This summer’s tremendous race to the championship by Philadelphia’s own Taney Dragons gave me a great chance to teach my own children about sportsmanship.
These are lessons that as parent and coach, I try to impart after every game with every player.
1. Be a teammate
Not unlike any Little League game, there were errors and there were mistakes. But after every single mistake, you saw encouragement from the players, not criticism. On the way off the field — a notorious place to remind players of their mistakes — there were only pats on the back and words of encouragement.
It’s important to emphasize again and again as a parent and a coach that no one succeeds alone in baseball. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s goat. Taney’s actions on the field gave me a chance to show to my own children how teammates treat each other to succeed.
2. Be a good winner
When my soccer team finally won a game last year, two or three players threw off their jerseys in celebration. The team we beat was not only dejected but embarrassed by my team. After we shook hands, I reminded the kids what it felt like when they lost.
We went on to win other games that year and did it with more grace and encouragement than that first game.
Taney’s victories were marked with genuine celebration but also sincere words for their opponent.
3. Be a good loser
At the end of Taney’s last game in the Little League World Series, the Taney players looked genuinely interested in congratulating the team from Chicago. Some stopped to talk. Others laughed with the Chicago team. The kids from Chicago did the same.
It showed my son that it was OK to play very, very hard and still appreciate the other team’s success.
4. Love what you do
I don’t like coaching kids who don’t want to be there. Sometimes they will literally say, “My mom and dad are making me play.”
As we watched Mo’ne Davis pitch in Williamsport, my daughter turned to me and said, “She looks serious, Dad, but she looks like she loves it.”
After a season ends, I always congratulate my children on working hard. “What work?” my son always says.
If you love it, it’s not work. If you don’t love the sport, I always tell my kids and my team, there are dozens of other sports waiting for you and chances are you will love one of them.
5. Sportsmanship rituals mean something
When we line up at the end of game to congratulate and shake hands with the opposing team, I tell the kids that it’s the most important part of the game. They have never failed to laugh at me. But during the Little League World Series, my kids saw how important it was.
On the world’s stage, the players on the teams at every level were doing exactly what we do every game. It’s not just rote, it means something.
6. Respect the umpires and referees
We were lucky enough to attend a game in Williamsport and near the end of the game, the umpire called strikes on some of the higher pitches. Already frustrated by the game, Philadelphia fans let the umpire know their displeasure. But the players did not. They got back in the box and experienced every at-bat with the same determination.
None of the kids on the field interacted in any negative ways with any of the umpires on the field.
We may not have finished as many of the books on the summer reading list that we should have. We may not have finished our summer workbooks. But we never missed a Taney game after they were named the Mid-Atlantic champions.
With my children and my players, sportsmanship is a constant battle. If they care and if they love it, their first reaction is often a competitive one.
Taney showed children of all ages that you can compete in a way that wins the respect of the city and the world.
John Donovan is a Northwest Philadelphia coach and dad.