It’s amazing what our kids can teach us if only we let them. My son is in his first year of machine pitch baseball and just a few weeks ago, he saw the machine for the first time. Now, after t-ball ended we signed him up for the local travel team and he spent the fall and winter practicing coach pitch. So, the idea of the ball heading towards him wasn’t a new concept. However, the ball coming at him at 43 mph was. I wasn’t sure how he was going to react to that, but we were going to find out. His first time in the cage he stood in the box determined and as the ball was pitched. He did exactly what he was supposed to do and that was swing. Of course, he didn’t make contact. And he only made contact on one or two pitches his first time out but he stood in there and swung every time.
The next practice was a different story. He went in the cage and took his swings, same results as last time. But he stood in there, made contact with a few, and walked out. Progress. At the end of the practice was where it went sideways. This was a half-team practice and my son was the only one on his first year of machine pitch so the other kids were making contact with the majority of the balls. The coach lined the kids up and one by one they went into the cage and simulated a game time scenario. 5 pitches or 3 strikes. First 3 kids went in and made contact. My son went in and went down swinging. For the first time, I saw my son defeated. He came out of the cage with tears in his eyes and went to the fence and sat with his head down.
I went over to him and told him to stand up, asked what was wrong. After a few minutes,he finally admitted that he just wanted to hit the ball. So, we had the “it takes time, the other kids have been doing this for over a year, and you can’t hit every ball, gotta get back in there” speech. By that time, he was up again to go in the cage. Same result, 3 up and 3 down. But this time he came out of the cage and went back in line. No tears, no anger, just determined to get in line and do it again.
For the first time, I saw my son passionate about something(other than Legos that is). To the point of tears when it didn’t break his way. It was a teachable moment for him and a reminder for me. Leadership is hard. It’s meant to be. It’s lonely and frustrating and often times you wonder if it is even worth it because you don’t feel like you’re making progress and you want to walk away. And you must remind yourself that it takes time, sometimes months and sometimes years. Just like a 7-year-old hitting a ball off a machine for the first time. It doesn’t happen the first or second time in the cage. And you don’t feel like you’re progressing as fast as you should be. You compare yourself to others and you get frustrated because of their success. You want to give up. But you weren’t there when they were where you are, you didn’t see all the hours they put in, the mountains and valleys they had to go through. So, you must be reminded that it takes time and it doesn’t come easy. By the end of the season and after thousands of pitches, you finally start making contact. By the second year you’re hitting every pitch coming your way.
Leadership takes a very similar path. You just have to keep getting in the cage, keep stepping up to the plate, and keep swinging. As the Japanese proverb goes, “fall down 7 times, get up 8”. My son showed a lot when he got up and went back into the cage. It will be a long season of struggle for him, he will get frustrated, and he will feel like he isn’t making progress. But I believe he will keep stepping up. As leaders, we have to keep getting up. The people around us count on us to keep getting up. But more importantly, those little ones that we are role models for expect it as well.It’s amazing what our kids can teach us, we just have to let them.
About the Author
SIDNEY LUCAS began his fire service career as a volunteer with the Belle and Cedar Grove Volunteer Fire Departments (WV) in 1999 and currently serves as a Lieutenant with the Newport News Fire Department (VA) and is assigned as the Department Safety Officer. He has been with the department for over 11 years where he has served in various capacities. He is a former Chief of Quinton Volunteer Fire and EMS (VA) and a veteran of the United States Navy, serving onboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) as part of the Crash and Salvage Team supporting the Global War on Terrorism. Sidney is a graduate of the Virginia Fire Officer’s Academy and currently serves on staff.