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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Lessons from the Field: Teaching Foundational Life Skills Through Baseball

Summer heat, eating hot dogs, and cheering for home runs -- it's baseball season once again. Watching a game and rooting for your favorite team is fun, but there's so much more to baseball. It has the ability to get kids off the couch and moving around outside. It holds even greater potential as a way of modeling healthy lifestyles for youth. Through this popular and beloved game, we can identify lessons for children to take with them both on and off the field, and then implement strategies to teach these lessons.

The Value of Mistakes

The parallels between baseball and life are plentiful. Success in any endeavor requires preparation and dedication. Watching the game highlights on ESPN can be misleading about the true nature of baseball. Young people need to realize that it's not enough to make the effort only during the game and expect to score the most runs. Rather, the value lies in the consistent effort that players bring to practice after practice, which is where they build the skills to succeed during a game against an opposing team. Looking forward to a big game can motivate them to put in this consistent effort, especially when they're able to see themselves making continuous progress.

In turn, the practice of putting in consistent and focused effort can become a habit that children take with them through all other areas of life. Sooner or later, the practice of training for a baseball game extends to the practice of studying for a test, and the practice of setting and working toward individual goals now and in the future.

Since team practices can also be seen as life practices, it's beneficial to keep in mind the various components that kids can bring to other areas of their lives. Part of making a consistent effort is being able to learn -- and being able to learn requires making mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, and that's OK. They should be taught as something to learn from instead of something to fear. Rather than viewing mistakes as the opposite of success, teach children to see them as necessary building blocks on the road to success. Correcting mistakes is essential in every step of becoming better and eventually finding success. A good baseball coach points out each player's mistakes while encouraging them to learn from what went wrong and change their techniques based on that evidence. Just as important, the coach points out each player's positive abilities and, even better, identifies and shows the progress each child is making.

The combination of learning from mistakes and seeing self-improvement will help young people build confidence that we really do become better from this type of consistent effort, in baseball and beyond.

The Real Meaning of Winning

The learning opportunities don't end with team practices. When stepping up to the plate in a big game, you face another set of teachers: the members of the opposing team and the spirit of competition they bring to the field. Just as success during practices can be seen as moving through the process of becoming a better player, what it means to win a game against another team can be defined in a similar way. Has your team improved throughout the baseball season? Have your teammates improved individually and become stronger players?

If we redefine the traditional idea of winning as simply "beating the other team," then each game can be seen as a positive learning experience -- regardless of what the scoreboard says. Winning must encompass self-respect, respect for other teammates and coaches, respect for the officials, respect for opponents and respect for the rules of the game. We can expand the idea of winning to include demonstrations of the skills developed through practice, and the personal triumphs of each player becoming better. By broadening the definition of winning a baseball game to match the lessons taught through baseball practices, we reinforce those lessons. Children learn that the only way to win is to be diligent in putting in effort, and to play fair. This habit will serve them well as they continue to grow and pursue their goals in all areas of life.

Teaching foundational life skills through baseball allows children to practice applying the lessons they learn to situations on and off the field. By participating in such an active sport, they learn how to get along with their peers on both their own team and other teams. They learn how to take constructive advice from coaches with more knowledge and experience, and they understand what it means to learn from their mistakes. They're able to see a goal, and see how putting effort into both the preparation and game can allow them to reach that goal. Finally, they come to realize the power of working to become better players.

These are all invaluable lessons that can be applied practically and skillfully in all realms of life, in all stages of life. Taking a thoughtful approach to coaching kids in baseball could very well give them a strong foundation for life.

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