Young athletes should know one simple thing makes a big difference on the playing field.
After I covered Strawberry Crest baseball’s state semifinal game earlier this month, I stuck around in Fort Myers and Naples to visit friends from college. We’re all getting older now, approaching or actually hitting our thirties and, in some cases, starting families. I spent a night with one of these families and saw the perfect example of the “love of the game.”
My buddy Tim, from Rockford, Illinois, is a huge Chicago Cubs fan, and his entire family loves baseball. I don’t think anyone loves the game more than his son, Timmy, who spent roughly half the time I was in the house watching baseball highlights on Roku and standing right in front of the TV (“I can’t see the TV through you, bud,” is said a lot there) working on his swing. Timmy is full of questions about the Major League Baseball rules and I swear he can name just about every player on most, if not all, teams. He just started playing Cal Ripken ball this year and always wants to play catch, even if it’s with a tennis ball in the hallway by his bedroom. This little dude is all-in for America's pastime.
Not every kid who plays baseball or any other sport will love the game that much. But the ones who want to go as far as they can and make it will all have one thing in common: that same kind of love.
If I had to make a pyramid of success like John Wooden’s, love would be at the very top. If you really want to be the best player you can be, everything you’ll do goes back to love. You work harder at practice if you love the game. You push through hard times if you love the game. You help your teammates all the time if you love the game. You’re more confident and you believe in yourself if you love the game. It goes on and on.
Maybe you already love your sport more than just about anything. If you do, I think that’s awesome. Keep doing what you’re doing and working hard, and good things will come your way. My only advice is to not let anyone or anything stop you from loving the game. Sometimes kids do stop having fun because someone or something burned them out and made it feel like doing chores. Nobody likes doing chores. Always remember why you love the game and play it the way you want to, and don’t let anything stop you from having fun.
If you like the game but aren’t sure if you love it just yet, know that these things happen over time. I can’t tell you when (or if) that switch inside you will flip and you’ll start standing in front of a TV, doing things like the pros and thinking about the sport all day. If you're meant to love the game, you'll just keep playing and it'll come to you eventually. If you find you’re not having fun anymore, don’t be afraid to take a break or try something new — maybe another sport has what you’re looking for and all you need is to try it.
We’re congratulating the Plant City Little League All-Stars this week, right before many of the teams start playing their postseason games at Mike Sansone Park. I’ve got a quick message for all you baseball and softball players before you start playing: don’t forget why you got here.
You all love baseball and softball and work hard to be great and help your teams as much as you can. The biggest thing, though, is that you’re having fun. Win or lose, you’re still an all-star and you have plenty of time ahead of you to keep having fun out there. As long as you love what you’re doing, everything else falls into place.