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Posted on 01-07-2017

One night after baseball camp last week, and after both our kids went to sleep, I found myself in my usual 8:30pm spot: plopped on the couch next to my wife, completely exhausted, and staring blankly at whatever game MLB Network had on.

A few minutes into my nightly end-of-the-day-coma, the broadcast switched over to the 9th inning of the Nationals game where Bryce Harper was walking up to the plate with 2 outs in a tie game, and the winning run on base.

While my affinity for the Tigers hasn’t necessarily waned since I donned the “English D” on my hat as a professional more years ago than I would like to admit, my love for the Nats has grown steadily over the last few years. Growing up in DC in the 80s and 90s, we didn’t have a “home team” – I will NEVER call the Orioles my team – so it was extremely exciting for native DC baseball fans to finally have a true home team.

In addition to the pure excitement of finally have a team to root for, the Nats now have:

1) The most exciting player in the game in Bryce Harper (Ok Mike Trout fans: let me hear it)

2) The most exciting pitcher in the game in Max Scherzer (Go ahead Kershaw fans, pile it on me)

3) A veteran caveman in Jayson Werth (Sorry, Hunter Pence fans)

4) The worst bullpen in baseball (I’m honestly REALLY jealous of the Dodgers’ pen)

Add all this up and you get an extremely entertaining and volatile team with a real shot of going all the way this year. FUN!

Anyway, back to the couch and the 9th inning of that tie game: Harper promptly mashed a ball over the RF’s head which not only won the game in dramatic walk-off fashion, but jolted me out of my semi-asleep mental fog.

As they played the replay over and over, one of the announcers made a great observation (which in and of itself is noteworthy; please google McCarver, Tim at your leisure for a good laugh). And I quote:

“Bryce would rather get up in the big spot and fail than not get up there at all.”

I don’t think I could have summed up any better exactly what it means to be “competitive.”

As someone who has spent every day of my adult life around baseball, the most common complaint I hear from parents about ALL of youth sports is…

It’s just gotten too competitive!

I think that “being competitive” is completely misunderstood these days and if we can redefine it correctly, maybe we can at least start to reverse the trend of youth sports having the fun sucked out of it by hyper competitive adults.

1) Being competitive does not mean you have to win every game in order to be successful.

2) Being competitive does not mean you are a “loser” if you lose.

3) Being competitive does not mean you should cheat to win. (This sounds obvious but you would be surprised by some of the stories I hear from all across the youth sports spectrum).

4) Being competitive is not more important than honoring the game.

5) Being competitive does mean trying your hardest.

6) Being competitive does mean you are willing to fail, and you accept it as part of the game when you do.

7) Being competitive does mean that you are willing to take chances.

8) Being competitive does mean what when you fail, you get right back up there and try just as hard the next time.

Bryce Harper walked up to the plate in the game I was watching knowing full well that there was at least a 70% chance that he would not get a hit.

And yet, he still wanted to be in that situation. Not many people voluntarily enter situations, anywhere in life, where there is a high chance of failure. But that’s what competitors live for, and that’s the attitude baseball players in particular must develop.

The true beauty of sports, the true beauty of competition, is the challenge of facing an equal or better opponent, putting it all on the line, and not knowing what the result will be.

If we celebrate the courage that a young player must have to want to be in that big spot, regardless of the result, we’re moving in the right direction.

But too often as parents and coaches we’re “happy” when our players win the battle and are “sad” when they lose; we ignore that the real spirit of competition lies in the moment, and not in the result.

My favorite quote of all time is from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

That’s essentially what the announcer was saying about Bryce Harper, and that’s exactly the type of athlete we should be encouraging our kids to become.

Comments posted (1)

Great post, Dan. IMHO, you can’t say this kind of message to kids too much- given the emphasis given to winning in our culture. I like the Ted Roosevelt quote. Beckett has another one that is good too: Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.

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