Take a look at this picture.  What do you see?  I see play.  I see effort.  I see young people doing something they love, for no reason other than they are enjoying themselves.  That’s really what I see.  Joy.

Twice in the last month or so I had conversations that were kind of a bummer.  On their own, neither of these is probably a huge deal in the grand scheme.  However, taken together, and perhaps as part of a bigger trend, it really does bum me out.

In the first example, I was in the car with my 8 year old son and one of his friends.  Apparently the other kid had a baseball game scheduled that night, and was begging me to drive slower so that he might get home late enough to miss his ballgame.  I didn’t know what to make of that.  An 8 year old kid who didn’t want to have to play baseball that evening?  Maybe he was goofing around.  Maybe there are other factors to consider, things going on that I don’t know about.  But maybe this kid really would prefer to not have a baseball game.  It bummed me out.

About a week earlier, I was working with middle schoolers during the school day when the announcement came that although the weather was really nice, the rain from the day before required that their track meet be canceled.  I heard more than a few of them celebrate.  To be fair, some of them were disappointed.  But I had a really interesting conversation with one of the disappointed athletes.  He was puzzled by his teammates who were happy about the cancellation, and wondered out loud to me, “Why would someone want to be on the track team if they’re going to be happy that a meet gets rained out?”  He said that it made sense that maybe missing a practice once in a while is a nice break, but he could not wrap his mind around being happy that a meet was scrapped.  I really had no good answer for him.

As coaches, we certainly have a variety of goals.  We want to instruct well.  We want to help young people learn and grow.  We want to help them excel and reach their potential.  We want to help them learn to care about each other.  We want to help them win.  Sometimes these goals might even be at odds with each other in subtle ways.  But I contend that none of these goals will be achieved if the athletes don’t want to be there.

We can’t control everyone’s individual circumstances, and some kids might not always be having the time of their lives in our programs.  But as much as it’s up to us, doing our best to make sure that young people are able to practice and compete with a spirit of joy goes a long way toward helping them achieve, excel, reach their potential and win.  It would be great to live in a world where 8 year old baseball players can hardly wait until they get to play again.