She stood there, pink pool noodle held aloft like a light saber, just awaiting her opportunity. The boys were trying to whack me silly as I dashed, darted, and tried not to think about the plantar fascitis that’s cropped up since I started trying to keep up with the preschool crowd. Sometimes I’m not sure if this whole coaching thing is keeping me young, or making me fully feel all of my middle age.
After a few cursory bops, little Tenley decided to hang back, her eyes fixated on the small black bag that dangled over my shoulder. For inside was the cornucopia of Fuzzy Flies I would occasionally toss in the air. For in my “Super Silly Sluggers” game, bopping me with the noodle was worth one point, but if you could take a real baseball swing and hit a fuzzy when I tossed it in the air, it was worth 10.
Tenley didn’t want to play. She wanted to win.
And that’s the way she’s been since I met her. Verbal, intense, and always wanting to let you know what she thinks about baseball, stuffed animals, her vacation plans—you name it.
This little girl is the poster child for the #BanBossy movement started by Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.”
She is also the poster child for why that movement is wrong.
Other than its alliterative quality, the attempt to ban a word is about as good an idea as trying to force a verbal and intense child into becoming a quiet, good little girl. It doesn’t work, as this excellent piece by the LA Times explains, and ends up reinforcing all the negatives rather than channeling the power of that word (or child) to become its best self.
A few weeks before, we had played a different game with our puffer ball friends. “Hustle!” she implored as Andy casually ambled over to pick up the evil, alien fuzzy fly he had vanquished by allowing it to bop off his nose “Go put it in the box!” she pled, her little pink shoes darting up-and-down anxiously.
Again, Tenley was dead serious. The Kinhaven Preschool Sparkling Stars had to save the world. And Tenley was darned well going to make sure they made it happen.
This “Fuzzy Flies” drill, which begins the Spaceball! section of my FUNdamentals class, is one of my absolute favorites. It really combines so many great aspects of baseball. This game is ostensively about introducing kids to catching fly balls. But for many kids, it is much more than that.
It’s about learning how to face our fears. For allowing a ball to bop you in the nose challenges that “Lizard Brain” that makes you want to turn away from what might be dangerous rather than to stare it down. And turning away from a fly ball is the very best way to be hurt by it. I think there’s a metaphor in there somewhere…
Of course, I have to don pair of those googly alien antennae on top of my cap, because, well, I just have to. Then in my best retro-1950’s alien voice, I begin.
“Greetings Earthlings! From deep space, an army of lethal Fuzzy Flies are descending. If 10 of them land on the ground, they will multiply into millions and take over the world! There is only one way to deactivate them, and that’s to bop them with your nose!”
Tenley, as usual was a star. But she knew she couldn’t do it alone. So she was ready to take charge and make sure the job got done. And then when we played “CoachN Says” she made sure that when others might be going for one of my clever tricks by being extra silly, that the goofy guys on the team didn’t take the bait.
Leaders have to be bossy—by nature they tend to be “idea people” that are thinking along with whatever is happening, and volunteer their opinions quickly and forcefully. It is a great trait to have.
Baseball, however, is a team game, and what I’ve noticed about kids like Tenley is that they by nature feel like they know what they’re doing and want to be in control. Neither are bad traits, indeed they are great ones. But, much like the word “bossy” they can be expanded beyond their traditional notion.
With Tenley, it all started with, “The Tale of Gus & Coach Grumpy Pants” (yes, I will write that story here). The notion being that by clapping and cheering for your teammates and making them feel better, you are helping the whole team, and therefore, yourself. And with every game we played, when she started to get a little anxious for her turn, I reminded her that there was no way she’d get the sticker for her hat unless everyone contributed.
I saw all this manifest in Tenley near the end of our first session. It was our very last fuzzy flies game. This time the kids had the balls and were throwing them at me, gaining a point for every hit. When I yelled “FREEZE!” the kids had to use proper form to throw it at me. I gave them a choice of 2, 5, or 10 point throws, and I move to an appropriate distance back to let them have at it.
As per usual, they managed to win the game, and we were at the end of our time. But as I was running to get the star stickers to adorn their hats, I heard Tenley’s voice. “Coach-Coach-Coach!” she yelled anxiously. To be honest, I was tired, and really wanted to dole out the stickers and go home. I turned around about to tell Tenley that we needed to get a move on, when I saw Mark standing cross legged, bottom lip quivering. “Mark never got a turn!”
Of course, I apologized to Mark, and gave him a couple of extra throws to bop the old coach, but I gave Tenley the biggest high-five his preschool shoulder could handle, knelt on the ground, looked her straight in the eye, and said, “Now that is what being a teammate is all about.” She smiled as if she had just scored the winning run.
It was then I knew what her nickname would be—the only nickname I’ve given to two different players—Cap. For while one of my captains feared competition at first, and the other started wanting to do nothing else, both of them found themselves as leaders, using the best of what they are to make themselves and others better.
To me, that is the best of bossy. And both that attitude and that world should be celebrated.
So if Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t like bossy, she can send it over to me on the baseball field any old day.