It’s How You Play the Game


Baseball season started this week. Can I just honestly say that I hate baseball season? Well, I do. Sitting on the cold, hard, metal bleachers in the cold/rainy/damp/buggy/too hot/too sunny ballpark with no bathroom is not my idea of a good time. I’d bring a book or my computer, but then I’d be considered unsociable by the other parents…so I sit there making idle chit-chat and cheer “A” when he is up to bat.

But it’s not about me, is it? “A” looooooves baseball and that means that I have to loooooove it too. Or at least pretend that I do. While sitting on the butt-numbing bleachers, I have the opportunity to observe the good, bad and ugly in humanity. You learn a lot about people at kids sporting events. In the past five seasons that “A” has played ball, we’ve seen some crazy stuff, not necessarily from the kids, and that’s why I think this sign should be posted at every baseball field in America.


1. These are kids. Last season, my son’s team made it to one of the final playoff games. It was a very close game and as they got up to bat in the final innings, a woman (the mother of a child on the opposing team) stood behind home plate and heckled the batters until one of the coaches pulled her aside and asked her to stop. You have to ask yourself, what kind of person heckles nine and ten-year old children? Disgraceful.

2. This is a game. It’s supposed to be fun, the kids are supposed to get some exercise and learn how to play together as a team. I’ve seen parents get so self-involved in winning or losing that they completely lose perspective – and often their temper – which results in the kids feeling bad about the game, their skills and themselves.

3. Coaches are volunteers. Most often they are parents who work full-time jobs and they give up their evenings and weekends to work with the kids. They bring water, administer first aid and mend wounded egos when the kids strike out. They have to listen to parents who are upset about their kid’s position in the outfield or place in the batting line-up. But not every coach is a great mentor. A few seasons ago, we had a coach who just didn’t care; he wouldn’t show up for games, never called a practice, and, at the final game of the season, told a team of 8-year-olds that they “sucked.” Fortunately, that’s not the norm, but it does happen.

4. Umpires are human. Admittedly, I’ve seen some bad calls, but the ump is the decision maker on the field. Just as in life, sometimes there are some bad decisions that you just have to live with. Better to learn this now than later.

5. You do not play for the (insert your favorite major league ball team here). This is recreational sports for children – not a professional game with multi-million dollar contracts at stake. Don’t take it so seriously.

As a parent, I believe that it’s important for kids to be involved in athletics, but there seems to be some undercurrent of extreme competitiveness that wasn’t there when I was a kid. Instead of just recreational leagues, there are travel teams and triple-A teams that start when the players are in third grade. That’s just 8 years old! The competition to get a coveted spot on one of these teams is fierce – and not just among the kids. When did all this happen…and more importantly, why? Are we grooming our children for college scholarships as early as grade three? And what is the price that the child pays? Sports injuries and physical therapy at 11? Being branded by the other children as “not athletic” if the child doesn’t make the triple-A lacrosse team? Parents are spending hundreds (even thousands) of dollars on equipment and private training and their weekends travelling throughout New England for soccer tournaments – for kids sports!

Even my own son’s schedule during the spring seems a little too much – in my opinion, five days a week is a little excessive for a 10 year-old. But he enjoys playing and I’m glad that after a winter spent indoors, he’s getting outside for some exercise and fresh air. He loves being part of the team and the camaraderie that goes along with it. Those are the things that are important. That’s I want him to take away from his experience and remember about his childhood, because that’s what playing the game is really all about.

Meanwhile…does anyone know where I can get one of those bleacher cushions?



9 comments on “It’s How You Play the Game”

  1. I guess that I have been really lucky with sports so far, and haven’t had to deal with any of this. My son is hugely into baseball, and he plays for West Hartford Little League, which is part of the Positive Coaching Alliance. Parents are given feedback on appropriate behavior at games, as well as how to talk to your kids about playing, like three compliments before giving any constructive criticism.

    Unfortunately, my son is naturally very competitive, so even though we repeatedly tell him that it doesn’t matter what the score is or who wins, he insists on keeping track. He also gets really down on himself if he doesn’t play his best. I don’t really know what to do to change that because we as his parents, as well as the teams he has played for, have really de-emphasized winning and competition.

    One thing that I did read recently that I want to share with other parents is that a survey of college and pro athletes revealed that the number one thing they wanted to hear from their parents after a game is “I loved watching you play” rather than any kind of feedback on how well they did or how to play better. Since reading that, I have stopped even telling him that he did a good job, but just say how much fun it was to watch the game, etc.

  2. There is a poem that I think should be displayed at all little league fields.

    He Is Just a Little Boy
    By Chaplain Bob Fox

    He stands at the plate
    with his heart pounding fast.
    The bases are loaded,
    the die has been cast.
    Mom and Dad cannot help him,
    he stands all alone.
    A hit at this moment
    would send his team home.
    The ball meets the plate,
    he swings and he misses.
    There’s a groan from the crowd,
    with some boos and some hisses.
    A thoughtless voice cries,
    “Strike out the bum.”
    Tears fill his eyes,
    the game’s no longer fun.
    So open up your heart
    and give him a break,
    for it’s moments like this,
    a man you can make.
    Please keep this in mind
    when you hear someone forget,
    He is just a little boy,
    and not a man yet.

  3. Great topic. We live in a “sports town” and it is so hard to find that balance you are talking about. My kids are young, but they are athletic and so excited to get involved in sports. My 6 year old’s soccer team has practice at least 2x/week with weekend games…I can only imagine what the schedule will be in a few years! There are so many wonderful benefits to athletic participation – I just have to figure out how I can shield my kids from the rest of it.

  4. I totally love this post!!!! I never understood how parents could freak out at a little leaugue game.

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