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Little League Baseball Is Supposed to Be Fun
Gregory J. Rummo
JUNE 11, 2002
The survey asked questions such as, “Have
you seen out-of-control adults at any of your games?” and “What kind of bad
behavior have you seen?”
In answer to the question, “Which emotion do you feel most when adults misbehave at a game?” He chose ‘fear.’
These are pretty telling responses coming from a deaf child, who can only see that an adult is upset and out of control by observing body language.
The Majors—that’s the division in which he played—is treated like Major League Baseball in my hometown. Games are played at night under the lights on a perfectly manicured baseball diamond. The player’s names are announced over a P.A. system. There’s a concession stand that serves soft drinks and candy but you can also order grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza. A family can actually plan an evening around a Little League game. It all works because parents are willing to sacrifice their time, their talents and their mini-vans for the kids.
It’s a beautiful sight when the lights come on at twilight and the umpire yells, “Play ball!” But compared to my experiences playing Little League baseball as a kid some forty years ago, it’s a bit of a pressure cooker.
Especially when the best intentions of parents are forgotten in the passion of the moment—when a coach forgets that baseball is, well, just a game after all and these are children and the main object is to have fun and teach them how to play by the rules.
Most of the umpires are high school kids who play baseball themselves. They have remarkable poise for teenagers who are in the position of having to make unpopular calls and then sometimes face the consequences. Several times—it wasn’t often but when it happens it’s unforgettable—a close play at home plate or a dispute over an obscure rule resulted in an out-of-control forty something-year-old coach acting like a child, and a teenage umpire assuming the role of an adult and putting him in his place.
On one occasion, two coaches got into a screaming match. Fortunately a chain link fence separated them or it might have really gotten ugly. Both were ejected from the game along with several people from the bleachers who continued to jaw at the umpire after he tossed the two coaches.
And all the while, little eyes were watching.
I may not know all of the strategy behind coaching Little League baseball. But as a licensed soccer coach, I have learned what should be emphasized in the lives of ten to twelve year old children when they play sports.
I’m sorry, but winning isn’t at the top of that list. I’m not inferring that winning should be relegated to obscurity. It just should not be emphasized as the sole focus of the game.
At this age, children need to learn the basic skills of whatever sport it is they are pursuing along with good sportsmanship and the concept of team play in a non-pressure setting where having fun is emphasized. Kids who repeatedly come back to the bench sobbing because they struck out or were caught trying to steal a base aren’t going to play baseball much longer. None of us continues to do what we have grown to hate.
But baseball can also teach kids something else, about the broader picture of life where you don’t always win. Sometimes we are thrown an unexpected curve ball or thrust into an unfair situation about which we can do little to change our circumstances. Sometimes we have to swallow our pride and accept defeat gracefully.
I want to see the kids on my team come running off the field smiling and laughing, not blubbering under their breath things like, “I’m a jerk,” or “I stink at baseball.” I want them to have fun and in so doing, cultivate a passion for the game that can lead them to play it in high school and maybe even college.
I promise I’ll try to teach them the techniques and the rules and perhaps they’ll learn something about life too along the way. And maybe we’ll even win and come in first or second place.
But please, mom, dad, coach—I include myself here—do your kids a favor. Lighten up just a little. Let your kids enjoy baseball by letting them just be kids.
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