I’m not sure how happy Dave Winfield would be to see his book Making the Play: How to Get the Best of Baseball Back at the 99 Cents Only Store. It was one of the books I got from the library last summer when I was trying to figure out how to be a Little League president. (That edition had a harsher title: Dropping the Ball: Baseball’s Troubles and How We Can and Must Solve Them.) Dave makes a number of important points regarding baseball that we should all heed.
One of them is the role parents have in encouraging children to enjoy and play baseball. Our family considers baseball an heirloom, passed on from one generation to another. The times my mom took my brother and me to the ballpark or watching games on TV were special moments we shared together. I’ve certainly enjoyed the times I played catch with my son. (We even played while we were in line overnight for a Black Friday sale. Of course, we went to a vacant part of the parking lot.) But the good parents do can be ruined if they get overinvolved or if they don’t conduct themselves properly while watching or coaching their kids’ games. There have been a number of times when my son had to rein in my excitement at ball games.
One thing that can help parents control themselves is by setting realistic expectations for their kids’ performance. We must realize that not every kid is a superstar, but every kid can learn to play better and have fun. If the child has the talent to play higher levels of baseball, it will emerge as he or she gets older. As Dave points out, baseball requires players to develop a number of skills, and those take a long time. Plus, a child’s true potential doesn’t emerge until he or she has reach physical maturity.
This is why parents need to stop using youth baseball as a “minor league” for high school. It seems that more high schools (including the one in our community) are pushing kids to get involved in team sports. There also seems to be a stigma against regular PE, especially with that “dreaded” mile run. This philosophy has hurt youth baseball in a number of ways. First, parents are taking kids out of Little League and recreational leagues and putting them in travel teams. They think they have to start preparing them for high school ball early on. As a result, kids may be pushed to play a higher competitive level before they’re ready. Also, lacrosse has exploded in popularity in our area in part because it is a low-cut/no-cut sport in most high schools. This is compared to baseball, which only has 14 or 15 slots for the 50 or more who try out.
The key to getting the best of baseball back is to make it fun again. And by fun, it must be challenging and rewarding, not a dreadful chore that grinds away at a child’s sense of self-worth. To do this, we parents can lift the burden of unrealistic expectations, support our kids as they go through the highs and lows built into the sport, and most importantly, set good examples of sportsmanship and self-control. We must also realize that the goal of youth baseball isn’t solely to groom kids to play high school ball and get an atheletic scholarship. It’s to teach kids how to play and enjoy a sport, to make physical activity a lifelong habit, and to gain the life lessons that come from sports. Anything beyond that is whipped cream.
Dave gives some excellent advice about this and other ways to make baseball better. This advice is worth a whole lot more than a buck.