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How my attempt to boost my child's self-confidence backfired—big time!

Softball and self-esteem
Softball and self-esteem
Eric Horst |

My 8-year-old daughter begged me to sign her up for little league softball. She had attended a birthday party at an indoor batting cage, loved it, and had been talking about playing softball ever since then. I was a bit apprehensive about her expectations, but agreed thinking it’d be a great learning experience physically, mentally and emotionally.

Right off the bat, softball was a bit challenging for her, and her tiny stature (3.5 feet, 48 lbs.) didn’t help. The softball mitt that fit her hand was smaller than the ball, which made catching it nearly impossible. The mitt that was big enough for the ball, fell off her hand. The bat was almost as tall as she was, so just holding it up was tough enough. Add to that trying to swing it…at a ball…and hitting it.

Because it wasn’t easy, she didn’t want to practice. Because she didn’t practice, she wasn’t improving. Consequently, her frustration grew and her enthusiasm diminished with every game. However, perseverance and responsibility are traits I’m determined to model and instill in my daughter, so quitting wasn’t an option. She made the commitment; she had to stick to it. She wasn't happy about it.

Then one game the pitcher hit her unmoving bat with the ball and it bounced off as a fair ball. We started screaming for her to run. She made it to first base—stunned and ecstatic. Then she made it to second base, third base, home—safe! I don't know who was more excited, me or her (or her coach). It was like a scene out of “The Bad News Bears” (at least in my mind).

I thought for sure this success was going to do wonders for her self-esteem and motivation. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Yes, she talked about the play all week with pride and excitement. Yes, she was confident she would hit the ball again in the next game and was looking forward to it. But she still refused to practice.

At the next game, she struck out. Not once, but twice. She was devastated and wanted to go home before the game was even over. Instead, we cheered her team on from the sidelines and I encouraged her to watch how the other girls hit the ball so she would know what to practice. She replied, “Why do I need to practice? I didn’t practice before and I hit the ball.” And there it was.

I had embraced the unexpected hit as a gift and played it up in an attempt to boost her self-confidence. But I focused too much on the part that was due to a lucky break—the hit, and not enough on the part that was due to her effort—listening to her coach and running as fast as she could. And the lesson she learned? That success is based on luck not effort. That what’s important is the ultimate outcome, not the process to get there. Wow, did I mess that one up.

Now I’m scrambling to right my wrong. I’m using every opportunity I can to show her that trying our best is more important than being the best. That the small, personal successes we’ve worked for are more fulfilling than the big successes that are gifted to us. That it’s the “how” that matters, not the “what.” That the old adage still rings true, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

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