Keller: Kids need failures to learn what it means to succeed

June 22, 2011
  • Mark Keller, Herald-Mail Sports Editor
Mark Keller, Herald-Mail Sports Editor

When it comes to stories about parents acting out in relation to youth sports, nothing really surprises me anymore.

NBC’s “Today” show reported Tuesday that a mother in New York had been arrested and charged with (among other things) stalking, endangering the welfare of a child and aggravated harassment.

The reason: Her son did not make a travel baseball team.

Janet Chiauzzi of East Meadow, N.Y., allegedly threatened the Little League official she deemed responsible, sending letters to his children’s school that accused him of physical and verbal abuse, according to the news show.

She also sent a letter to the league official himself, allegedly threatening the man’s family.

“I know where your wife works ... I know where your daughter goes to school and your son’s normal every day routine. ... Just tell your wife and kids to watch themselves, especially at night. I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to make your life and your family’s life a living hell. These are not just words and empty threats,” she allegedly wrote.

In times like this, I realize how lucky I was to have parents who knew the right time to speak up and the right time to say nothing.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, my parents said nothing. I now know that they were right 100 percent of the time.

I don’t think I even need to say how wrong Chiauzzi was. Allegedly.

When did the mindset of parents change? When did it become OK to threaten people because a parent feels her child has been wronged?

I’m a parent. Did I miss the memo?

When I was 12 years old, I made the all-star team at National Little League — one of 14 players selected back when there was only one all-star team, not five teams so that every player was an all-star.

There was no must-play rule for all-stars at that time. You played when your coach decided you would.

We played 11 games that postseason, reaching the state final. In those 11 games, I batted just five times. My time on the field often consisted of coaching first base and celebrating my teammates’ home runs at home plate.

I was terribly disappointed that I wasn’t playing more. I complained to my father about it, but what I remember most about that conversation were his two words of advice.

“Play better.”

Those words stuck with me. It wasn’t up to my dad or mom to pull a coach aside and complain that I wasn’t playing. It was up to me to play better and make the coach see that I deserved to be playing.

I’ve tried passing those words on to my daughter, who has been playing softball since she was in the sixth grade. In that time, she’s endured prolonged stretches on the bench.

Is it disappointing? Sure, but my complaining to a coach isn’t going to make it any easier for her. If anything, I can see that making it harder for her.

So I tell her, “Play better. Work harder. Be patient. Take advantage of your opportunities and make it so the coach can’t take you out once he puts you in.”

We let our kids off too easily. We coddle them too much. We don’t let them learn the lessons that they get from going through adversity, like sitting on the bench or being cut from a team.

Instead, everybody makes the team. Everybody plays. Everybody gets a medal. Everybody is an all-star.

Everybody is the same. Mediocrity is the norm. And we celebrate that?

It’s OK for kids to fail sometimes. It’s up to us to teach them how to shake off the failure and get better.

Not doing that is our failure.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7728 or by email at

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