It was a Sunday morning, and I could tell my seven-year old son was in a funky mood. He was acting a little more ornery than usual, and looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Finally, he asked the question: "Mama, do I have a game today?"
The motherly sirens and lightbulbs started blaring and flashing in my head. I suddenly understood his funk. He was thinking about baseball. And he was scared.
My son is playing in a more challenging league this fall. He is playing on a team with kids ranging mostly between the ages of 8-10. Most of the boys have been in this league for a year or longer. Most of them are bigger and stronger than my son. While he is a really good ball player and has strong skills for the game (and that's not just his mom talking- I promise!), the intimidation he feels against this older/bigger/stronger group of boys is obvious.
I wanted to find out the root of the problem and go from there. What was causing his anxiety? More importantly, what could he/we do about it?
During our chat, I came to realize that he was afraid of certain positions, mainly anywhere in the infield! Why? "Because the batters hit the ball hard and I'm going to get hit with a ball."
Ok, I started there: "So what's the worst thing that will happen if you get hit with a ball?" ("I'll get hurt.")
Yes, he could get hurt. Very true. But, I asked him to think about all the skills he knew about fielding and catching the ball. Then, I asked, "what's the best thing that might happen if you are playing in the infield?" ("I can make a good play," "I will catch the ball.") Exactly.
I wanted him to realize that no matter where he played on the field, he has the skills to know what to do, and, sometimes he'll make the play and sometimes he won't. But knowing that he tried his best each and every time he was out on the field was the important thing, and that he didn't let his fears get in the way of getting out there and playing the game. Imagine how much he would've missed out on if he had let his feelings of anxiety take over! Some of the things he was most looking forward to in this league were stealing and sliding...BOTH of which he excitedly had the opportunity to do - twice - in the game yesterday!
As I was watching my son on the field and reflecting on the talk we had earlier in the day, it dawned on me that I needed to listen to my own advice. Recently, I've found myself being paralyzed by fear. As an artist, it is truly intimidating to try new things and to put your work -and yourself- out there. Admittedly, I've let these fears dictate my actions in some ways. The irony is that allowing your fears to take over actually feels worse than if you had tried something new and failed miserably!
Yesterday, I told my son that the way we can alleviate some of his fears on game days is to take everything "one step at a time." Start with getting up and eating a healthy breakfast. Next, get the uniform on and pack the baseball bag. Essentially, focus on one thing at a time before, during and after each and every game. This advice really seemed to resonate with him, and it helped keep his fears in check. Now, it's my turn. I'm ready to conquer some of my own fears, but I think I'll take it one step at a time.