A couple seasons back I was talking to a friend about youth baseball. He was coaching his son in tee ball and I was serving as an assistant coach on my son’s coach pitch team. We were sharing ideas about practice methods for those younger age groups. I mentioned that sometimes I think we should just throw the kids a tennis ball and tell them to just go have fun. I grew up across the street from Hubbard Height Elementary School on the south side of Fort Worth and we spent hundreds of hours playing tennis ball baseball in the open field just beyond the playground. If we didn’t have many kids on a particular day it was no problem; we would just use ghost runners and the team batting would provide there own pitcher. I explained that I was considering using the last 30 minutes of practice to let the kids simply enjoy playing the game the way we use to growing up. I was startled by his response. He said, in a bit of a harsh tone, the minute you start playing games is the minute I grab my son and take him home. On one hand I was thinking “what a jerk,” but on the other hand his point made sense. There’s a time and place for everything and the 2-3 hours a week we practiced was not the time to play; however, there’s something to be said for fun.
As I mentioned in a previous post (Teaching Love – The Critical First Phase) baseball is a complex and a difficult sport to master and if a kid is going to persevere through the hundreds or thousands of focused, error filled practices needed to reach a high level of success they must love the sport. If we do not let them have fun in these early years they will never develop enough love and passion for the game to carry them through the struggle that is learning to hit a baseball. I feel like all the parents in this competitive youth baseball culture that I am fully entrenched in, share a common desire for their athlete to reach an unusual level of success in the sport. This is what causes us to get too serious too soon. However, fun is the competitive advantage; fun is what keeps them engaged and coming back even though they are failing 7 out of 10 times. Fun is the hook. This brings me to the “GSP Principle.”
In March 2010 the television series UFC Primetime showcased Georges St-Pierre and Dan Hardy as they made final preparations for their upcoming fight at UFC 111. I’ve been a GSP fan every since I started watching the UFC a couple years earlier, but after watching the show my esteem for GSP reached new heights. I went from being a GSP fan to being fascinated with his dedication and work ethic. I was in awe of his training regimen and how much he invested himself into his craft. Later that night I remember thinking if you invest yourself into whatever it is you do, whether it’s martial arts, baseball, or basket weaving, the way GSP invest himself into mixed martial arts, you will be world class. Then it hit me, you cannot possibly give that much of yourself to any one thing unless you loved it. Unless you had a deep passion and desire for your craft you could never invest yourself like St-Pierre invest himself into mixed martial arts. Mastery cannot be reached without passion because you could never invest all the hours it requires to become world class unless you have a deep desire for what you are doing.
Georges St-Pierre is Georges St-Pierre because he loves his sport and there’s nothing he would rather do than train in his craft. Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan because he had a deep passion for the game of basketball and wanted nothing more than to be out on the court. And your young athlete will never go on to reach an unusual level of success unless he or she loves the sport so much that there’s nothing more they would rather be doing than swinging the bat or taking ground balls. That all starts when they are six, seven, eight years old having fun playing the game. There’s a time a place for serious, no none sense, hard nose practice. I can’t say for certain at what age that starts at but I am confident in saying it’s not at six or eight years old. That’s not to say you can’t do some serious teaching and coaching at these young ages, just don’t be afraid to toss out a tennis ball now and then.
Take a few minutes to check out this clip of John O’Sullivan discussing the same principle as it relates to the world of soccer.