This past weekend, Tyler Zupcic and I were fortunate enough to be at the Baseball Youth All-American Games in South Carolina. The event has players from all over the country playing with each other over a weekend tournament. It’s a fun event! Part of the ‘festivities’ is a Home Run Derby.
Our booth was happened to look right out to the Home Run Derby field so we got a first-hand view of all the hitters. One hitter, in particular, stood out, but not for a good reason.
Every other hitter got their names announced before they went to the plate. Johnny Smith! Tyler Johnson! Sammy Miller! But this one 10u hitter didn’t get his real name announced, he simply went by “Big Dawg”. I was cracking up. This kid had swagger. He was also one of the bigger kids in his age group so he definitely lived up to the name. Unfortunately, Big Dawg stepped up to the plate and laid an absolute goose egg. Zero home runs. He struggled to make contact. It was objectively and subjectively not a good round for Big Dawg.
About 10 minutes later Big Dawg and his mother walked by us. Big Dawg was clearly upset. Understandable, he was probably 10-years-old or so. He wasn’t sad at all, he was furious. He was taking his frustration out on the BP pitcher during the derby:
Now let me be clear here, I didn’t exactly clearly hear what his mom said back to him but it clearly seemed that she was agreeing with him. (The conversation could have gone different after they were away from my earshot) This interaction got me thinking and it led me to write my first article, this article, an article about accountability.
When I was younger I was very average at soccer. I played it because most of my friends played it but I was average. I made my town’s 11u travel team mostly because I was big for my age. Anyways, I remember this like it was yesterday, we were in the finals of the big tournament, it was a close game, and I was on the bench. I barely played. We won but I was mad, much like Big Dawg was.
When I got in the car with my mom after the game I voiced my frustrations:
“That sucked. I barely played. I don’t even care that we won.” My mom turned and replied to my comments.
For context, she never said much of anything after games besides “Great Game!” I’ll never forget what she said:
“Your teammates are better soccer players than you. If you want to play in games like that, you have to work hard at it. You have to practice because you are not a naturally gifted soccer player. If this was hockey you’d be playing at the end of games (I was a good little hockey player) and some of those same teammates would be sitting on the bench. So unless you want to work harder at soccer, you’ll be a role player. There’s nothing wrong with that but that is a fact of life.”
I remember hearing this clear as day but I don’t remember specifically how I initially reacted when my mom said all of this to me. I probably didn’t take it well because I was 10 but the message stuck with me.
If you aspire for something, and you aren’t fortunate enough to be naturally gifted at it, you are going to have to work HARD for it. That’s just life. Your actions need to match your ambitions.
Now I’m not saying I was or am perfect, even to this day. Did I always put accountability into practice in every aspect of my life after the post-game conversation with my mother? Not at all! BUT, later in life when I found myself frustrated from the situation I was in, whether it was not getting enough playing time, a grade on a test, or not getting a promotion at work, I was able to look back and have an accountability self-assessment myself:
For small goals and tasks, this “self-assessment” usually happens very quickly; for example, getting an F on a test. But for bigger goals, it might take some time and maturity to have an honest self-assessment with yourself. Looking back, I can personally think of hundreds of times where I didn’t put in the effort needed and I failed to meet my goals.
Something I’ve noticed recently in Youth Sports is everyone makes a team. If you try-out, you’ll make a team. It may not be the “Premier Team” or “Platinum Team” but you’ll be on the “Blue Team” or “Red Team”. I think this is all OK because it gets kids to still be able to play the game. But if your player really wants to be on the “Premier Team” and they don’t make it, and they end up on the “Red Team”, make sure they understand why.
When I was 13, I made the “B” travel hockey team and not the “A” travel hockey team. I really wanted to make the “A” team. I was mad, really mad. But again, my mother and father came in and hit me with some truth bombs: ‘While I was big and strong, I wasn’t as good of a skater as the A-team players.” As most 13-year-olds would, I disagreed and fought with them at the time but the honesty of their feedback stuck in the back of my mind. Without my parents being honest with me and pushing me to be accountable for what I was as a player, I would have never worked hard on skating that season and I would have never made the “A” travel team the following year.
Parents, coaches, and instructors need to start instilling accountability in their players. If your player ACTUALLY wants to make the all-star team or a select travel team or even get an A+ in school, help them understand:
This won’t work every time. Sometimes your player won’t actually really want something, they’ll just say they will. Or they’ll start working hard for a couple of days and then it will fizzle out. That’s OK! They’re kids! This is an important note, make sure it is something that your player/kid truly wants and help them understand if they truly want it. For example, I really, really wanted to make the “A” travel team in hockey. In contrast, I didn’t actually want to be the best soccer player because I didn’t even really care for soccer. See the difference?
The final important piece is if they do fail (and complain as I did after the soccer game), be positive and remind them that they are accountable for their actions. They probably won’t take it well the first couple of times but I promise you, it will eventually sink in and it will be a lesson that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Back to the Baseball Youth Home Run Derby. One of our clients happened to be taking part. Admittedly, this story might have some bias but here we go. Tyler Zupcic, one of our instructors, threw to him during the same Home Run Derby as Big Dawg. Our client did extremely well but ultimately didn’t win. There were a TON of things he could have complained about:
But, surprisingly, our 9-year-old client didn’t complain. He was clearly disappointed because he wanted to win but he didn’t complain to Tyler or his parents. After the round, he and Tyler went over some things he could improve on next time and he thanked Tyler for throwing.
He was an Accountability Champion and he probably didn’t realize it! Now is he always like that, probably not, he’s only 9! BUT, I could tell from that limited interaction with him that he has the foundation to be an accountable person moving forward in his life. And to be honest, longterm, that will serve him better than winning some Home Run Derby in South Carolina.