I’d like to share a story of a lesson I learned this spring. I’m reluctant to put it to print because the whole idea of it embarrasses my daughter. You see, this spring she learned to play softball.
Olivia’s the kind of girl who, not unlike her father, likes to be good at stuff when she first begins. The rule around our house is that the first step towards being great at something is to suck at it. It goes something like this:
Step 1. Suck
Step 2. Go home, learn from your experience; come back ready to try again.
Step 3. Suck a teensy bit less.
Step 4. Repeat Step 2 and 3 over and over and over again until you’re good.
Step 5. Be good; but keep learning and keep trying.
Carol Dweck wrote a book called Mindset. It’s pretty great. In it, she says that you shouldn’t praise the end-result, but instead praise the process. Don’t tell a kid how smart they are; praise them for studying. With a fixed mindset, a smart kid will shy away from opportunities where they have a chance of looking stupid. They will have equated being smart with who they are – and will therefore avoid situations that defy that definition of “self.” Does that make sense? Kids with a growth mindset – kids who are praised for their efforts, will continue to display those efforts, even if they involve failure.
Softball is an excellent place for us to really try this out. Liv has never wanted to play pass. She owns a glove, but historically, when you’d throw her a ball, she’d drop it, cry, and run back in the house. Game over. Given this, I was surprised when she announced that she’d like to play softball this year. “Sure!”, we’d responded. The second rule around our house is once you start something – you finish it. My kids don’t have to join any clubs or play any sports, but if they chose to begin something, they’ll finish it out. We reminded Liv of this, and still she wanted to play.
I bought her a new glove, some cleats, a bucket of softballs and a bat. We began working on the basics. I’m not going to pretend it was easy from the get-go because it wasn’t. We dropped a lot of balls. I pitched hundreds of balls and she swung a lot of strikes. This time, however, I really tried to praise the effort – even more than usual. I was open and honest with her about her shortcomings and what would be needed to overcome them. Instead of getting too frustrated, she worked harder. There were tears, but she’d take a few minutes to herself, and get right back in there. We were making progress.
Practice is held twice a week. We practiced at least 6 days/week. We practiced in the rain. We practiced before and after “practice.”
The first game, Liv only played half a game. There are a couple extra kids on the team, so a few had to sit out. Liv was one of them. Her position was deep left field. Nothing much happens in deep left field during a Little League softball game. When she got up to bat she didn’t dare swing. The coach had told her to swing at anything she thought she could hit – which she confided in me was none of the pitches. Thank God she’s tiny. She’s got no strike zone, and the pitching at this level is such that she walked a lot in those first games.
As the weeks wore on, her skills improved. I knew we were onto something when she asked me, “Dad, do you think if I work really hard for the rest of the season and even through the summer that next year I could play a base?” I assured her that of course she could; that the only thing the other girls had that she didn’t was more practice time under their belts.
Before long, she started playing full games. When practices were held, and only 4-6 girls would show up, Liv was one of them. Even if it was raining outside and it was after dinner, and we’d both had a long day – we’d be up at the field working on our catching, throwing, or hitting.
Liv got upgraded to right field, where she could back up the first baseman. Her hard work was being recognized.
Before a game a week or two ago, Liv approached Beth and asked if she could be taken out for an ice cream cone if she hit a home run. We told her that she could go out for ice cream if she HIT the ball; forget the home run. Her first at-bat was an obvious “walk” situation. She only had one strike thrown, and the rest were balls. She walked. She got to first and looked back at us, shrugging her shoulders. Her next at bat was different. She saw a pitch she liked, swung with everything she had, and hit the ball … 3 feet. It went almost straight down. After a long pause where everyone on both teams just STARED at the ball, she bolted for first. She made it! Her first hit! She was so excited! At her third time up, she knocked a solid hit to left field. She made it to first base easily and was pantomiming “two scoops!” The umpire came over to the fence and hollered to Beth and I, “We’ve created a monster now! She’s got confidence.” Unbelievably, she even got a hit at her fourth at-bat! She’d hardly swung a bat during a game to this point, and she’s batting .750 for this game.
Needless to say, she was allowed all the ice cream she could eat.
Through all of this, we keep practicing and working hard. She still goes to every single practice, often times earlier than the other kids. She recognizes that the key to her success is her good attitude and willingness to work hard. I couldn’t be more proud.
Oh, I almost forgot. At her last game, the coach came up to me in the bleachers and said he wanted me to know that he had recognized how much growth Liv had shown since that first practice and how impressed he was. He mistakenly attributed it to my sports acumen (which is absurd) and asked if I’d coach the team next year! I politely declined. I couldn’t possibly do right by those girls.