“We aren’t raising baseball players. We’re raising men.

In chatting with a fellow baseball mom recently (our boys are nine and play on the same youth sports team), she shared this quote that her husband often says, and it resonated with me.

Because that’s the truth of it all, isn’t it? Our kids won’t grow up to be professional athletes—we all know that. But what they will someday be are adults—with careers, spouses, maybe children. They might go into finance, or law, or medicine, or the teaching field. And sure, maybe (just maybe) there’s a chance one of them will “go pro.” 

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But whatever they decide to do in life, we hope they are kind. We hope they have a strong work ethic. We hope they are honest, have integrity, and understand the value of teamwork and what it means to “show up.”

And along with learning how to throw a curveball and make a double play at second base, these crucial life skills are also being taught to them, at nine years old, on the baseball field. 

My son plays on a travel team, which means there were try-outs and a lot of kids didn’t make it. It’s not the town league where everyone gets a spot and everyone gets to play equally. Already as an incoming 4th grader, my kid is learning about real-deal competition. And to be honest, there are good and bad elements to this choice our family has made.

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For example, at this level of competition, we’ve seen some coaching “methods” that have shocked us to our core. While our own coaches push the kids and expect them to hustle and give their best effort, they also encourage laughter and fun and offer endless support and encouragement

Other coaches… well, let’s just say they don’t roll quite the same way. We’ve seen grown men have full-blown temper tantrums. Scream at kids until tears stream down their faces. Disrespect umpires. Cheat. Encourage their players to cheat. And everything in between.

And the worst part is, often these intense coaches are leading “winning” teams. Our kids have been crushed with a score of 12-1 by groups of kids that I worry aren’t having much fun at all. 

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What does their future look like in kids’ sports if the pressure is already at this level? When I see them slink away, shoulders hunched in shame, after being berated for letting a ground ball get through their legs (something that still happens to major leaguers making millions of dollars a year), I wonder how much more they can take. Will they burn out by age 12? 13?

Why are we doing this to little kids? What happens when the important life lessons of team sports fall by the wayside or are eclipsed by the obsession with winning?

“We aren’t raising baseball players. We are raising men.” 

I can’t speak for any other team, but I can tell you the philosophy of the coaches my kid sees every week. Is winning fun? Yep. Do we all want to win? Of course. But it’s bigger than that. Much bigger.

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We are raising kids who know the value of hard work. Who know that sometimes you get into a slump—whether it’s strikeouts or another challenge in life—and you might need to work really hard to climb out. You might need to ask for help, and that’s OK. You might need to be patient with yourself, give yourself some grace, and find that inner voice that whispers, “You can do this.”

We are raising kids who know how to lose. Even when it hurts. Even when they wanted the win so badly the tears came gushing out as the final out is made. 

We are raising kids who know how to accept losing like a winner. How to stand tall, shake hands with the other team, and congratulate their opponent for a game well played.

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We are raising kids who lift up their teammates, who put their arms around their fellow players when they are down, when they make a mistake, and say “It’s OK. You’ll get ‘em next time.” Kids who join a chorus of chants and cheers as one of their own touches home plate after a home run. And who cheer just as loud for the kid who finally gets on base for the first time.

We are raising kids who understand what commitment means. Who accept that sometimes games are early in the morning, and you’re tired, or in the middle of the day when it’s 95 degrees, or on the same day as a birthday party they’ll have to miss because their team is counting on them.

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We are raising kids who respect their coaches because their coaches show them respect in return. Coaches who might make them run extra laps when they are lazy and not giving their best. But also coaches who lift them up into bear hugs and when they catch a ball in the outfield or score the winning run.

We are raising kids who will be future adults. And sure, will they have to face angry bosses and angry teachers and angry coaches throughout their lives? Absolutely. And perhaps those bosses and teachers and coaches will make them better and give them inner drive to push through their greatest challenges. 

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But at this age, we also want to ensure that when they are grown adults sitting in offices or climbing poles to fix electrical wires or standing at the front of a classroom teaching geometry, that they look back on their childhood sports days with a smile. That they remember hearing “Good job! I am so proud of you! I hope you are proud of yourself and see how your hard work paid off” from their coaches. 

Coaches who said things like, “Everyone makes mistakes, even professional athletes. We learn from it and do better next time” and also “Your job is to play hard, do your best, and have fun. Your job is not to win.”

Because in every game in life, there’s a winner and a loser. And more than anything else, we must raise kids who know how to win graciously and how to lose graciously as well. 

But those lessons start with the grownups on that field. Adults who are holding great responsibility in helping to shape the types of adults these kids will grow up to be.

They probably won’t be baseball players. But if we do our jobs right, our kids will someday be good adults.