I’m not a parent, so I know better than to tell anyone how to parent. I do hope to have children of my own someday, and I have a number of hopes for those future children. Here’s one that might surprise you: I hope my children experience mediocrity. I know, everyone believes his or her child to be the greatest ever at everything, to have unending potential. But every now and then, I want my children to take interests in activities in which they are not the best, and I also hope they stick with those activities despite what they may perceive to be failure.
As a coach’s wife, I have plenty of experience listening to parents suggesting to me how my husband should do his job. Some come right up and tell me; they ask that I pass the word along to my husband, perhaps over dinner. I smile and nod. Others are simply sure to raise their voices to guarantee that I hear them. I pretend to be preoccupied. Either way, most of these parents are making recommendations that would directly benefit their own child and increase his playing time.
Trust me, I get it. I do. You are paying for your child to attend college, and baseball takes up most of his time, so he does not have a job, the financial burden is on you as his parent, and when you come to his games, you want to see him play. So do all the other parents. Even the parents who are not able to attend the games want their children to play. If playing time was determined by parental preference, my husband’s job would be exponentially harder because all parents prefer their children to play more than others.
Someday I hope my children will experience mediocrity, and I intend to be grateful for the blessings of that experience. Here’s why.
1. They learn to seek, accept, and respond to constructive criticism. Chances are, the child knows why someone else is playing over them. He is a better hitter. He is faster. He shows up early and stays late for every practice. He is consistent. Whatever the reason, the player on the bench knows what to work on. And if he doesn’t know? This is the perfect opportunity for him to ask his coach what he can work on to earn more playing time. This experience of seeking and applying constructive criticism is what turns a college athlete into an employable adult.
2. They learn to celebrate the accomplishments of others. We’ve all been in a situation where someone else gets the job we applied for or earns the promotion we worked toward. We can pout over the wasted hard work, or we can learn to recognize and appreciate the hard work someone else has put in and how it has paid off. Our lives will be significantly easier if we can learn to implement the latter. The athlete on the bench learns how to be a part of something much greater than himself–his team. He learns that his team’s success is greater when he pushes his teammates to succeed.
3. They learn to pursue academic and career goals. I love the excitement when one of our former players has the opportunity to play baseball professionally. But I also know it is a slim minority that makes it that far. The number who last more than a couple of years or actually make it to Major League Baseball is even smaller. For every player who experiences that glory, there are one-hundred players who reach the end of their college baseball career and are at a loss for where to go in their lives next. The athlete on the bench learns to pursue endeavors off the field as well as on it.
4. They learn to cope with adversity. After a long fall season, the baseball coaches meet with each athlete individually. The coaches tell each player where they foresee his role on the team to be in the spring. They analyze his strengths and his weaknesses, and they tell him ways he can continue to improve or what he can do to have his role on the team re-evaluated in the future. After these meetings, a small handful of student-athletes who are unhappy with the coaches’ evaluation will quit. They give up. However, those who choose to stay and contribute to their team in whatever way possible gain skills they can apply to multiple aspects of their lives. They exhibit resilience, optimism, and hope. They set goals for themselves and work toward them. These dispositions will serve them well in their future careers and in their future families.
So, I hope my future children are fortunate enough to experience mediocrity because I believe there is more to learn and more valuable lessons that come from mediocrity than from greatness. And when my children are mediocre…
I will tell them I am proud of them. I will say I am proud of them for their hard work and resilience. I will ask them about their goals and help them set a plan to work toward those goals.
I will talk to them about the big picture. I will emphasize the team’s or group’s accomplishments and emphasize the role they played in helping to make the team or group better, even if it was through encouraging others and pushing others to be the best.
I will ask them about their academic and career goals. I will make sure they know that an extracurricular activity does not need to define who they are or what they become, but being part of such a group can help them better prepare for success in other areas.
And if they complain that their coach is biased or unfair, I will encourage them to openly seek constructive criticism. I will help them know how to approach leaders rationally and focus on things they can control in order to better themselves.