My middle son has played soccer for three seasons and is a good and talented soccer player. Last summer (he was 9) we started throwing a baseball and his natural ability was immediately very clear. I was shocked at how very well he threw and caught a baseball with virtually NO EXPERIENCE prior to that moment. As the summer passed we realized that he had natural abilities for baseball that were far above average and exceeded his natural abilities in other sports.
This summer (at age 10) he decided to play baseball for the first time. At tryouts there were five different stations – throwing, grounders, pop-flys, pitching, and hitting. Every station was manned by a coach in the league and at every station the routine was nearly the same. It went something like this….
Coach: “Hi Johnny, what team did you play for last year?”
My Son: “Oh, I didn’t play last year”
Coach: “Oh, ok. How many years have you played baseball?”
My Son: “This is my first year”
The coach then began the simplification of communication, simplification of requests, throwing slower, hitting easier…you get the picture.
The most startling treatment came at the pitching station. The organizer clearly said “Every player will go to the pitching station and throw 10 pitches.” When my son got there, the coach asked the same two questions as all the others, “Who did you play for last year?” and “How many years have you played?” When the answer came back none, the coach said “OK, I’m going to have you throw 3 pitches.” Wait, what?
I was offended as a parent but I tried to frame it as a learning moment and a self check on unintended cognitive biases.
I believe that as a society and culture we too heavily equate experience with quality and ability. We also fall into a trap of over valuing conventional paths. For my son and baseball, his lack of game or team experience did not correlate to his skills or ability and he had gotten practice and repetitions entirely outside of the conventional track of little league baseball.
At Acton we attempt to see kids with fresh eyes. To the extent possible, we try to peel away any cognitive biases that associate experience with ability or ability with conventionally accepted paths. Sometimes kids uncover an ability, potential, or passion at an unconventional time or in an unexpected way. Rather than applying preconceived notions, let’s be open-minded and let them fly.
For what it’s worth, in his first ever little league game my son had two base hits including the game winner, which earned him the “game ball” and a round of applause from his ecstatic teammates. Being new to the sport can be challenging at times, but overall he’s doing wonderfully despite his lack of prior game experience.