It was a glorious moment. Two outs. Championship game. Final tournament of the year. Up three runs. Ground ball to third. Routine. Give us those rings!

The final out in that game was tangible proof that hard work pays off. Yet, here’s the thing. I would have known that even had we lost. Winning wasn’t the validation needed. What proved to me, long before then, that hard work pays off was seeing the drastic improvement in so many players over the course of the season. Here’s why…

With respect to the older guys I’ve coached in years past, I’ve never seen a team work harder than the 9-year-olds I was around this season. Never. Not close. Every practice, outside or inside, from March through August, they didn’t just show up. They showed up and went after it. So much so that I don’t remember an entire practice that was “wasted” because they didn’t give enough effort.

As my dad used to say, “A little hard work never killed anyone.” Quite the opposite, it turns out.

My observations about hard work, courtesy of my favorite 9-year-old baseball players:

1. It’s ok to expect it out of your players. Once they understand that giving their best effort is the standard, it becomes a habit. It’s not automatic, but it can be learned.

2. It’s the only way to make the most of your talent. In fact, it’s the only way to find out if any talent is there in the first place. I’ve never been impressed with kids who are just big and strong (and therefore “successful”). If the big and strong kids are never taught to work hard, we (parents and coaches) are sealing their fate in sports and life. They will come to expect that just showing up and showing off is good enough. That’s laughable later in life. Why is it acceptable in youth sports?

3. Make a decision and then go for it. Three kids immediately jump to my mind with this one. Each made a conscious decision to improve at a particular part of the game. Then they worked relentlessly (not just at official practices). Guess what? The results were amazing. Hardly surprising, given the work put in by these guys.

4. Work hard at the right things. Whatever you repeat will become a habit. So it makes sense to be sure that what you’re repeating is actually the right thing to do. In baseball, that means studying (yes, studying) Major League players and then teaching and doing what they do. In life, that means finding someone with more wisdom than you (yes, they exist) and letting them rub off on you.

5. Hard work makes the game more fun. Why? Because getting better is fun.

Set goals, determine the process to get you there, work hard at it, repeat. Goals: Raise the bar when necessary. Process: don’t give up on it just because you don’t win every championship. Work: it unlocks your talent. Repeat: in baseball and life, this never ends.

A little hard work never killed anyone. Thanks, guys, for a great reminder this year.

This is the sixth post in a series called “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from 9-Year-Old Baseball Players.” For the rest of the series, see the Game Notes page on my site.