Drowning my sorrows in a stiff glass of Cabernet, I sat alone in the dark late one evening and moaned, “God, what am I doing wrong?”
After seven years of coaching both fall and spring league, you’d think I’d have the softball gig down, but that was not the case. In 1992, I was given the task of herding a group of 7-9-year-old kittens that couldn’t catch a fly ball or connect with the bat. We weren’t just bad, we stank, and I’d lost all confidence in my ability to run the team.
It was halfway through the season and zeros covered our scorecard. Knowing the girls were becoming disillusioned, I re-evaluated my coaching tactics and created a new game plan. Unfortunately, no matter how many new plays I concocted or adjustments I made to player’s positions, the result was always the same – loser with a capital “L.”
After the next loss, sadly resembling tiny demoralized leprechauns in their green shirts and caps, we gathered for a juice box and granola bar. With a look of “I’m sorry kids” on my face, I stared into the broken eyes of my freckled pixies. Soon, tears began to drip. We were beyond repair. But, just as the blubbering was about to break into a full chorus, a voice rang out above our sorrow.
“I’ve got a great idea,” itty-bitty Colleen Schumacher shouted. “I think we should stop worrying about how the games turn out, and start talking about what we did that was good.”
Looking into her shining eyes, I smiled, ready to try anything but sure this idea was going to be a harder than making it to first base.
Silence blanketed the group. Then, like the Who’s on Christmas morning without any presents, they started to sing, “That was such a great dance you made up to go with the cheers, Lauren!” “Sarah, I just love your orange shoelaces.” “Maggie makes the best daisy chain necklaces.”
While none of it had to do with the sport or anyone’s athletic ability, the Berlin Wall that had been blocking our happiness came tumbling down, leaving laughter in its rubble. Going forward, things changed. No longer did it matter that we were the worst team in the league because we had the most fun.
Finally, it was the last game of the season. While Judy Auclair’s team showed up to hold their first place title, we just came excited to collect more post-game compliments. There was no doubt we’d lose. The question became by how much.
But positive energy has a way of building and exploding when you least expect it.
Inning after inning, my mighty midgets actually hit the ball, ran the bases, and even caught flies. Suddenly I wondered, “Who stole my team and replaced it with athletes?” By the ninth inning, it was clear: a miracle occurred. We won our first and only game.
It’s been 20 years since that season with those precious kids. The girls are now women. I’m sure our time together faded long ago in the wake of all their other momentous experiences, but I’ll never forget. Because of the wisdom of an innocent child, I was forever changed.
It’s been said failure only happens when you don’t try. While that may be true, I’ve found failure comes when I lose sight of the good in whatever situation I’m in. That’s not to say I can’t be disappointed or feel pain, but, when I open up my heart and allow myself to learn the lesson behind the experience, that’s not only finding the good – it’s one of life’s perfect winning moments.