Thursday, April 24, 2008

Team sports may have other uses besides bullying

So maybe there is something nice to be said for team sports after all.

I've heard a lot through the years about how great sports are for kids, not just because the activity helps them stay fit, but because sports teach valuable lessons on teamwork, sportsmanship, and taking direction, and social skills as well. None of this particularly matched my own experiences in sports, which usually could be summarized as "survival of the fittest" or "culling the herd."

Still, however unpleasant my memories of baseball and soccer are, Evangeline seems to be having a good time with the recreation league softball team she's on here in Nova Bastille. We just had our fourth game of the season on Wednesday evening, and it's going well, even with the four straight losses we've had so far.

Here's what I've seen:

During the first game, the team started to connect during the second or third inning, with a few rudimentary cheers. They were pretty simple, like "Let's go, Maria, let's go!" or "MEL-O-DY! MEL-O-DY!" but they actually started cheering one another on. You could feel the sense of a group identity starting to set in, and you could see how it energized the girls at bat to hear their whole team cheering them on.

Last night, we really had team spirit going. Previously we've had a number of girls trying to wander off to sit with their parents when they weren't in the field, but on Wednesday, only one girl actually left the bench, and she came back right away when I asked her to.

They were there for their teammates, and they were into it. I started off a few silly chants, like "We are happy, we are merry / We've got a rhyming dictionary," but the rest of the time, the girls were gung-ho with cheers they had heard other teams use, and they cheered for everyone who went to bat, and for everyone who made it onto base.

They weren't just a collection of fourteen girls at a softball field, they were a team.

Two, I'm seeing actual teamwork happen. In earlier games, we'd have three girls running into the field to catch the ball, leaving their posts unmanned. Wednesday night, the girls were covering their spots, throwing the ball to one another, and completing some basic plays that require seeing yourself not as the star of the story, but as one piece of a larger machine. (There were one or two exceptions, but heck, most of them are only 7 years old.)

Three, I'm seeing greater skill. We had only three practices before the season started. That was maybe enough to explain to the girls how to throw the ball, how to catch, and how to swing the bat. (Not time enough for them actually to understand those skills, but time enough for them to be told.) Now they're catching the ball in the air, throwing it farther and better than ever before, and more of them are hitting the ball and getting on base.

Speaking as a father and as an assistant coach, I was so proud of Evangeline on Wednesday night that my shirt would have burst its buttons if it had had buttons to burst. She's been working on her hand-eye coordination in the back yard with a tetherball and racket she got last summer, and it's been paying off.

After two strikes, she hit the ball into the infield and made it all the way to first base. When the next two batters also got singles, she made it as far as third. She was disappointed not to have made it to home plate again, but this is remarkable improvement from just two weeks ago.

As she gets older, softball and other team sports will have just as much potential for ugliness that Boy Scouts had when I was younger, but right now Evangeline's not only learning the game, she's enjoying the social aspects of being part of a team, and I couldn't be happier for her.

Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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