Joey could hear his parents arguing about him in the bedroom. They were careful not to have these arguments in front of him, but the walls were thin. It was the same old topic. Joey needed to get some backbone (dad). Joey needed to be left alone to be himself (mom). The issue was baseball. Joey’s dad had been a pretty talented minor league player in his time, and working out with Joey, he was convinced that the boy had the coordination and skill to be a great player, as well. The problem? Joey was very quiet and shy, and just didn’t want to join a Little League group at any level. He enjoyed catch with his dad and his two older brothers, and pickup baseball at family picnics. He really was pretty sharp at it, but the idea of joining a team was a huge turn-off. He seemed competitive with himself, always trying to do better, but he had no desire to join a group of angry, yelling kids who were trying to beat the socks off of someone else. The vision of a mob of parents in the bleachers, watching his every move, was even less appealing.
Joey’s mother was much like him and thoroughly sympathized. His dad had tried to involve him in tee-ball when he was only five, and his mom had intervened, cautioning that he was still so little, and had plenty of time to mature and feel more confident about himself. It was much the same argument when baseball season started the following year, and the year after that—and, and, and. Now he was almost nine, the season was starting again and so was the familiar family argument. True to his strong ISFJ nature, Joey had been slow to warm up to any new social situation. Children’s parties were an ordeal for him until they were half over and he had become comfortable in the situation. This was true even of his own birthday parties. The first day of school was a misery of anxiety and ambivalence every year, yet he always found one or two close friends and settled in quite happily as the year went on.
His dad was convinced that Little League would be just as good for him, once he got over his worries. At times he came pretty close to saying that it would “make a man of him.” As an outgoing and fairly assertive Extravert he had little patience with Joey’s worries, feeling that coddling him was the worst thing he could do. Joey’s mom, however, was not only shy like Joey, she was also not at all athletic and certainly not competitive about anything. She saw no reason to force the boy to do this thing that he so thoroughly did not want to do. Making things worse, as the years went by, the boys who had been involved in Little League activities from the beginning had already had all sorts of experiences together. They had made friends and alliances, had learned the rudiments of batting, catching, base-running, etc., and had gotten used to feeling like a team. Joining in now was much more challenging than it would have been when they all were five.
But this year, Joey heard some pretty awful words from the bedroom, muffled though they were. “Wimp” and “sissy” and “mollycoddle” were among them, all in his dad’s voice. It was clear that his mother was crying. All of this was because of him! After things quieted down he decided that he couldn’t bear to be the source of all that unhappiness. At dinner he told his dad that he had decided to try to find a place on a team.
Because it was all new to him, he found himself on a pretty sad team. “All geeks and freaks,” was what he said to himself when he first saw the lineup, although he was far too kind to say this out loud to anyone. This was the first year of true competitive baseball for the Little League teams. For the first time, coaches did not gently pitch to the batters, and good players were recruited to competitive teams. Joey’s dad was right in thinking that the boy had a lot of natural talent, and this group was full of boys who had not improved much over their early experiences. Nobody seemed to pitch well, and batting practice was more funny than inspiring. Balls were missed in the outfield, dropped in the outfield, and rarely caught in the outfield. At first this helped Joey to feel at ease and comfortable. However, he was good, and it wasn’t long before he was outplaying everyone else. It was then that he discovered that he had a special talent that was more important to him than his ability to hit the ball. He was a natural coach.
Being both athletically talented, and a quiet, careful observer, he began to see the problems that other boys were having, and would sometimes give a suggestion that really made a difference. Besides that, he was unfailingly kind and supportive to his teammates, even when they went down to defeat week after week after week. As the season wore on, the team began to build itself around Joey, both as their best player and as a kind of informal team captain. He was surprised to find himself in this leadership position, but as the season wore on, he realized he enjoyed it and felt comfortable and liked it in this setting. Toward the end, they won a couple of games and that made everyone nearly delirious with excitement. Joey loved it, too—not so much because they beat another team, but because they had such a good time playing together.
So, was Joey’s dad right, and his mom wrong? At this point in time, evidence suggests that pushing Joey a little earlier on would have been a good thing for him, as well as a good thing for the endless family conflict. Based on that, his dad’s instincts look pretty good for the moment. Joey had natural abilities that he could use and enjoy, and he was a child who, over time, warmed up in group situations, as his parents had seen in other settings. His mother’s reaction was kind, but perhaps misguided in this specific case. She was reasoning from her own shyness and her own dislike of games and competition and was probably trying to shelter Joey too much. On the other hand, if Joey’s dad tries to force him into highly competitive athletics in school, and a possible career later, he will probably be the one who is pushing his own temperament needs on Joey. You could imagine the boy growing up with a lasting interest in baseball, and perhaps even wanting a career as a school coach, but his dad will have to restrain himself from pushing Joey to be a replica of dear old dad. If not, they are headed for more hard times ahead. There is just nothing easy about the art of parenting!
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