There’s Not Always A Relief Pitcher: School During a Pandemic

Got a beat-up glove, a home-made bat

Recently, my fourteen year-old son had to pitch for his high school varsity baseball team against the best team on the schedule. He’s just a freshman, and pitching isn’t his passion or any of the positions that he practices regularly outside of actual baseball practice. However, with the pitch count and rest rules currently in place, every team needs as many pitchers as they can scrounge. My son happens to be able to throw some strikes, so since two of the other pitchers were on the mandatory rest days after a pitching outing, he got the nod.

And a brand new pair of shoes.

It’s not his favorite position. Did I mention that? He’s had just a bit of training, but essentially he’s inexperienced, yet he took the mound. He had expressed to me prior to the game that he was concerned about letting his team down if he didn’t pitch well. I assured him it would be fine and to just throw strikes and hit-able pitches and let his infield/outfield make plays. He still wasn’t comfortable with the idea, but it wasn’t up to him, so he began the inning.

You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride

While he didn’t have a terrible start to the first inning, it could have gone better. He twice had the batter go 1-2 in the count (1 ball and 2 strikes) before hitting them with a pitch. A lot of batters hit the ball, and the infield/outfield struggled to make necessary plays. Each run on the scoreboard wounded my young son on the mound. He kept watching for signs that someone else was warming up to come rescue him, but there was none. The inning continued. My son’s mental game was gone as frustration at himself grew with each hit and each run that crossed the plate. Finally, when it was 11-0, his coach brought in someone else to pitch. The weight of that outing cut deep. We ended up losing 27-1, so he wasn’t the only pitcher to struggle. It was ugly, and it had me thinking.

Just to hit the ball, and touch ’em all, a moment in the sun

I see this as a mirror of what many of us experienced last spring when the pandemic of COVID19 closed school doors all across the nation. We struggled. When we felt like things were going well, just like a pitcher with a 1-2 count on a batter, we’d lose control of the next pitch. I worked hard on creating materials for students that would work both online and for those without internet at home, only to find that some students were disengaged completely and that the feedback loop was nonexistent due to the time it would take for work to be turned in, sanitized, sorted, and then organized for teachers to pick up and assess.

It’s-a gone and you can tell that one good-bye

I wanted a relief pitcher to save me, but like my son’s coach, my administrators did not have the resources to rescue me as the hits kept coming. The school year finally ended, and we’ve had the summer to train a bit more for distance teaching. I facilitated 33 one hour workshop sessions for my teachers (and myself) to help us be more comfortable with the tech tools and pedagogy strategies needed for effective distance learning. We’ve collaborated with others to gain ideas, strategies, and procedures that could assist us this fall as students again will spend some time learning online. Deep breath, y’all. We will do better.

Ooohh —
Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today

After the loss and as my son realized he would have to take the mound again to face another good team, I talked with him about the Navy SEAL emotional skills training that I have applied to education (Train Like A Navy SEAL). You can read about that HERE. Pitching is mostly a mental game, so my young son needed strategies to keep his head in the game. He needed to be able to let go of mistakes when they happen, give himself grace, shake it off, and deliver the next pitch. We need to do that to as administrators and teachers. We will still make mistakes as we all try to figure out how to do pandemic teaching well. Our infield might miss a ground ball. The outfield might misjudge a fly ball that results in extra bases for the batter. We still won’t have all the answers or even very many of the answers, but we know more than we did, and we can do better than we have. Together, we can deliver each pitch and know that we can do this, we are enough, and we aren’t alone.

Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today

My son’s next outing was very different. Sure, the infield/outfield did not always make the play, but he stayed focused. I had instructed him to take it one pitch at a time (goal setting). Focus, take deep breaths (arousal control) as needed, see the pitch in his mind before throwing the ball (visualization), and remind himself he can do it (positive self talk). My fourteen year-old pitched 3 innings had zero walks (other than an intentional walk per his coach), and 6 strikeouts. When he left the mound, his team was only down 5-9, and the game was still win-able. He did his job.

Look at me, gotta be, Centerfield

We educators must do our jobs too. Let’s take it one situation at a time, take deep breaths when we feel overwhelmed or frustrated, set achievable goals, remind ourselves that we are trained educators who can apply creativity and flexibility as needed, and let’s take a minute visualize what it will look like when our students succeed, as well as what we can do to adjust when things aren’t going as planned. We are enough because we aren’t alone. We have each other. Let’s do this.

Heading titles are partial lyircs from Centerfield by J. C. Fogerty, Centerfield lyrics © Wenaha Music Co.

One thought on “There’s Not Always A Relief Pitcher: School During a Pandemic

  1. We aren’t alone. We aren’t alone.
    Yes. It’s the kids coming back on Zoom that actually TALK with each other and DISCUSS things that keep me coming back to get beat up a bit more.
    Yes. It’s the coworkers that truly understand what we’re going through – the ones that are sticking it out with us – together.
    The only constant is change – and we’re dealing with each change together. My plan is to be stronger and more resilient after all of this! Thanks for the analogy, Laura!


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