Mia Hamm Principle
For our summers vacation in 2015 we made the twelve-hour drive to Gulf Shores Alabama where my youngest son’s team competed in the USSSA Global World Series. It was a lot of fun and fierce competition. Generally, the mornings were spent playing baseball and the evenings were spent on the beach. The final day of our vacation consisted of a twelve-hour ride home where I could reflect on the events of the week. It was a week that saw Noah throw his first ever no-hitter in the biggest tournament he’d ever played in. While I was very proud of Noah, his no-hitter was not what I was most excited about. I just couldn’t get over our final game. A game which we lost 1-0, and a game which eliminated us from the tournament.
As I drove back toward Texas with everybody asleep in the car, I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it was that we could compete at that level. We were facing some giants and yet somebody forgot to tell our boys that they were supposed to be intimidated and over in the corner wetting themselves. In that elimination game, we played a great team that was, quite frankly, better than us and that’s what the scoreboard reflected at the end of 6 innings. Despite the noticeable size advantage and the anxiety we were all no doubt feeling, our group of boys turned in the best performance of our season.
Reflecting back, I believe that game was a testament to the value of a worthy opponent. If our focus is on development, where it should be, then stiff competition is what we want. It’s what I’ve come to call the Mia Hamm Principle. I’ve heard it said that Mia Hamm not only played against boys growing up, but she played against older boys. I’ve ask my kids, “don’t you think she could have won more games and dominated more if she were playing girls her own age?” Then I pose the question to them, “why then do you think she played where she did?” The answer we come up with is that she is more interested in getting better than winning and if she were playing older boys it would be harder and she would get better.
I write this post this with caution because obviously you can take this too far. You don’t register your AA team for Majors tournaments. I think a healthy level is to seek out the highest level of competition that you can compete and where there is still a reasonable possibility to win. Losing over and over again and by large margins is not a healthy experience as it sucks the joy out of the game.
Also, on the individual athlete level, I’ve known parents over the years that are enamored with the idea of their kids playing up; “my 11-year-old plays on a 13U majors team” they tell their friends and family. That’s awesome if your 11-year-old is having success there. However, I think in a lot of cases the kid would be well served to play with his own age group. It may not be a bad idea to drop back to AAA as opposed to majors as well. If the kid is the twelfth kid on the roster, batting last, and spending the most innings on the bench then I think you may be doing more harm than good. If you are considering playing your kid up there are a few things I would consider.
First thing to consider is the mindset of the athlete. A growth mindset is a must if they are going to play up. The greater the challenge the more important the mindset. You can read more about Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset in last week’s post. I urge you to go back and read the post and watch the video if you missed it. You also must consider the opportunity cost of playing up. What is your athlete giving up to play up? Read about Opportunity Cost in this post. Are they going to be relegated to a certain position on the field or in the batting order? Will they get to pitch if that’s something they want to do. And lastly check out this post about the “Big Fish Little Pond Effect.” This is something that changed the way I think about playing up.
Let me end by saying there’s a lot to think about and the decision is not as easy as I once thought it to be. The “Mia Hamm Principle” seems to contradict the “Big Fish Little Pond Effect” and there is a high probability that there will less opportunity playing by up. However, how much is too much to give up as far as playing time and positions? I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that challenge is important and success is a poor teacher. Whether we are talking about what level to register your team at or what team your son or daughter should play with, don’t take that decision lightly. Find a level where they can have a certain degree of success, but not so easy that simply just showing up guarantees a win.