The Fear before Practice
Two hours before my debut as an U7 baseball coach, and I kept thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” A part of me even wished we’d have a rain-delay. Yes, I was afraid of little league!
I feared that my debut as a baseball coach would suck.
What exactly did I dread so much? Do I dislike baseball? No, in fact the idea of being out in the field with my son and a bunch of enthusiastic kids thrills me. It’s all a part of how I see myself as a dad and as a community member.
Am I unsure of my abilities? In baseball, absolutely, but uncertainty is not a problem here. Fun is the name of the game. Besides, I felt ready to demonstrate and teach the fundamental skills required for kids to grow as ball players. I was up for that challenge, as I’ve taught my son most of this stuff already.
Did I worry about the kids? Nope. As a dad and family therapist I guide kids, teach them, and treat them with dignity and care every day of my life. Besides, I can always out run a 5-7 year old, if worse comes to worse.
So, then Lindsey, what’s all the fuss about?
Forgive me for saying it, but what I was worried about were the other parents. I know how disagreeable adults can get. As a therapist, it’s my job to help people tune into one another in a chaotic world. But this wasn’t going to take place in the safety of my office. What if a parent or grandparent got all cranky out there in public? Would I know what to do? I’ve heard people boo at Jets and Moose games. I’ve seen people throw stuff at the ball park.
What would I do if a parent got out of line? What if all the parents thought I was a sucky coach and mutinied?
Essentially, it was a fear of being rejected. I was worried that others wouldn’t treat me fairly. That I wouldn’t be given a fair shake. Sounds like the sorts of fears we start having when we’re little kids, doesn’t it?
Let me Introduce my 8 Year Old Self
I think most of us felt awkward or picked on or left out at some point in our childhoods. Even if we got along swimmingly most of the time, even when we had loving families and good friends, at some point everyone faced rejection. And sometimes those memories continue to resonate well into adulthood. I certainly had times when I wanted to play ball, but the other kids didn’t want me on their team.
I have one particularly vivid memory of recess in elementary school when I was about 8 years old. Some kids were kicking a soccer ball around a field and wouldn’t let me join them. – I have lots of memories from being a kid, but this was the one that tied the most closely to this fear of being rejected this week.
Poor little 8 year old me! I wish I’d been there to play some ball with him, so he didn’t feel so crummy!
How do I treat that sad part of me that still worries, all these years later, that the other kids will reject me? What do I say and do when Little Lindsey shares his fears?
Firstly, I acknowledge the little guy’s reality. In my own way, I say:
“Hey there. I’m sorry you feel so afraid!”
That’s step one: acknowledge the emotion.
This first stage of acknowledging the primary emotion is vital. It is the foundation for all healing. Sadly, it’s the part that is the most missed most of the time. Simple acknowledgement.
Even if I think the emotion is misplaced, even if I don’t understand why myself or someone else is feeling something, I always choose to acknowledge the emotion’s presence.
The second step is to acknowledge that the real emotion has some real facts behind it. Even if we think that most facts suggest the emotion is misplaced, what matters is that we acknowledge the facts and perceptions that give it potency.
Yes, little guy, there have been times when you tried your best and were rejected, unfairly, by your peers. Those times hurt and led to this current fear of being rejected. That makes sense.
Lesson: The fear is real and some facts about the fear are real, too.
When we stop arguing against the emotion, we are able to accept it. As we accept it, we often begin to soothe it. In this case, acceptance of myself and of my fear made it possible for me to accept that I could feel something different, if I chose to.
The third step for me is to get off my butt. I move from hearing my feelings and instincts and into to engaging my feelings and instincts in purposeful action towards a set goal. – Sort of like Hamlet in the third act, but without all the murder.
Why? Because I simply do not feel like a scared 8 year old when I am learning, building things, or connecting with others.
Lesson: Like a fish getting unhooked and thrown back into the water, I need to coach Little Lindsey towards a feeling of assuredness. So, having acknowledged the value of the fear, Little Lindsey and I went back to what we knew about 7U Rally Cap Baseball. We went over the practice plan. We made sure all the equipment was ready. That sense of preparedness and focus took away my fear of being rejected.
And then they Were Wonderful
My son and I got to the park a little early. We did a tiny bit of set up.
Parents started coming. They were warm, and lovely.
I called everyone to gather around, and they all did. When I asked parents to help, they jumped right in. They caught balls, they coached at bases. They pitched (and nearly got hit). They helped with my child when I needed to have my attention on coaching duties.
They played with their children in loving and conscientious ways.
They were exactly the sort of parents that make coaching delightful. More importantly, they were exactly the kind of parents that make their kids feel happy, accepted and ready to learn and grow.
And, Little Lindsey… well his faith has been fixed a little bit, too. He’s had one more really good experience of people treating each other with kindness and having fun. He feels supported and loved by big Lindsey and by his community.
He fits right in.
Pain Creates the Need; Acceptance Creates the Way
Both our children and our younger selves offer us windows into being better people. I know that had I never been a scared or sad child, I would not have grown up to be a loving and (often) emotionally attuned adult. Had I never been wounded by my peers, I would have never sought out ways to heal such wounds. On the other hand, had I never been loved and accepted by my peers (and the adults around me) as a child, I wouldn’t have had a model for who I wanted to be and how I would conduct myself.
The pain creates the need while loving acceptance creates the way.