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The most valuable lesson Little League teaches kids

  • Little League World Series

    Members of the Mercer Island, Wash., team enter Volunteer Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Little League World Series, Friday, Aug. 21, 2009, in South Williamsport, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Little league 1.jpg

    Maracay, Venezuela's Albario Gaince (14) scores around Mexicali, Mexico, catcher Alvaro Valdez, center, with pitcher Carlos Arellano, left rear, backing up the throw in the first inning of a baseball game at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. Mexico won 2-1 in nine innings. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

  • more little league 6.jpg

    Mexicali,, Mexico's Bruno Ruiz hits a solo home run off Maracay, Venezuela, pitcher Yonny Hernandez in the ninth inning of a baseball game at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. Mexico won 2-1 in nine innings. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The largest part of my professional life is spent writing, speaking, and working with corporations and organizations. 

However, some of the most fun I’ve had during the past ten years is the opportunity I have had to work and associate with some of the best professional and collegiate athletes in the world.

 The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens have used my book, "The Traveler’s Gift." 

So did Auburn University during their BCS National Championship year. Through speaking several of my books, I’ve had some input with the University of Alabama football team and coaching staff during their recent streak of dominance. 

I’ve worked with Major League Baseball teams, NBA franchises, and professional golfers—including captains of the Ryder and Solheim Cups.

Recently, however, I have been granted an opportunity that—and I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging—makes me feel as if I have finally “arrived.”

I, Andy Andrews, have officially been named the Mental Coach of…the Orange Beach Sharks, my 13-year-old son’s baseball team!

It all started when the team’s coach, a great guy named Brian Gibbons, approached me.

“Hey, you’ve worked with other teams before right?” he asked. “Could you work with us?”

“Well,” I said, as my mind rapidly tried to think of what I could say to a team full of 13- and 14-year-old boys, “sure, I don’t see why not!”

So, for the rest of the season, I spent five minutes or so before and after the games and practices talking to the team about many of the things I’ve discussed with professional athletes over the years. 

One particular lesson, however, seemed to have more of an effect on them than any other—not only in baseball, but in life as well.

What is this lesson?

Surprisingly, it doesn’t have anything to do with their performance during each play. Instead, it focuses on what they do between each play—the way they interact with the umpires.

The first thing I explained about umpires is that they’re a lot like TSA at the airport. There’s just no way you’re going to win an argument with them. On the other hand, you can tick them off.

To illustrate this point, I told the boys a story about a friend of mine named John Hirschbeck. Now, unless you’re a baseball fanatic, the name John Hirschbeck probably doesn’t ring any bells for you. But I’m willing to bet that you remember the time when Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar spit in an umpire’s face. Well, that umpire was John Hirschbeck.

I told the boys that story, but then I told them what went on behind the scenes in the aftermath of that incident. Every pitcher in Major League Baseball immediately became aware that Alomar’s strike zone had widened significantly!

“Umpires are human beings,” I told them. “They have feelings just like everyone else and they stick together like brothers.”

With all that in mind, here is the plan I gave the team.

1. During our games, no member of the other team will ever say anything to the umpires unless they disagree with a call. The only thing the umpire will hear from the other team is complaints. But we will not complain. Ever.
2. When we take the field, we will say “Hello” and ask the umpires how they’re doing. Later, between innings, the catcher might ask the plate umpire where he’s from…
3. Most importantly, we will never, ever argue a call, roll our eyes, or make any kind of face when the umpire makes a call with which we disagree.

This plan will have an immediate effect on the baseball field. But it will have an even greater effect on these boys’ lives as they become young men. They have learned the importance of treating people with respect and consideration.

Just as they saw the results of treating those umpires with kindness on the baseball field, they will soon discover the results of treating people with respect and consideration on the field of life. Because you never know who is going to one day be in a position to offer a job or an opportunity. It just might be that person you gave a smile and a friendly greeting to while everyone else just kept walking. Or the umpire who was having a rough game.

Andy Andrews is the New York Times best-selling author of "The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success" and in-demand speaker. His latest book  "Baseball, Boys, and Bad Words: A True Story of Little League, Laughter, and Life,"  available wherever books are sold.