A Small Kindness

ScanWatching my kids play team sports as they were growing up didn’t always bring out the best in me.  I liked watching them develop their athletic skills and learn the value of teamwork, and I enjoyed sitting on the sidelines during their games, chatting with the other parents.  But I also took it to heart when I thought a coach or umpire wasn’t being fair, and was just a little too quick to listen to the gossip and drama that are an inevitable part of youth sports.  Which explains, but doesn’t at all excuse, why I was so surprised one night when I was watching a softball game and saw a player on the opposing team performing a simple act of kindness for one of the players on my daughter’s team.

For years, I had heard that this particular team was the arch-rival of my daughter’s team, and that they cheated every chance they got, trash-talked my daughter’s team throughout every game, and that all of them–the players, the coaches and the parents—were just plain mean and nasty people.  And I’m embarrassed to admit that I basically believed it, especially after watching a few games that weren’t exactly what you’d call friendly competition.

So there I was one muggy summer night, sitting on the bleachers behind first base, watching my daughter’s softball game against their “arch rivals” and really hoping we (the good guys) would beat them (the bad guys.)   But then one of our players lost her helmet as she ran to first base, and it landed in the dust, out of her reach.  She couldn’t retrieve it without risking getting picked off the base.  The first-base player from the other team leaned over, picked up the helmet and handed it back to her. And just like that, all my preconceived notions about the girls on this team went down the drain.

I had to leave before the game was over, and I passed by the opposing team’s bench and bleachers on my way out.  The parents were complaining about the mosquitoes, and remembering the actions of their first-base player, I stopped and offered them my bottle of bug spray to use.  Since their girls were on the field at the time, I told them to hang on to it spray their girls when they came back to the bench and to give the bottle to my husband after the game.  They wanted to know who my husband was, and I said the coach of the team they were playing.  Which I could tell surprised them, a lot.

My husband came home late from that game, because not only did they return the bug spray to him, but their coach also offered him a cold beverage from the team cooler.  The two of them stood on the parking lot for a while after the game, chatting about the challenges of coaching kids’ sports teams and generally getting to know each other.  “They were really nice people,” my husband told me, “Who knew?”

My daughter’s team played against that team several more times, and both teams still played to win.  But they no longer felt like arch rivals, and more often than not, my husband and their coach lingered after the game for a friendly chat.  The people we had viewed as “the enemy” became just another group of girls playing a game, and just another group of parents cheering them on and occasionally forgetting not to take it all so seriously.  They were ordinary people, just like us.

And all it took for me to finally see that was one girl picking up another girl’s batting helmet and giving it back to her.

79 thoughts on “A Small Kindness

  1. touching story and very well written Ann.

    Love the morale .. we only deem them ‘enemies’ until we get to know them .. for there are NO real enemies except our own judgemental attitudes 🙂

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  2. A get story, Ann. I could visualize this I’m also reflect back to the years I sat watching the kids play soccer. Sadly so true. What a difference a simple act of kindness can make.

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    • You’re welcome! It seemed like something that I needed to remember, and I thought it would be good for others to hear it too. Once we get to know the people we are so sure are “bad,” we often realize that they are much more like us than we ever dreamed… Not perfect, but not bad at all! Thanks for your kind comment.

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  3. Sometimes one act of kindness creates a snowball that just keeps getting larger and larger. Lord knows youth sports needs that now more than ever. Fans can get pretty aggressive, even abusive, at these games. The players are usually the most respectful on the field.
    And then there was you…a fan who extended an olive branch and the snowball got a little bigger.
    Nice job, Ann. You should attend games all over the country..:)

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    • Thanks, George! But believe me, I wasn’t such a great fan until I saw that player doing something nice for the player on our team, and it hit home to me that I really, really, needed to open my heart and my mind. She was the one who inspired me to be nice to the moms on the opposing team, and it went from there.
      It’s so easy to get caught up in the negative aspect of sports, because we love our children so much and are naturally protective of them. But when we do, we just ruin it for everybody. Winning isn’t the most important thing. Learning to treat others the way we want to be treated is!

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  4. You write so eloquently Ann. It is a pleasure to read you.
    This is a terrific post about how we all make assumptions and have preconceptions of things that quite often are actually inaccurate.

    I love that a small gesture of kindness was noticed by you, and that it changed all your perceptions. And that you too demonstrated an equal act of kindness.

    I think we all as people and even countries, get into big problems when we start dividing and defining by who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys”. As you illustrated it is never a case of black and white but usually several shades of grey.

    Peta

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    • I absolutely agree! Once we divide the world into “us” and “them” (with the assumption that we are always the good guys), then trouble starts, whether we’re doing it as individuals or as a group. I think one of the most important things to learn in this world is that we have more in common with other people than we think! Thanks, as always, for your kind comments. I really appreciate them!

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  5. I love this story. It is true how we can get caught up in the talk and gossip. Glad there was this sweet gesture to make things right. The smallest acts of kindness are often large in the grand scheme of things.

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    • I wonder if you agree but from my experience of juvenile sports, it seems like the sport, fun and enjoyment went out of team sport a long time ago particularly when parents started getting very competitive, trying to relive their missed chances through their children.

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        • Exactly what I noticed…and what loud messages does it show and give our young impressionable children….that being rude is ok, that taking part, putting in your best effort and being a team player are second in line to winning. A sad day when there is no longer sport in sport!

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          • Yes, it is modeling all the worst behavior for children. My husband often coached our kids’ teams, and always enjoyed working with the kids. Some of the parents were a bit of a challenge, especially the ones who accused him of not caring enough about winning. He is actually a super-competitive person, but that goes for himself, not for children. His main goal as a coach was teaching the kids how to play the game and to develop into the best player they could be, and how to enjoy the game. Personally, I thought his priorities were exactly right!

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      • I agree! The most obnoxious parents were the ones who were clearly trying to relive their glory days through their kids. Not all parents were like that; most just watched the game and cheered for their team. But a few bad apples could ruin the experience for everyone!

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    • That’s the truth! I sometimes think the best thing that could happen to team sports is to not allow the parents to watch at all. If the coach is good, then he or she can teach the kids to be a good sport much more easily without the parents around.

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    • I loved that, Alan! And yes, once I “saw the light” I realized just how silly I’d been to view them as the enemy, even in the context of sports. Sometimes, it takes a child to teach us….

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  6. Thank you for sharing this! A life lesson every human-bean needs to learn…and the younger we learn it, the better! 🙂
    Those small acts of kindness…done with love and sincerity stay with us and hopefully prompt us to do acts of kindness every day!
    We all have so much more in common than we do in differences. All wanting respect, love, gentleness, encouragement, etc. 🙂
    HUGS,
    Carolyn 🙂

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post! And I so agree…those acts of kindness stay with us long afterwards. From that day on, I thought about that girl on first base whenever I was tempted to think bad thoughts about someone I didn’t even know. Underneath it all, we are so much more alike than different, and yes, we want the same things. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!

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    • Yes, I doubt if that girl has any idea how much her simple gesture changed things for the rest of us, but it sure did. Which goes to show that whenever we are kind, the ripples spread out in ways we can’t even imagine. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Ann, I love that you challenged your own story of this rival team. Reflection and questioning our thinking can make a big difference in the world especially when it leads to an action. This is a wonderfully inspiring story. Way to go.

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    • Thanks, Ali! But honestly, all the credit goes to that first-base player. Her simple act of kindness is what opened my eyes to the fact that I needed to stop seeing the other team and their parents as being so very different from my daughter’s team and our group of parents. And once I reached out to them….guess what? They were normal people, just like us! It’s something I remember whenever I’m tempted to demonize a group of people just because I don’t understand, or know, them very well.

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      • I still think you get credit for noticing what the girl from the other team did. Sometimes we are so steeped in story that we don’t see what happens right in front of us because it doesn’t fit the story we have held on to for so long.
        I so appreciate bringing up this conversation for all your readers to reflect on. It matters.

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        • Thank you! That’s a big part of what this blog is about: helping point out the good things in this world, and the way we are connected, and more alike than different. I get so tired of the finger-pointing and name calling that is so prevalent today. I can vent with the best of them when I’m having a bad day, but that’s not going in a blog post! The world doesn’t need it….

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  8. Yup, one small act of kindness. 🙂

    My mom used to get sneered at when we watched my brother’s games because she would cheer when there was a good play – regardless of the team that did it.

    I stopped sitting next to her because she would get so excited when my brother’s team was doing well, that she would grab me by the shoulders and shake me. That was not fun. She was just so excited!

    Glad it turned out so well for the teams.

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