The batter approaches the plate. This is the moment. Head down, the batter takes a practice swing. He/she/they is ready. The ump kneels down and says a resounding, "batter up!"
The pitcher is ready too. The pressure is on for both of them in this minute. The other players will have their moments or not, depending on how this first showdown goes.
The first pitch comes in. Looks like a good one. No swing. "Strike!" The pitcher is building momentum, and the batter looks a little deflated but is able to shake it off and get ready for the next pitch.
The next pitch comes and hits the plate. "Ball 1." The coach shouts, "it's okay, just take a breath and slow down."
Next pitch, the batter swings, and it's a miss. The count is 1 and 2. And before too long, the batter is walking away from home plate, dragging the bat and trying hard not to let the disappointment be evident to everyone else.
My son played baseball, a lot of baseball. On two teams, he spends nearly every day at the ballpark, and through his experiences over the last few years, I've noticed him changing for the better, and also, I've noticed how much we can teach students about grit by playing sports.
Here's what they can learn:
Striking out happens. It stings, and it sucks, but it happens, and we have two choices when it does, either let it get us down and then quit or take what we learned from the strike out and try even harder the next time we get up to bat. This is the same as students in our classroom learning a new skill. Most students don't get important new skills on the first try, so failure is a part of the process. We need to learn to bounce back quickly.
Practice is essential for growth. If a player wants to improve his/her swing or arm movement for a throw, he/she practices a lot. He/she/they watch Youtube videos or work with a coach who knows more about the skills and helps with feedback, and allows them to keep trying. This is true of learning. We take in a new skill. We practice it. We get feedback, then we take the feedback, apply it, and continue to practice.
High-stress situations require focus. Students and players will learn that some situations are more taxing than others, and this is so in life as well. When there is a playoff game, and there is a lot riding on the outcome of how one plays (or a standardized test or a job interview), we need to bring our A game and stay focused. This is an important lesson to learn. We hope for a win, but sometimes we strike out.
There are always winners and losers, but we can all be winners with our attitudes. Whether we win or lose, get the high or low score, how we react is what matters the most. When we win, it's important to be good sports and not rub it in the faces of the losers. It's okay to be happy about winning, but gloating is obnoxious and mean. The younger the child, the harder losses feel. Being a bad sport is equally as unbecoming. Losing stinks, but it shouldn't define you. We need to teach kids to cope with winning and losing well, on the field and in school.
It's important to have fun when you play. Regardless of how good you are, playing sports and learning is only as good as the amount of fun you're having while you're doing it, and we can't lose sight of that. Too much pressure or too focused on being the best ruins the experience. It's important to strive to be the best, but it is more important to have fun and stay interested.
So many kids these days lack the perseverance to succeed. Sports is a great way to start teaching them these lessons, and the more we connect the lessons to classroom learning, the better students grow as learners.
What important lessons have you learned from playing sports that you can apply to learning? Please share
This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in August of 2016