As a society, we spend a lot of time and effort tearing each other down.
We talk behind each other's backs, we sabotage each other, we bully each other, we say and post cruel and hurtful things about each other, and we celebrate when people crack under the social pressure or when they fail at something that means a lot to them.
Fans of one sports team revel in the failures of rival sports teams. (I'm guilty of that, as my New England Patriots fan of a brother-in-law can attest.) Commenters on virtually any online news story post hateful things about the subject of the article. I've heard some rotten comments from parents and coaches at youth sporting events, and it only takes a minute or two in a local chatter group on Facebook to see how heartlessly nasty we can be to each other.
But about the time that my faith in humanity starts to wane, someone like my daughter's assistant coach does something to restore it and demonstrates the power of praise.
My 10-year-old daughter plays travel softball, and this is her first year in the kid-pitch age group. She was a big fish on her coach-pitch travel softball team last year, but it's been an entirely different story this season.
The struggle has been real, and it has lasted for months. Everyone who is involved in her softball world -- including me and The Mrs. -- thinks it's a confidence issue. However, we've tried everything we know how to do to get her playing at her potential, to no avail.
The two men who coach her team this year were assistant coaches on her team last year, so they've seen what she can do on the field. They, too, have been working with her, as has her batting coach, who always wants to hear how she did in practice and in tournaments so that he knows what to focus on with her.
Nothing has worked.
As a parent, it's been excruciatingly frustrating, to say the least. For my people-pleaser of a daughter, it has to be a complete nightmare.
This weekend during a tournament, my daughter swung at and missed a pitch that was at least two feet above her head for the third out with runners in scoring position in a game that her team ended up losing.
In the next half-inning, she let an easy grounder -- one she has fielded cleanly 1,000 times in the past -- go under her glove and through her legs. Runners advanced and runs scored.
Her assistant coach, who knows my frustration with her struggles, noticed my newly-developed eye-twitch and the steam blowing out of my ears and asked me, "What's going on with her?!"
"I have no idea," I told him through clenched teeth and a pounding headache. "I'm at a total loss."
I took a walk to the concessions stand to calm down and to get a soft drink, and when I came back to the field, my daughter's team was up to bat. The assistant coach had pulled my daughter aside, had his arm around her shoulder, and was having a quiet conversation with her.
At the time, I didn't know what he said to her, but the conversation ended with her looking up at him, smiling and nodding. He gave her an encouraging pat on the helmet, and she cheerfully ran back to rejoin her teammates.
In her next at-bat, she walked. She showed good decision-making skills on when to swing and when not to swing, and she was rewarded by finally getting on base. She stole a base and later came around to score with a big smile on her face. She had finally contributed something to her team.
In her next game, she lucked into a base hit. It wasn't a good swing, but by some stroke of fate, the ball connected with her bat, and the wind carried it over an infielder's head. She got on base, though, and she ended up scoring.
The smile on her face got bigger, and her body language started to change -- she was much more relaxed now. She had just made another contribution to her team.
This morning, she hammered a pitch, grounding it to the shortstop. She was thrown out on the play, but her form was good, her swing was good, and she finally looked like she knew what she was doing at the plate instead of just blindly flailing at anything the pitcher threw toward her general vicinity. It was a nice hard shot that could have done some damage if the shortstop hadn't made a good play on it.
She came back to the dugout with a smile that could light up the entire city of Indianapolis. You'd never know that she had just grounded out -- you'd have thought she launched one over the fence.
But she knew.
She knew that everything felt good on that swing, and she knew the power that she put on that softball. She talked about that at-bat all the way home.
It goes back to the private, quiet conversation that she had with her assistant coach. He didn't yell at her, tear her down, or say mean things to her. As my daughter later told me, he said that he knows she can play softball well, he has confidence in her, and she just needs to take a deep breath, relax, and have fun with the game.
That little bit of praise turned things around for her this weekend.
It would have been easy for him to scream at her for all of her mistakes or to just ignore the worst player on the team and let her rot on the bench. But he stepped in when Dad was starting to come apart at the seams, and he made a point of praising her, which made a world of difference to her.
Maybe if we took a break from tearing each other down and instead made a habit of having positive and constructive conversations with each other, praising each other and building each other up, our world would be a little bit better place.
I'll even try real hard not to do a happy dance on social media every time Tom Brady is sacked.
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