Over the last week, my family has been glued to our t.v. watching the Little League World Series. Maybe it is because I have all boys in my house - a couple of whom are just a few years younger than these boys - or maybe it is because I have a couple of budding little leaguers, too. But even I, who's not a huge sports fan, found myself shirking other activities in favor of plunking down on the couch and tuning in. And honestly? I cried real tears of joy and sorrow during the whole thing.
Here's why, and here are five things I learned watching the Little League World Series:
1. Always earned, never given. I think it was the Las Vegas coach who said this to his boys during the American championship game. In our gotta-have-it-now, quick-fix society, this is such a valuable lesson, one I want my boys to live. There are few things in life that are gained without hard work. But with hard work, comes hard play; and that can definitely be a fun reward.
2. No matter how big they are, they're still kids. Almost all of these boys were physically bigger than me. My own 9 and 10 year olds are getting bigger by the day, and will pass me sooner than I want them to. But watching these boys spill tears of frustration and disappointment reminded me that they are just that: boys. Sometimes we're in such a hurry to make our kids mini-adults that we forget that they always need love and TLC and some slack because they are still learning how to grow up.
3. There's hope for our future after all, if we just take time to ensure it. Every generation of adults worries that our society is going to hell in a hand basket because of the choices of our youth. It was very clear that these kids have not only been taught baseball, but manners, respect, and sportsmanship as well. Not once did I see a player who yelled at or called out an opposing player, nor argued with a coach or an official. And in more than one case, I saw hugs and handshakes and little men who went out of their way to say something respectful to an opposing team's coach. I think a lot of big leaguers in all sports can learn from these kids.
4. Girls CAN kick ass and be competitive with boys. Two words, one name: Mo'ne Davis. This 13-year-old pitcher from Philly threw a shut-out AND became one of the youngest athletes ever (and only third African-American female) to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. And you know what? She was just having fun playing a sport she loves. I think her story is a good lesson for all kids - boys and girls. Just do what you love and don't worry if it's a boy thing or a girl thing.
5. Sometimes something happens at just the exact time it's needed to show us all a thing or two. I'm talking about the all-black team from the south side of Chicago who made it to the final game against South Korea. And even though they lost, there were barely any spilled tears. Just smiles of having had the experience and knowing they did their best. As tensions rise over the shooting in Ferguson, this little team from Jackie Robinson West should show us all that it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from. It should matter that we are all people with potential. People with wants and needs and talents and emotions and family and friends who care about us. As I watched blacks and whites, young and old line the streets of Chicago to watch this Little Team Who Could, I thought, Wouldn't it be great if we supported each other every day in every way like this? Something to think about.
For me, this particular Little League World Series was more than just baseball. It was a lesson in some of the finer moments of life and humanity that I hope I can instill in my family.