My high school baseball team was filled with talent. There were at least 5 guys who could hit the long ball at any time. We had some big arms, players who could throw you out from anywhere in the ballpark.
We had all the talent in the world, but talent alone does not win baseball games.
That is why our coach stressed one crucial lesson. “Boys,” he would say, “you have to do the little things.” Five minutes later, “You have to master the fundamentals.” Constantly he chided us with his favorite. “Let’s make our outs, outs.” In other words, a diving catch is great, but to win the game we need to handle a hundred routine ground balls and turn them into outs.
I have thought about that a lot since I have been working with students.
Today’s students have so much more pressure on them than I had when I was their age. In every area of life, they are expected to be spectacular. They have to make the best grades, because their future rides on it. So, every test is more than a test, as anxiety soars.
They don’t just play sports anymore. They specialize. They have personal trainers and coaches. There is not off season, as they push to excel, knowing their competitor is doing the same. The pressure builds and builds until the game is no longer a game they love. It is a job. As a result, they burn out or—and this is worse—they blow out a knee or a shoulder or an Achilles.
And all of this is done under the banner labeled, “The Pursuit of Excellence.”
But is this excellence? Are they more advanced or more anxious? Are they more or less prepared for life?
Perhaps there is a better way, a way that does not sacrifice excellence or the mental, spiritual, physical, or emotional health of our children.
I believe there is. I found the answer in an unlikely place. It came while reading a book on finance where the author exhorted the reader to forsake complicated systems in order to do the basics consistently. As he went on, he said some things that stuck. He wrote, “Sometimes the most advanced things you can do are the basics consistently.”
I think he is right.
So, what are some of the basics? I can think of a few.
1. Show up on time.
2. Work as hard as you can.
3. Keep your word. (That is, do what you say you will do.)
4. Admit your mistakes and learn from them.
I know this is not an exhaustive list. But I do believe a commitment to these basics can take a person a long way. It is great that our kids have learned to achieve, but it takes more than that to succeed.