Baseball and Mental Toughness

Youth Baseball Makes Kids Mentally Tough

Youth baseball makes kids mentally tough. I can’t imagine there is much debate there other than challenging the virtue of mental toughness.

Think about it. A kid pitching and allowing hit after hit and losing a game. Or striking out for the third time in the game or making an error that costs their team runs. All in front of numerous fans, players, and family. Every team has their minimum play bench players, right fielders, and kids who are older but have noticeably less talent than their younger teammates. Or heck, a kid literally standing in right field waiting for a ball that will never be hit to him. Yet, the kids keep playing. They keep showing heart.

Sure, tears happen (a lot), but, again, they keep playing. They keep fighting. Many quit, no argument there. And their parents let them and are often relieved that their kid is spared the horrible experience that is baseball. I absolutely admit, baseball isn’t for everyone, but those who stay develop tougher mentally in a way many other sports don’t allow. Not to say other sports don’t create opportunities to develop a kid’s mental toughness, but baseball has a unique way of teaching invaluable lessons.

Mental Toughness as a Virtue

In a world of safe spaces, snowflakes, snowplow parents, people triggered over everything, and drugs to treat every possible behavioral discomfort, it is clear that mental toughness isn’t a virtue in many households. But like many things, it really starts with the parents. And I get it. Parents just want to create a loving and safe environment for their children to thrive. Nothing wrong with that.

Except, of course, life isn’t always easy and kids must be able to handle the pressures of life to succeed. They need to have a solid foundation to overcome adversity, develop self-confidence, and avoid the self-destructive behaviors that plague our society. They need to have the courage to try with the risk of failure. And they don’t need to be coddled and protected from every possible challenging situation.

Am I saying youth baseball can do all that? Not on its own, but valuing mental toughness in your homes is certain to have a positive effect throughout your kid’s life.

What Is Mental Toughness?

There are a lot of definitions. Perhaps a bit academic, but mental toughness is:

“a collection of values, attitudes, behaviors, and emotions that enable you to persevere and overcome any obstacle, adversity, or pressure experienced, but also to maintain concentration and motivation when things are going well to consistently achieve your goals.”

A more simple definition defines mental toughness as a measure of individual resilience and confidence that predicts success.

Many of us grew up just calling it grit, perseverance, or resolve. It doesn’t matter what you call it, valuing it in your home is what is important.

Sometimes mental toughness is learned the hard way through very negative experiences. Youth baseball and sports, in general, create a safe environment to develop mental toughness and develop healthy habits to overcome adversity.

And it isn’t about being emotionless, far from it. It is using controlling one’s emotional impulses and redirecting them in positive ways.

Why Is Mental Toughness Important?

Mental toughness is an invaluable tool to survive life’s harder lessons. Not just in sports, but everywhere. Kids will face the anxiety of test taking, deal with bullies (get them into jiu-jitsu!), go through a messy breakup, and get reprimanded by a boss or teacher for performance, among a million other things.

Whether they collapse under those pressures or persevere is determined by their ability to ace adversity, which is learned through experience. We all know experience is the best education yet many shield their kids from these situations.

Youth Baseball and Mental Toughness

Baseball Defines Temperance

First of all, baseball is a tough sport to love. It’s slow and boring. It is even worse for the folks who never played or had bad experiences when they did. However, it forces kids to develop some self-control, to not allow their boredom to overcome. It forces them to maintain focus under challenging circumstances to succeed.

Fellow Reno Dad Rob argues that baseball is no longer America’s Pastime. He’s not wrong. He is a numbers guy, so his argument is about the pure numbers vs football. Hard to debate the numbers, but I agree with Rob for different reasons.

It’s not America’s Pastime anymore because our population requires instant gratification and constant stimulation. We need, or think we need, safety from potential failure or uncomfortable situations. We don’t always value risk taking or patience and certainly not self-restraint. When things get tough, often we just quit. When we want something, we just do it.

We are conditioning our youth to be much the same way.

For older kids (as I might be known to encourage this a little in my younger kids), fighting the urge to chase butterflies or dig holes in the infield waiting for someone to hit a ball to you develops resilience and self-control that will pay off time and again in the real world. Retaining focus and control is the difference between success and failure. For my younger kids, my focus is usually more on them enjoying being on a baseball field in the first place more than becoming perfect ball players.

Baseball Teaches Courage

Not much is tougher than letting others down. Watch an eight year old pitch for the first time. I’ve seen countless kids come off the mound in tears after struggling, feeling they let the entire team down or lost the game. Or feeling that they just suck.

Yet they go back out there and keep fighting. They ask to pitch again despite past failures and the potential for future failure. They develop a little thicker skin and find their fire to fight back. This is courage.

Baseball Tempers the Ego

One of the hardest lessons learned in life is humility. Striking out or giving up a home run offers a healthy dose of humility to the best baseball players. Most of the tears I see throughout the season are from our most competitive kids, the kids whose expectations of themselves are sometimes a bit higher than their ability. The strikeout is humbling. Giving up a home run is humbling. Life is often humbling. Baseball has no shortage of humbling experiences and our kids are better off for it.

You Know It When You See It

I spend an incredible amount of time at the baseball fields from coaching to being on the league’s board of directors. I see the divide between the mentally weak and mentally tough on the fields every night. And it is not just me who sees it, but the fans, the coaches, and the players themselves. People might not be able to define it, but everyone knows it when they see it.

We appreciate the kid who gets hurt and shakes it off. We feel for the kid who is struggling. And we are proud of comeback wins and equally proud when our kids keep fighting when getting destroyed.

But we also see the kids who throw temper tantrums. We see the kids who have bad attitudes that bring the entire team down. We see the kids who do not care if they are not giving 100%. And yes, we see the parents who also do not care and the coaches who do not get it.

And for those with younger kids, yes, I absolutely understand there is a major difference in the capacity for mental toughness between my six year old and nine year old! But like any virtue, mental toughness is something we should strive for, not something we have or don’t.

The author is on the board of Washoe Little League, coaches his two children regularly, and has his sons playing for the Scorpions Baseball Academy travel ball team. For more information on Youth Baseball in Reno, check out his guide.

If you enjoyed this article, check out A Coach’s Promise To Your Kids and Help Me Coach Your Kids, both based on the author’s experience coaching community baseball. As always, thanks for your support.

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