I’m conflicted. Why do I find myself celebrating this kid’s decision to leave baseball?
Recently I caught up with a family grinding through the youth baseball scene. The older boy (let’s call him Mark, age 14), has been playing baseball for eight years. The younger boy (Jeff, age 8) has been playing for three years.
Mark Just Left the Game
Now age 14, and in the summer leading up to his freshman year at high school… Mark decided to give up baseball. He’s already done a couple weeks of high school summer baseball camp, and the feeder-team will kick off play in September. In relaying the story to me, Dad explained that this decision was a long time coming, as he had asked his father to quit the previous summer (a calendar year ago). At that point, dad pushed him to stay with baseball. Figuring that this was “just a phase,” Dad believed that Mark’s love for baseball would return and sternly ‘asked’ him to stick it out. Being a good kid, Mark did just that, playing another fall and then spring season (ended a couple months ago). Well, Mark’s feelings of discontent only grew until Dad could tell that it was time for a serious talk. Dad passed along the details of that conversation to me:
“Mark, can we have a heart-to-heart?” father asked son.
And so they sat down to figure out what’s going on. Dad continued, “If I gave you the option right now whether or not to play baseball, would you want to play?”
“No.” In relaying the story to me, Dad said that there was no hesitation at all. These feelings had been buried for what must have been a couple years and came out instantly… with one word.
Feeling both stunned and crushed, Dad asked: “Well, what would you want to do? I can’t have you sitting around and playing video games.”
“I want to play my music dad,” Mark said. And then he continued to volunteer even more insight that he had thought through this decision. “And I want to get into martial arts.”
Holy &%$… thought Dad, carefully NOT verbalizing that part of his thoughts. I did it. I pushed my kid over the edge and now he wants to quit. Dad thought for a bit and said the following words just poured out of his mouth…
“Okay Mark, then let’s do that. Let’s focus on your music and find a place to train martial arts.”
Dad said he could immediately see the weight lifted off of Mark’s shoulders. This had been a heavy burden to carry, and it was obvious that Mark was very concerned about letting his father down. Dad asked one more question that must have been very, very difficult – both to ask, and to hear his son’s answer:
“Mark, have you been playing this last year for me?” Dad asked.
“Yes dad, I have. I’ve wanted to quit for a long time.”
Holy smokes. So many powerful takeaways from this story? Here I go… some thoughts in no particular order:
IF Mark comes back to baseball, it will be HIS decision.
If Mark decides to return in one month, six months, or a calendar year, it will be HIS decision. He’ll have true conviction that he wants to play. That playing baseball is his decision and not his dad’s. If that happens, both father and son will return to baseball with the ability to “play free” – no guilt on Dad’s part, and no family pressure on son.
“No one likes a quitter, Dan”
Right after we had finished our conversation, the freshman baseball coach walked up. What timing?! We were able to discuss the fact that Mark was unfortunately not going to playing baseball upon entering high school. At the same time, another baseball dad was in the vicinity, and we struck up a conversation. The first words out of that dad’s mouth were: “No one likes a quitter. You’re not a quitter Dan, are you?” Of course not, I thought – my ego immediately speaking up 🙂 However, as the conversation continued, I couldn’t keep myself from defending this 14-year old kid! Why was it that I was defending someone that others would call a “quitter?” Because of this important distinction: Mark is not a quitter.
I was, and am, defending a kid, who at a very young age, was brave enough to tell his dad that baseball was no longer a goal he wanted to pursue and that he was ready to move on to something else. That is very different than someone who does not follow through or does not possess the courage to complete a given task. In this case, Mark had the courage to tell his father that the time for baseball has come to an end and now he wants to pursue another goal. That ain’t quitting, that’s called a mature decision.
Is this burnout?
Undoubtedly… right? This has to be the case of playing too much baseball. Because every kid that quits baseball must be burnt out, right? Not the case, at least not in my opinion. Who’s to say that this decision to quit isn’t actually the correct decision? Who’s to tell this kid that after playing through close to two years of misery, that the right thing to do is keep banging your head against the wall. I used to surf and surf quite a bit. Now I have two kids and there aren’t enough hours in the day. So, I basically quit surfing. But I think it was the right decision… and so does that wacky four-year old that gets to dominate what used to be my surfing-time.
When I heard this story, I immediately felt, and still feel, that it was the right decision. If the chances of playing high school are X%, playing in college Y%, and playing professionally Z%… then all those kids that don’t make it have to stop playing at some point. It’s not as if every kid is going to stay on the field until one of us coaches tells him he didn’t make the team. Like I stopped surfing, each of us stops doing stuff all the time. Does that make us quitters? Or are we working through different phases in our lives, searching to find our calling, our passion, or career? Have you ever made a job change? Switched careers? Gone back to school? How do you do that without “quitting” something else? I don’t know man, there’s got to be a difference between “quitting” and making a smart decision. Especially when you figure out that there is something else that you LOVE to do and just might be better suited to serve others doing it!
How will Mark be affected by this decision?
I believe Mark will be free. We tell kids to “play free” all the time. To let go of attachment-to-results and just play. Think of the freedom with which Mark will bang on the drums and strum the guitar. Heck, he ain’t gonna strum, he’s gonna jam!! Because THIS was HIS decision and he’s now free. He can be himself and do what he wants. I think that’s a powerful, powerful experience. More on that as I wrap up later…
How will Jeff be affected by Mark’s decision?
Let’s look at this from the perspective of the 8-year old brother, Jeff. He just watched his older brother quit. Sheesh. But! He just watched his parents act like mature adults. Never wavering in their support and love for Mark, Jeff will see this. Jeff will understand and believe that his thoughts and opinions are important. That the family truly wants what’s best for him, and that it’s okay to steer towards his likes and his passions. Most importantly, Jeff will watch Mark bust his a&* on the hobby(s) he does choose. I believe it’s now Dad’s job to make sure that Mark honors his own decision. Mark MUST practice his music and get in the dojo! As Angela Duckworth says in her book I absolutely recommend Grit (Angela Duckworth), you can only quit after (1) seeing a commitment through. Meaning, you can’t quit in the middle of a season. Next, you to have (2) something that you’re working HARD towards. In can be yours, but it has to be hard.
How will Jeff be affected by his parents reaction to Mark’s decision?
I think I just answered this one. But let’s be clear that kid #2 is always watching. I believe that this now sets the ground rules for quitting in the household. Using Duckworth’s “Hard Thing Rule” there are three parts:
- Everyone in the family has to do something hard. This is “something that requires practice, something where you’re going to get feedback telling you how you can get better, and you’re going to get right back in there and try again and again.“
- You have to finish what you start. You can’t quit until the commitment is over. Whether it’s a sport season, or a batch of lessons… no quitting until the you finish.
- No one gets to pick the hard rule for anyone else. It has to be “theirs.” Or “yours.” Whatever! No one decides what anyone else has to do.
How will Mark’s decision affect Dad’s handling of Jeff (kid #2)?
Undoubtedly, Dad is going to take a deep breath and a second look at how he handles Jeff. It’s funny, I actually started this entire conversation when I suggested that Dad may not want to put Jeff into fall ball. I thought to myself, this kid has been playing ball since January… and he’s 8. In SoCal, we tryout the first week of January (and by playing summer baseball, Jeff’s final game was in early August. Think about that, at 8 years old, Jeff has just played for 7 months straight. No breaks! I would listen to those far smarter than me that say physically developed players should take 3-4 months off a year. And if I’m working backwards, down to younger athletes, that length of time HAS to increase!
How can we pass along this perspective to first-time baseball parents?
Mark will be that much stronger the next time he faces a life-decision.
This is the thought that fires me up the most. As a baseball player, I never had to quit. I was a victim of injury, and so I was never faced with walking away from baseball without an excuse. The honest truth is, a big part of me DID define myself through baseball. Only when I got older, did I finally grow comfortable being Daniel Keller the person… as compared to Dan Keller the baseball player. Luckily for me (read this line a couple times), I was injured. I never had to go through the rest of my life with others thinking “He didn’t make it,” or… “He quit.” I never had to make THAT decision. And this kid, at 14 years old, just stepped up and made that tough, life-changing, identity-altering decision. And in doing so, it was HIS decision.
At first, Mark didn’t have the conviction to quit. At first, Dad didn’t have the maturity to LET him. Who is to say when that point has arrived? When is a kid making the right decision to quit? As parents, should we say ‘no’ the first time? Then wait a calendar year to see if the feelings remain. And if they do remain, does the book on quitting say that it is THEN that we must accept the athlete’s decision? Wow, that’s heavy stuff and something that undoubtedly requires a very personal and unique perspective.
In this case, I find myself smiling when I think of this family. The kid just made the hardest decision of his life, and was lucky enough to have a father with the love, and the willingness to respect his decision. He is stronger as a result. And he will face down the next life-decision with the confidence gained from making his own path. And to think that he started this maturation process at 14!!!! That, my baseball friends, is awesome.
Now, certainly I’m not condoning “quitting.” And I am bummed that we lost another ballplayer. But, something about this situation feels right. It feels like a kid has made a responsible decision to get closer to his true path. Closer to aligning his life to his purpose – what I define as “using his skills and talents daily, in service to others.” And isn’t that the true challenge of life?!
From what Dad tells me, Mark really is a gifted musician. Thankfully, the family played a lot of baseball… but never exclusively baseball. Mark WAS exposed to music, the arts, a number of sports, and of course, LOTS of baseball. So this decision was one that seems true, right, and fair.
In the end, maybe it’s time to redefine the word quitter. Maybe there is a time when the right decision is to move on, to pursue other passions, and say goodbye to the baseball field. In that case, it is my belief that this is not quitting. This just might be the most mature and wise decision a 14-year old could ever make. After all, if this very tough game isn’t for everyone, then that means the rest of us will eventually give it up.