Goal Posts

Commentary on the complex relationships between motivation, performance, competition, cooperation, and goals.

What lessons do parents teach their kids when they hate the New York Yankees?

Why do people love to hate the New York Yankees?

My mom, Michele, is one of the nicest people in the world (I'm admittedly a bit biased, but this is true). She finds the good in everyone. Well, just about everyone. She cannot stand the New York Yankees! This does not make my mom unique. Throughout the Major League Baseball playoffs, I have encountered only one person who wants the Yankees to win the World Series. Everyone else I have spoken to has expressed an intense dislike, even hatred, for the vaunted Yankees. Why do people find this one team so objectionable?

The easy answer is a number: $208,097,414. That's right, the Yankees payroll is over $200 million this season. The Yankees payroll was more than triple that of the Twins (less than $68 million), their opponent in the opening round of the playoffs. The Boston Red Sox ($122 million) lost to the Los Angeles Angels ($118 million) in the other American League playoff series.

In the National League, Los Angeles ($100 million) defeated St. Louis ($88 million), while Philadelphia ($111 million) defeated Colorado ($72 million). The eight teams that made the playoffs were #1,4,6, 8, 11, 13, 21, and 23, respectively in payroll out of thirty teams.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/teams/salaries?team=nyy

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The Yankees have the highest payroll every year. This year their payroll is nearly 50% higher than the 2nd highest payroll (the New York Mets)! They play in a new stadium built for more than one billion dollars. During the offseason, the Yankees signed C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira for nearly half a billion dollars in long-term contracts. It's clear that rooting for the Yankees is roughly the same as cheering for the bully down the street to bloody another nose.

But is it a good thing to focus so much energy on disliking another (team or person)? When we spend time pointing out flaws in others, are we really becoming better people? Rather than focus so much on the negatives of the Yankees, what if fans (parents) chose to focus on the good things about the underdogs, and sports in general? It's a subtle difference, but our children learn important lessons from the language we use.

"I hate the Yankees" does little to teach our children lessons about hope, persistence, and teamwork. We ought to focus on the positive characteristics of the underdog, rather than the negative qualities about the evil Yankees. Below are five suggestions for what parents can say to kids about the Yankees while staying away from negativity:

1) "The Twins never quit, even though they don't have the same amount of money to spend on players as the Yankees." (a message about doing the best with what one has)

2) "The Phillies were down 3-1 in the series, but they're still giving it their best shot." (a message about staying motivated and trying one's hardest, even when times are tough)

3) "Even though the Yankees make a lot of money, watch their players. They hustle, encourage each other, and play great baseball. To win, a team must hit, field, and pitch better than their opponent." (a message that money doesn't get hits, and that substance wins over style)

4) "Notice how focused all of the players in the World Series are on each play." (a message about concentration, and how all players can work on this skill)

5) If all else fails, remind your kids that the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and that the Yankees have not won a championship since 2000. Does that make the Yankees an underdog? Probably not, but it is proof positive that the beauty of sports lies in the fact that plays have to be made and games have to be won on the field.

Our kids can learn a lot from sports - it's our job to keep positive energy, motivation, and values at the forefront of our children's minds. Just as with life, in sports what we did yesterday means little, and what we plan to do tomorrow means even less. What does matter, and what we can focus on, is what we're doing and what we're encouraging our kids to do today. 

Let me be clear: I do not hate the New York Yankees. In fact, for some reason, I find myself cheering for them more than I’d like. I like the way guys like Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter represent consistent excellence. I also respect the way the Yankees play baseball.

Although Major League Baseball’s financial structure may be financially flawed in the sense that it allows a team like the Yankees to buy the best talent year after year, this system is not unlike the way our country’s financial system works. Businesses have the right to spend money as they see fit. My concern is that parents who spend time hating the Yankees because of a flawed MLB system teach their children to dislike the team that has found the most effective way of playing within the rules. Teaching children to focus on things they can control is more beneficial than teaching them to hate someone or some team like the Yankees simply because that team has more resources and is successful with the existing system.

John Tauer, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Assistant Men's Basketball Coach at the University of St. Thomas.

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