January 21, 2021

Communities of Softball

On Wednesday this week I played my last game of softball with the Lost Boyz. In case you missed the reports on ESPN, the Lost Boyz have been my team for the past 14 years. We play seven months of each year (March through October) in a highly competitive double-header league, and we are very good. I decided that it was time for me to, well, retire. I’m by far the oldest guy on the team, and the team needs to get younger to stay competitive. And I don’t want to be The Old Guy that everyone tolerates because, y’know, he’s always been there. Competitive athletics doesn’t really have a place for that.

By now, you’re thinking what the hell does this have to do with 21st century learning? Probably not much. But I wanted to write something about it.

I’ve almost outgrown competitiveness. I still get caught up in the desire to Be the Best at whatever… softball; golf; thinking; Scrabble; Sudoku… But, mostly, I recognize the symptoms early and go to a better self. I focus on excellence of execution, on appreciation of the comradely opponent, on the now of the experience — all that kinder, gentler stuff. With the Lost Boyz, I’ve come to focus on the brotherhood we create. A bunch of rapscallions who come together once a week to play games. In that manly way that men do, we share community. We continually make our disparate selves into a team.

Some of the most important lessons of my life have come through being with these teammates. Most of them about balance — competition and community; striving and relaxing; pushing and accepting; execution and play. I’ve learned mostly by having to adjust from being tipped too far in one direction (you’ll never guess which way) and by, way too often, being a major pain in the butt for my teammates. For the most part, they have been lovingly tolerant of me, in a jocular brotherly way. And I have learned. More importantly, I have experienced, repeatedly, the great joy of being in their company.

Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in, or my advancing age. But I’m believing more and more that what matters most in a learning community is the community. The learning is this extraordinary, challenging, often exhilarating thing we do. It matters a lot. It keeps us growing and flourishing. But the community is who we are.

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