Baseball is a great sport. It teaches kids discipline and teamwork and when it is done right, it's a lot of fun.
When my son started playing baseball, I was told to "not be that mom."
You know the type, coaching, I mean, screaming from the sideline. Telling my son what to do, micromanaging his good time, or just imposing my vicarious needs on him to go back to my own baseball-playing youth.
It was good advice.
After four seasons of baseball, I have been reminded of many important lessons that can be applied to my classroom too.
Every child is starting with a different skill set. Although they are playing on the same team and may be around the same age, they don't necessarily have the same talent or ability. This doesn't make any child "better" than another, but it does mean that some children will require more coaching during practice and one on one during games. In a classroom, we have many kids of varying levels and abilities, but we need to find ways to help each of them in the way they need.
When a child does have talent, you must treat them the same as the other kids. Ego starts to grow early. My son has a big ego. Confidence is great, but I never want him to treat other kids like they aren't as special. In the classroom, there will be special students. Ones with a particular aptitude in a subject that we will want to treat differently, but this is not a good idea. All kids in the class are important and must play their roles. Having a confident and talented student is a gift that can really help the morale of the group if they are taught to work well with others. We should never treat any student differently because they are talented.
Since talent may not be natural, children need time and opportunities to learn what they are good at. On my son's team, one thing I appreciate about his coach is that every child has a chance to try everything. Logan wanted to be a pitcher and a third baseman and he got to play both. Other children, got to try out other positions until they found where they fit best. In the classroom, this is true as well. The learning process takes time and sometimes we end up being good at something we would have never tried. So we need to expose children to a lot of different content and learning activities in order to figure out what suits them best. Every child deserves to feel good about learning.
Practice makes better (not perfect). Like in all sports, regardless of how good a player is, practice is essential. In order to move to the next level in baseball, players need to practice batting: swing mechanics, timing, and stance. It's about muscle memory and opportunity and continued efforts to improve. But it's not just batting, there's fielding and throwing and teamwork. Students need this too. Once they learn a skill, they need time and practice to improve until they become proficient. Then for mastery to be achieved, they continued to practice in different settings and situations.
It's not about winning, it's about playing. Playing ball is about learning and growing strong. Learning is about growing too. There is no great way to track learning as it often happens as we aren't looking. So competing to be the best or to get the highest score on the test diminishes the learning experience. Students should always push themselves to improve, but they shouldn't want to get better just to beat someone else. It should be intrinsically motivated.
Being involved in a team sport is fun. My son loves baseball as many young children do. He loves to have a catch and play on a team because it's fun. Learning should be fun too. And it is really important for teachers to remember that. If want students to truly get what we are sharing with them, the more of an experience we can make it, the more likely they are to want to do more of it.
It has been amazing watching my son grow as a baseball player. There are always things to be worked on, but as he works, he grows.
What can you apply from your experiences as a coach, parent, or player of any sports team to the classroom? Please share
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in August 2015