Learn to Lose!

No one wants to lose. I mean, in professional sports today, you see some of the most highly skilled athletes looking to win gold, the championship trophy in the World Series, or even personal achievements in a season. First place is Top Dog. Everything else doesn’t matter. But I have news for you; when it comes to youth baseball, it shouldn’t be about that at all. We’ve lost our way…

Youth baseball is about growth. You grow players by teaching them the fundamentals of the game, team work, confidence, strength and skill. Sure, your goal is to win, but the message has been muddied over the past 20 years and is no longer about baseball fundamentals at all. Instead, it’s about fielding the “best” kids on a Recreation or Travel team because, it’s “Win at all costs.” This mentality comes from coaches that coach children as young as 8 years old. I’m not kidding. The approach is ridiculous, and I have news for you, it’s our fault!

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You wanna know the biggest problem with youth sports today? Us parents. We destroy everything. We believe our children should be the best, to bat 4th in the lineup, to pitch 6 innings a game and to go 4-4 always. And if that kid fails, God forbid, it’s no longer about moving forward, learning from mistakes and “getting them next time”. Instead, it’s a car ride home consisting of a father ripping into his kid for all he did wrong in that game. Why? Because our kids are in a competitive environment these days, much more than before, and it’s been created by parents! Ultimately, it’s hurting our kids, shattering both dreams and confidence along the way.

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These are the growing years, folks and that means for kids as young as Tee-ball and to at least the age of 13 years old, it is our jobs as parents and coaches to guide and grow our players into responsible, determined and fundamentally sound athletes. Not killers. Not Mike Trout. FUNDAMENTALLY SOUND ATHLETES. So, despite what Club or Travel coaches will tell you, they are wrong. If those coaches are playing the best kids, those coaches aren’t interested in developing the less talented. Those coaches are interested in winning at all costs. You need to steer clear of those coaches.

The truth is, if a coach is actually doing the proper training and confidence building that is supposed to happen in those “growing years”, every player on that diamond can play every position in some capacity to help their team win. That means quite simply if a coach needs a replacement, he can look at 3 guys on the bench who aren’t pigeonholed into only playing right field or third base.

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My philosophy is simple; very child deserves a fighting chance to grow as a ballplayer. At 8, 10, 11 years old, there is no excuse for leaving a kid behind because he missed a ground ball in a meaningless game. To me, it’s about building them up and keeping that kid in that spot, even after that error with the knowledge that there IS a player in that little frame of his. Me as the coach needs to pull it out of him. And I have news for you; keeping that kid on the bench will NOT find that player. In fact, you will soon see that kid lose interest in the game and eventually quit. And if that happens… that’s on you! You didn’t do your job!

Youth baseball is not about winning. So I have an important message for you; LEARN TO LOSE! Coaches will read this and grimace. Well… grimace all you want. That statement is 100% correct.

Let’s run through a scenario on how destructive youth baseball has become.

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Scenario 1: A team of All-Stars goes undefeated in a season and wins the championship to boot. Now granted, this team is built with a bunch of studs, handpicked by some dad who wants a trophy on his mantle. And so, his team is chosen, his friend’s kids play on the same team and they win their 8 or 10 straight games, their 2 playoffs and barrel through the championship in a division they most likely are overqualified for. Why? Because that dad wanted to make sure they won every game. In other words, he found the lowest division with the least talented clubs and ripped through them to become a champion coach! In other words, he manufactured the victory and trust me… many, many coaches do this. And so, here’s my question… what does that team learn from this?

Now go through Scenario 2; You have a group of Rugrats on the first day of practice and your job as a coach is to see what the talent pool is like. You train them, you mold them like clay giving them their shots and allowing them to try new positions. Ultimately you are coaching, because with every lesson come progress, and with progress comes confidence, and with a loss, comes learning from it, and with learning comes growing.

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And after a few losses, you crack the code and a victory happens! Your kids are excited and the team earned it, and feel good about it, and they go out again and win another! And now, the streak begins! Maybe it’s 3 in a row and positions are being solidified. But then, a loss… and with it, a conversation about “team” and working hard. Definitely a practice on what went wrong and what worked and getting back to the fundamentals. And it starts all over again…

And so I ask again… what does that team learn from this?

Scenario 2 is my strategy and that’s learning the sting of defeat and the bonding of a team through thick and thin.  Scenario 1 got the quick fix of victory, and expect to win all the time, but trust me when I tell you… when they lose they won’t be able to handle it. There will be finger-pointing, players quitting and anger. But that’s not baseball.

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Learning to lose IS baseball, my friends, because it’s a game of failure. Learning to lose builds character. It’s not about championships for kids. It’s about finding out how a group of kids can learn together, fight together and try to win together with a coach that’s passionate about making his team grow together.

Making mistakes is part of the game and so is losing, bottom line. You need to let a team know that no matter what, they will improve and get better in this game, but they need to work at it. And if you do it right, you will see that glimmer in their eyes when you allow them to try that position they’ve been asking about. If you’ve trained them properly, putting them out there is the right thing to do. Because while there may be hiccups, if you allow that kid to work through it, and you’re encouraging them to succeed, I have news for you… they will.

And years from now, when they’re in their 20’s and coaching their own kids there will be a play in the field that will take them back to the season they went 2-8 with you as a coach. Sure, your team didn’t make the playoffs, but that was the season kids learned to hit because you had the patience and determination to get them there. They’ll remember the hours you spent with them on that Tee and in that field, through the drizzle and the cold of early spring to make sure they figured it out. They’ll remember that you cared… not about winning, but about making them a player.

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And that is what winning means to me. It’s not about the trophy… it’s about the growth. That growth, that confidence and that moment is winning.

So learn to lose… all of you. Learn to lose, feel the sting and work at getting better as a player and as team. Because that’s baseball. That’s how you become a great player and that’s how you build character.

–Rob Monaco, Little League coach & Commissioner

Read more items like this on our Facebook page The Heart of Youth Baseball.

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