Confessions of an Average(at best), Former Athlete

Growing up, I was an average athlete on my best day, but I played both baseball and football for about ten years. I loved practicing just as much as I did playing the games. I had good games and bad games. My parents cut an article out of the Wetumpka Herald in 1984 about a game where I gave up only three hits in a game. That was an exception to the rule. Most games I played in were pretty forgettable. I never had the chance to be on a team that someone would refer to as a good team. The team that I played for when I threw the three-hitter won eleven games in three years. We didn’t even win one season’s worth of games over the course of three seasons but boy, did I have fun!

Never once, ever, do I ever remember either of my parents, particularly my dad, saying anything hurtful or even remotely mean to me either before, during, or after a game. Actually, there was the time when my coach moved me from shortstop to first base just before the first pitch of one game. I didn’t care for the move and was taking my time walking across the field until I heard my father’s booming voice yell, “YOU BETTER RUN, BOY!” I ran. Sprinted, really. I also prayed that he’d forget about it by the end of the game. Other than that he always accentuated whatever positives there may have been and then corrected compassionately wherever correction was warranted. He recognized that I didn’t make the mistakes and errors on purpose. He knew I wanted to do well and that it bothered me when I made mistakes. Therefore, there was no reason for him to make me feel worse by criticizing me or being angry. He realized that what I was playing, whether baseball, football, tennis, or any other sport I ventured into, was a game. I had such a positive experience growing up playing sports that I continued to play whatever I could well into adulthood. I broke my elbow during a church softball game about eight years ago which brought my athletic career to a screeching, painful halt(for those of you who were there on that fateful night and would make fun of me…I scored on the play and you guys ended up winning by one run so, NYAH).

I wonder how many kids who participate in organized youth sports today will be able to look back on their experience fondly. I hear too many stories of overzealous dads and coaches who push too hard and expect virtual perfection from children who aren’t even ten years old in many cases. I personally know of an instance when an eight year old boy who didn’t hit well in the cage before a game, not even during the game, whose father took him into the restroom and spanked him. Don’t you know that kid just can’t wait for game time?!? I’ll bet he LOVES baseball! Playing hard is a good thing. Competition is a good thing. Winning is a good thing and certainly makes an already fun game even more fun. However, those who coach the younger kids and teach them that winning is the most important thing are missing some wonderful opportunities to instill sportsmanship, patience, and perseverance among other character traits. Before someone calls me some sort of bleeding heart who thinks dodgeball should be banned from playgrounds all over the country, don’t. I love competition and I love winning. Just ask my older sisters. They’ll tell you that I don’t take losing well or lightly and I never have. In fact, I never will.

The difference now is that I have children of my own. I see that society doesn’t value a child’s innocence the way it once did and it seems that this world tries to rob them of that innocence at a younger age with each passing year. I don’t think that’s a good thing. As they get into junior high and high school then the rules change. Games mean more and so does winning those games. College scholarships and maybe even more await a select few. I’m okay with that. But those are older kids who are learning a different set of lessons.

I guess I said all that to say this: Let them play for the fun of the game while they still can. Sooner than most of us want, they’ll grow up and be thrust into a world that will heap upon them the problems, worries, and pressures of adulthood. They won’t be kids forever. Let them enjoy the wonders of life while they still can. That includes baseball.

8 thoughts on “Confessions of an Average(at best), Former Athlete

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  1. The difference now, I think, is that daily examples of dads and coaches making asses of themselves are readily available through the advent of the internet, youtube, Web 2.0, blogosphere, etc. I find it hard to believe that something happened in the last ten years that just made some people crazier and more apt to blow up on a little league field. I have fond memories of my time in YMCA sports (because that's what we had in Wetumpka, no Pop Warner here!). I also have not so fond memories. There were, are, and will always be dads and coaches who take the game too seriously and who make it less than enjoyable for the kids. Most kids see this and most kids know that it's wrong. But there's that small percentage that will follow in their father's footsteps….and I'll be there to catch it on video!Reid

  2. Good points, all. I do think that things have changed, at least marginally, though. At least partly due to some of the same reasons you mentioned like Youtube as well as several all sports all the time channels. I don't even remember hearing of the Little League World Series until I was in high school(no cable). With ESPN and others carrying those games, as well as countless others, I think that maybe some adults are more tempted to push their kids to reach that level. That is certainly just my opinion and I could be wrong. For whatever reason, though, I do think that society and parents and coaches do put more pressure on kids to achieve excellence every time out which can ruin the game for everyone.

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head. "Son, I know you'll never be a nobel prize winner, but dammit yer gonna play in the LLWS!"

  4. Thank you for this post. I was so disheartened earlier in the season when this was heard from a 3rd base coach (not our team) talking to his son on the field: "If you miss another ball I am gonna whoop your butt!" — and it was obvious from the fearful look on his son's face that he was serious. I wanted to go out and hug the boy and give the dad a piece of my mind — but, the dad was kind of scary even to me!I do encourage my son to do his best, but there is no way I would ever get angry at him over his performance. He is 8 and a mighty-fine baseball player (in my slightly biased opinion!), but there are more important things in life that he can learn through baseball — like showing loving kindness while you are playing the game.

  5. Lisha…that's exactly how I felt about the kid who got the spanking in the bathroom. As a matter of fact, he made an error during the game, which he did really good in otherwise, and my heart just sank. It's a shame how some of these alleged grownups act isn't it?

  6. Thad, I'm re-entering this world in the not so distant future with my son. As another average-at-best former athlete with good experiences and learning from my youth sports, I volunteered to coach little league for many years (while my little brother played in Slapout and then again in Roswell just for fun). I became very disillusioned because of overzealous "I'm gonna live vicariously through my kids even if I make them hate me" parents. I also get angry with parents who suggest or demand trophies and rewards for all players. I decided to stay in the most recreational league because I was firmly committed to giving those boys every chance to succeed. That meant giving lesser players time at the plate and in the field – not to humiliate them or kill any chance to win, but to give reps to all of the kids up to and past their ability. Some flourished, and some faded. The best of them in performance, attitude, and effort must be rewarded (at least in my opinion).I see some ability and lots of desire in my son, and that's why I'm going to keep him out of youth sports as long as I can. He's almost 5 and already asking to play on a team. I hope I can keep him playing in the back yard and with his buddies for another 3 or 4 years. I want him to associate sports with fun and fun with dad. If he wants more time with it, we'll give it (within reason and with priorities in the appropriate place). If he wants to maintain a variety of interests, even better. Thanks for your post – I hope that many people read it and take it to heart. It is absolutely heartbreaking for me to see so many dads lose what is possibly their best way to show love to and bond with their sons (and daughters, but sons especially) and instead build fear and bitterness. Dads, encourage your children! Ephesians 6:4 (New American Standard Bible) 4(A)Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but (B)bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

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