Childhood can be a cruel experience for some kids. If they aren’t the right size or shape, don’t wear the right stuff, can’t do the right things, or can’t make friends with the right people, they can find themselves on the outside looking in while everyone else seems to ignore them.

This is partly why I believe so strongly in the potential of sports to rescue kids from bullying, ridicule, difficult home lives, and relationships that are toxic. No, I’m not overstating it. Sports can do that. I saw it this past season.

What I witnessed was amazing. A group of 9-year-old boys who taught me what it means to get along, to actually like the people you’re around, to provide a safe place for anyone and everyone on the team, and to ensure that, at least for a little while, every kid enjoyed life.

Something happens to us as we get older (notice, I didn’t say “grow up”). Somewhere along the line we believe we have the right to speak our minds with no filter, to post whatever we want about people online, and that making a few enemies along the way is just a badge of honor. While I realize it’s completely naive to think that everyone will like you, I do believe my 9-year-olds are on to something.

Here’s what I learned from them about getting along, about how it’s really OK not to hate everyone.

1. Let people be who they are, personality quirks and all. That thing they do that gets on your nerves? If you were 9-years-old, you probably would just ignore it. The trouble they have saying certain words or understanding certain concepts? If you were 9, you would be patient. I’m convinced that much of our stress in any relationship comes from our belief that we can change people. Based upon what I’ve seen and read, only God can do that. Unless you’re him, good luck.

2. Quit looking for a reason to be offended. Seriously, none of us has the right not to be offended. Yet, our world teaches the exact opposite. The problem is that sinful people are offensive (and that includes ALL of us). If you’re looking for a reason to be offended, a reason to believe everyone is against you, a reason to think you’re being mistreated, you won’t have to look far to find one. If you were 9-years-old, however, you wouldn’t be so active in that pursuit. You would simply move on and probably even forgive the person who hurt you.

3. Appreciate getting to do something fun with your friends. This might be the best part about 9-year-olds. Most of them just want to play with their friends. Sure, baseball is the medium through which they get to do that, but the point is to have fun with their friends. As soon as we parents and coaches forget this, the game has become about us (and that’s not good). There’s a great lesson here from these 9-year-olds. If it’s at all possible, get yourself around some good friends and do something fun. When was it in your life that you grew out of that? Recapture it this week.

4. Celebrate when someone does something great. It’s only the parents who get jealous when another player is better than their son. Kids just celebrate. They just jump up and down when a great play is made, when a key hit is gotten, or when the pitcher strikes out a batter. They aren’t jealous or bitter. I’ll admit this might be the most difficult one of all. After all, I’m a parent too. I want my kids to be the best at what they do, but I need to take a page out of their book and just celebrate the success of someone else. Jealousy and bitterness will destroy us. They can only be defeated through celebrating what someone else has done.

5. Give a pat on the back when it’s needed. If we were all still 9-years-old, we would readily admit how difficult life can be and then hug it out. Really. We would. The kids I was privileged to coach this year know how difficult baseball is. Sometimes they excelled, sometimes not. So, they understand the pain and disappointment another player feels after a strikeout, an error, or after giving up a run. They understand, so they don’t pile on the criticism. They just give a pat on the back, a quick “it’s ok, you’ll get him next time.” I think this is one of the things I miss most about being 9-years-old.

No, it’s not possible to get along with everyone. But, you don’t have to hate everyone, either.

Romans 12:14-15, 17-18 sums it up nicely: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

Thanks, guys, for teaching me what this really looks like. I’m working on it!

(This is the fifth in a series of posts called “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from 9-Year-Old Baseball Players. You can check out the rest of the series here).