is important is that the child is
increasing their coordination, speed, agility, strength, ability to concentrate, ability to work with others,
and, oh yeah, having FUN!
On a similar note, I remember once, after being cut from a Little League travel team, my dad said to me:
“Who cares how good you are now, you want to be good when you get older, like in high school!” Now,
I ended up getting cut from the team in high school as well, but that’s not the point. I think my dad
made an excellent point here, and one that we as coaches and parents should consider. At what point
in their lives do we want our children to reach their full potential? Is my goal to make my child the little
league, dance, karate, or curling star, by age 10, and burning them out from all the pressure by the time
they are 12?
We all know that youth activities can get very competitive. The ability to outperform others may seem
very important at the moment. Players, students, instructors and coaches may rely on strategies (that
will not work as the children get older) for the sake of winning. Which is more important: winning, or