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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Finding the fire within

It was bottom of the seventh and last inning, bases were juiced and the next batter was strolling to the plate. Oh no, it was my Patrick. I knew from the way he hung his head on the short walk from the dugout to home that he was defeated before the first pitch.

Patrick is battling himself these days. Mostly, he has set unreasonable expectations for himself. He gets it honestly. I’ve been doing that all my life and when I disappoint myself or others disappoint me, I can reel for days.

He has this mix of confidence and no confidence that is best seen on the basketball court. He forcefully drives down the court with the basketball only to hesitate for a moment before shooting for fear he won’t make the basket. This baseball season, despite having made the 9-10 all-star team last weekend, he has walked off the field in tears after walking batters or striking out. And when his father and I give him that, “Don’t you dare start crying” look, he collapses in tears. It’s become so bad that his emotions have affected his team and his coaches.

Last night I was just wishing Danny would put anyone else into that clean-up spot but him. But the reality is that he has to learn to deal with disappointment. Whiffing is not the end of the world.

So after he was showered I sat him down last night to talk to him about why he plays sports. He says he likes it and I hope he’s right. But from all appearances this year, he’s not enjoying himself.

“When you were walking out to the plate tonight you were convinced you’d whiff, right?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, his eyes still red and rimming with tears.

I told him how it showed and how all he really had to do was either walk, which is highly probably in the 9-10 kid pitch league, or get a base hit. No one expected him to get up there and hit a grand slam. But he had psyched himself out.

Patrick is my most sensitive kid. It’s what endears him most and simultaneously causes no end of frustration. But as I explained to him last night, and as his father has done repeatedly, he cannot expect to get better at sports without practicing.

He’d rather spend his free time playing war in the neighbor’s woods with Mikey and his buddy, Christopher. And that’s fine. But he can’t expect to go out on the ball diamond and hit a grand slam if he doesn’t swing the bat except during a game. And he can’t expect to strike out batters unless he throws more pitches. And he’s not going to make that travel basketball team if he doesn’t shoot around in the driveway. I just don’t want him to give up so easily, to be so defeated by his own mind.

How do you teach a kid to have that inner fire? I’m not sure you can. But I do know Patrick knows what it takes to succeed. He did it this year with reading. He’s been in the Title I program and improved his reading test scores by 31 percentage points over last year. That’s huge and that’s awesome and he did it because he was determined, he practiced and, perhaps most of all, he enjoyed reading for the first time.

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