The score is tied in the bottom of the ninth with one out in a deciding playoff game. Kahrin leads off third base, fingers twitching. The manager has to make a decision. Kahrin dances in the dirt eagerly awaiting a sign from the manager to steal home. This play has a very low percentage of success and is rarely attempted --mainly because a large majority of pitchers start from the stretch instead of the wind-up, making the release to the plate that much quicker. Kahrin glances over at the manager. He grabs his right ear and then taps his nose. Yes! The pitcher winds and releases to the plate and Kahrin sprints down the third base line, her heart racing as fast as her feet. She slides head first creating a cloud of dust. “Safe!” yells the ump. The Vikings win.
Although the thrill of stealing home is rewarding for the fans and the players, the gamble can be agonizing for the coach. Sliding across home plate with a game-winning steal is what dreams are made of. Success can catapult a manager to stardom. The jerk of a thumb from an ump makes that same coach seem irresponsible.
Such is the game of baseball and sports in general. The decisions of athletes and managers will always be second-guessed. Success brings praise and failure brings out all the critics.
In today’s society, we have a bigger problem than overzealous fans and self-proclaimed expert commentators to deal with in sports. We have compulsive parents who are attempting to live out their lost dreams vicariously through adolescent sons and daughters.
The business of youth sports has become an enigma over the past decade. If little Johnny isn’t on the baseball travel team and the summer league team simultaneously by age eight, he may never get that multi-million-dollar contract. If little Suzie doesn’t attend gymnastic camps and monthly competitions twelve months out of the year by age ten, her parent’s dream of seeing her wear Olympic gold is diminished. Poor Johnny and Suzie.
Most parents want what is best for their children and have good intentions. Providing endless opportunities for their sons and daughters is merely a valiant attempt to prepare their future prodigy’s for long-term success. The choice to wait until junior or senior high to become involved in a sport or activity is seen as ludicrous according to the current trends. The mentality is that these poor kids will not have the benefit of starting on the fast track like their peers. Gasp!
My questions are these: Whoever decided that travel teams, winter baseball leagues, summer camps, and expensive skills camps were necessary and mandatory requirements for the average seven year old? Has anyone asked their child what it is they really want?
Has anyone given their child a choice between playful days in the backyard, dinners with Mom and Dad, friends over on the weekend or days packed by the minute with one activity after another, no time to read a book, and fast food meals in the car with only one parent because the other is racing off to a siblings sport?
It is hard to imagine if little Johnny or Suzie would even know how to answer those questions. Do they even know the difference?
Whereas stealing home in baseball is a rarity, stealing the homes of children by excessive involvement in youth sports has become commonplace. The lure of youth sports is robbing families of quality time together and snatching the joy of childhood away from today’s kids, causing early burnout in young athletes before high school even begins.
Jim Smith, a dad of two teenage girls, laments, “My daughters were playing softball non-stop throughout the year starting at age 10, and now they’ve quit altogether. They’ve lost all interest in a sport they once loved with a passion. We were sucked into the trap and pressures of signing them up for everything because that’s what all the other parents were doing. It seems like such a waste now…and I regret the lost time.” Jim sadly represents a large majority of parents these days.
I have three kids of my own ages 14,12 and 11 – all of them superb athletes. My husband and
I have made the choice to allow our children one sport in the winter and one in the summer. Even that causes major disruption to the family as each is in a different league. We have chosen
to put our family time ahead of anything else. Guess what? Our kids are happy. Go figure. They are also just as skilled as the kids down the street who play multiple sports simultaneously every day during every month of the year.
The game of baseball is just that – a game. Stealing home doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. If a baseball game is lost, lives aren’t dramatically changed. Only box scores.
The game of life is far different. When we are successful at stealing home from our children, robbing them of their childhood, it can never be given back. Childhood disappears as fast as it arrives and the experiences kids have shape their world forever. Yes, life goes on, but permanently changed.
Perhaps we should ponder the demands of the current state of youth sports. I think it is time to take a step back from the madness and let kids be kids. Tomorrow may never come. Let them enjoy today – whatever today may bring instead of what today says on the calendar. Let them play ball in the backyard with their siblings and do cartwheels in the basement with their best friends. Let’s give little Johnny the opportunity to dream about stealing home while attending an afternoon game with Dad at the ballpark. There is no game more meaningful than the game of life. Live it with your kids, not for your kids.