Sunday, June 11, 2006

Building Self-esteem and Self-confidence in Youth

Sunday, June 11, 2006 Observation

Several weeks ago Jo Anne and I went to see our nine-year old grandson, Jake Rushton, play in a Little League baseball game.  The coach of the team is his dad, Rich.  The team is made up of eight and nine-year-old boys.  We sat there watching Rich's team getting hammered by the opposing group of kids.  Through it all Rich was very supportive of his boys and we never heard him holler or say a negative thing to his little team.  Finally the last inning arrived much to the relief of all the parents and grandparents. Jake and Rich's team was the home team so they were at bat in the last half of the last inning.  The score was six-zero in favor of the opposition when Rich's little boys started coming to the plate in the last inning.  Miraculously, one of the kids got a hit, another walked, another got a hit; there were some more walks, and finally with two out, we all realized the score was unbelievably four to six with the bases loaded.  The last boy to walk to the plate was a skinny nine-year-old named Lincoln, who had great difficulty walking and chewing gum at the same time.  Our expectations of him getting a hit were exceedingly low to say the least.  He feebly swung at the first pitch and didn't come close to hitting it.  Rich went to home plate to encourage him and remind him of some fundamentals of hitting a baseball.  The next pitch was a high fastball and Lincoln, I believe, closing his eyes, swung as hard as he could and banged the ball into deep right-center field.  He ended up on third base, three runs had scored, and our team had miraculously gone from despair to joy with one swing of Lincoln's bat.  It was, in baseball talk, what is called a walk off triple.

Lincoln's dad was not there to share in his son's great achievement.  He is hardly around at all in fact.  Lincoln's mother embraced her son and said some very kind things to Rich, who has contributed so much to Lincoln's new found self-esteem.  Lincoln left the field that evening with a spring in his step and a look of joy on his face.  He had learned, as had his teammates, to never give up and to just keep trying until the game is actually over. This was Little League at its best.  Complete support, positive reinforcement, and the building of the self-esteem of these eight and nine-year-olds seemed to be far more important to the coaches and parents than the ultimate outcome of the game.  Rich gathered his team together and was able to say one positive thing that each boy had done during the course of the game.  It was a wonderful moment for the kids and their parents.

Just last week we went to see Jake and Rich's team in a playoff game.  They got murdered 15 to 0.  Again, we heard no negative comments from Rich or his assistant coaches, and although it was tough to end the season on that note, all the kids and parents seemed to be very happy, and I think Rich was extremely relieved to have the season come to an end regardless of the final score.  The agony of defeat was swallowed up in the much-anticipated pizza and swim party that was to follow.

I have seen the ugly side of Little League during my lifetime as well.  My son Mike had his arm ruined for an entire season by a "Nazi" Little League coach whose only desire was to win at all costs.  I remember when Rich was a young teenager and umpiring a Little League game, when one of the managers took exception with a crucial call he made and began chasing him around the field.  Rich was able to stay just one jump ahead of him as he ran for his life.
Finally the "adult" manager came to his senses and gave up the chase.  How bad of an example is that?

Whether it is Little League baseball, Scouting, soccer, piano lessons, dance lessons, or just the academics of school itself, parents, teachers, and coaches can do so much to contribute to the self-esteem of young children.  I doubt there are few children as they grow up who do not have some problems in this area.  Men like Rich, who give so much of their time to these young children, are undoubtedly doing more good than they could ever imagine.  I doubt there are very few things any of us could do that would be more important than building the self-esteem and confidence of a young child.  Tragically, is there any greater sin than destroying the self-esteem and sense of worth of a child?

The Savior loved little children:  "At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."  [Matthew 18: 1-6]
Those who work with little children have been given a sacred trust.  Schoolteachers, in particular, have the opportunity to love, to teach, and to inspire young boys and girls and young men and young women.  President David O. McKay said, “Teaching is the noblest profession in the world. Upon the proper education of youth depend the permanency and purity of home, the safety and perpetuity of the nation. The parent gives the child an opportunity to live; the teacher enables the child to live well.” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, p. 436)

I believe we should be doing much more than we are as a nation to encourage our best people to become teachers.  When a professional baseball player is paid almost $20 million for one season, and a new teacher is barely hired for $30,000 or less a year to shape and mold young children, you might conclude that our value system as a people is just a little bit out of balance.

I have great respect and admiration for teachers who work for far less than they probably could make in another field, and also people like my son, Rich, who volunteer so much of their time to work with young children and to try to build their self-esteem and self-confidence.  I'm still sorry however, Rich, that you guys got beat 15 to 0 in that playoff game.


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