Sports after a “stolen childhood”

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In a surprising turn of events that I’m not sure anyone expected from our team, the baseball team I coached won the league championship at the local little league.

It was an interesting experience for me. As the coach, I was tasked with helping my players navigate the intense emotions winning or losing a game can provoke. I was reminded that only a few short years ago, all of these experiences were removed from everyday life. It was a profound experience to reflect on how meaningful it is for our children to go through experiences like these.

Sports are fantastic because they provide an avenue for our children to experience success and failure over and over again in a very short window of time. The little league played two games a week. There were two chances to experience the joy of winning or the pain of loss. Regardless of winning or losing, it’s ultimately just a game, and tomorrow you must move past the emotional high or low and go on with the other aspects of your life.

Imagine yourself as a child again. You are in the championship game and the most important thing in your life in this particular moment is to win this game. Maybe you find yourself as the batter with two outs in the last inning. The winning run is on third base and you only need to hit a single to win. The umpire is bad and wants to go home, so he strikes you out on a pitch you had no chance to hit and wasn’t even close to the strike zone.

Imagine for yourself the anger at the umpire that would flash over you in that moment. Anger you can do nothing about. The shame of failure that floods in next, unannounced. You failed. You let your team down. Finally, you confront the overwhelming sadness of losing a game you know you could have won.

Alternatively, maybe you hit the ball, sprint to first base, and leap for joy knowing that your hit scored the winning run! You are the hero! Everyone is celebrating and you are at the center! You are overcome with ecstasy and joy and it is difficult to hide the smile from your face!

Yet, these experiences are short-lived. Tomorrow, when you go to school, no one knows about your game and few would care. If you express your anger at the umpire or the ecstasy of the win, they will likely wonder why you care so much. After all, it’s just a game.

These intense experiences are necessary training for our children in how to process and control powerful emotions. It teaches them that attaining excellence in life is a constant internal battle between three opposing forces: Wisdom, Emotion, and Thumos. (Plato’s Allegory of the Chariot)

We fail when we let our anger win by lashing out at the umpire, when we let our joy and ecstasy win and lead to taunting the losing team, or when we seek validation in sympathy or congratulations the next day at school rather than being content with ourselves.

For children, it is only through experiencing these emotions and witnessing other people’s responses to them in person over and over again that reason and wisdom can be developed. The constant trial and error and then refinement is necessary to find the best course of action in a multitude of circumstance. Constant exposure to these difficult-to-manage emotional highs and lows in a managed setting is the best opportunity our children have to develop this discernment.

During the pandemic, we stole these environments and development from our children. Rather than find camaraderie with teammates and friends, our children found screens, Zoom, and video games. The arbitrary shutdown of sports was devastating to many children. In a very poignant article titled “The Lost Year: What the Pandemic Cost Teenagers,” Alec MacGillis describes the lead-up to and the effect of a teenage suicide in New Mexico. New Mexico shut down high school sports. Across a political line in Texas, however, sports were allowed to continue.

The political lines are always imaginary and they divide us not just from each other, but also from our own selves. A common mantra during the Pandemic was, “If it saves just one life,” yet the collective actions led to a suicide in the article above. Did the restrictions save this boy’s life? Is the mantra justified? As the world moves on from the Pandemic to the drumbeats of war, was it ever even true?

When Reason and Wisdom and their ally Thumos fail to control our Emotions, disharmony, discord, and disruption are bound to follow. Thus we witnessed the unabashed hedonism of formerly powerless people now gleefully policing arbitrary masking policies and one-way grocery aisles. School boards indulged in the pretend heroism of saving countless lives by shutting down schools and professing that this was education. Fear and anxiety were transformed into valiant gallantry.

In a scene that only a few years ago would have been stolen from the kids, the joy of my baseball team winning the league championship was followed by losing our first two games in the district championship tournament and therefore being eliminated. The kids were very upset. It was not only the end of our season, but the team also gave up a 10-2 lead to lose. As the coach, I found myself in a position that even in my own disappointment I had to give a speech that turned these negative emotions into the positive success story of our season.

I had the kids get really close to each other. The whole team fit inside of a single six-foot bubble. We all could feel the heat of disappointment and frustration from each other, and then, in a low, slow, and solemn voice, I told the kids I was proud to be there with them. Louder and more animatedly, I reminded them that we beat 7 other teams in our league to win that championship and that we were the only team from our league competing in the district championship.

To remind them that all failure is only temporary and strong emotions are only fleeting, I had them put their hands in the middle of our tight circle for our last team breakdown. We counted down. 3… 2… 1…

Successful even in failure, despite several tears, as loud as the kids could be, and as a team, they shouted our team name and threw their hands in the air. The whole ballpark heard them.

Republished from the author’s Substack. CHARLES KRBLICH 

Brownstone here.



Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License