“You CAN’T let him quit!”
“You’re teaching him it’s ok to be a quitter!”
“He’s got potential! Why would you not foster that?”
“You’re letting your kid be in charge! I’D teach that kid to get down to that baseball park and play!”
“You’re not teaching him to be a team player!”
“If he quits now, he’ll never play again!”
“He’ll never make the pros if he quits now!”
I’ve heard it ALL. Our son started playing baseball when he was in what they call the “rookie” league. I think they’re 6-7 at that age. He liked it “ok”. He sat out a season because he was bored & just didn’t like it. We let him. He was, after all, 7 years old. The next summer he really got into playing catch with his dad and watching the Cardinals play. It lit a fire in him. He was inspired and he was ready to get back at it. He wanted to play again and we encouraged him every step of the way. He showed potential to be good. His love of the game bordered on obsession, but in a positive way. At the next level of baseball, you get “drafted”. Yes, at 9 years of age, you try out in front of prospective coaches and some get chosen and some don’t. (Eyeroll.) We felt very lucky and happy that our son was chosen to be on a team in the “Cal Ripken” league, yet a bit apprehensive as to what we might be entering into. Cal Ripken is a four-year commitment. It is four years of baseball with the SAME team, moving up from single A competition and ending with AAA competition, before you graduate from that and try out for the Babe Ruth league. Four years with the same team. Theoretically, four years with the same coaches and same players. We loved the coach who drafted him and most importantly, our son loved the coach. From outward appearances, you might not think our son is introverted. In fact, he’s extremely introverted. Shy. Observant. One of those kids who sits quietly and takes everything in while not making a sound. He’s analytical. He’s a perfectionist, in some ways to a fault. He’s got a lot of his mom in him. If you get on his nerves, he’s likely not to give you the time of day. Yet, if someone reaches out and makes a connection and shows that they want to get him on a personal level, he will let you in wholeheartedly. He’s got a lot of his dad in him in that he’s shy but people sometimes mistake that for being rude or snobbish. (After birthing two extroverted children, this has been somewhat of a change for us, but it’s HIM and we love him & we are slowly learning to adjust to this.) Our son’s first “Cal Ripken” coach made a connection with him, taught him well and continued to inspire his love of the game. He seemed to “get” him and that important connection was made. For unfair reasons I won’t go into here, that coach was let go and we were thrust swiftly into the world of the nasty politics of youth baseball. It wasn’t pretty. We were in limbo. Did he even have a team? Then he got a new coach. After a while, that coach started to make a connection with him. He began to get over the disappointment of losing the coach he loved and continued to play. It was a bit hard because there was now a rift in our team. Some left. Some stayed. It wasn’t his old team. He eventually began to relish his role as a leader, being one of the oldest (& certainly the tallest!) on the single A team and wanted to keep playing. And then that coach left to form a traveling baseball team. So we were in limbo again. At this point in time, I saw my son slowly begin to lose his love for the sport. He had also switched schools at this time and started to develop a love of basketball. He’s eleven at this point & I feel strongly that no child should have to choose one sport to focus on at eleven. Although they may think they do, most kids have no clue what they want to focus on, in sports or life in general, at age eleven. After a long wait, we finally learned that our second team would be disbanded and the kids would be farmed out to other teams based on the needs of coaches while trying to take into consideration which teams the parents would prefer their child be on. So, yet another change. At this point, my husband and I made a huge mistake. We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought he should be on a team with a coach who had no dog in the fight (he’s been at the park for decades and has grown children) and who would have no desire to leave the ballpark & join the world of travel ball. Our son had asked to be put on a couple of teams where he had friends, and yet we chose to put the coach of our choice first. Parents know best, right? Not always. Add this to my list of regrets. We viewed stability as the most important factor at this point, forgetting he was just eleven and the most important factor was fun and a sense of being part of a team. Although this third coach was a wonderful coach and improved our son’s batting average, tremendously, he’s just not a coach who tries to form a connection with his players. Or parents. I think he said 5 words to me the entire time he coached my son. He’s more of a manager in some ways, leaving much of the coaching to his “staff”. This is fine for some people but when you couple this lack of connection with the coach with the fact that we took a totally introverted kid and put him on a team where he had absolutely no friends, it was a recipe for disaster. By now, he was completely tired of being moved around. And although he was on a team of mostly nice and welcoming boys, that team feeling just never, ever came. I’m proud of him for playing one spring season with this new coach and giving his pitching and his new position in the infield his all. I’m proud of him for enduring heckling by one horrid dad who constantly yelled at him when he didn’t pitch perfectly or missed a ball at shortstop. (I’m proud of me for enduring that dad also.) I’m very grateful to my son for the opportunity to stare into the storm that is youth baseball and see it for the ugliness that it’s become. He may want to play again someday and I laugh at the people who say he will never be able to. It IS true that it’s hard to compete with the kids whose parents insist they play year-round, get the extra pitching and batting lessons, have them train with weights, drive them all over the country and basically try to produce a college-level or professional athlete. Guess what? In 99.99999% of cases, this isn’t going to work and your child is either going to end up with damaged muscles, lost opportunities in other areas of life or really the chance to just be a kid. (I know, I know – your child WANTS to do it.) Parents these days obsessively count the number of pitches their kids are throwing. AT ELEVEN! Some kids on travel teams are simply commodities to these coaches who use them to win tournament after tournament or the ultimate goal, a trip to the “World Series”, which is actually one of many, many “World Series” held each year for youth baseball leagues. Youth baseball has become a money sport. Sad, but true. I had parents come to my son’s games to watch how he was doing and relish the games in which he didn’t do so well. Sportsmanship in many of today’s parents is deplorable. If it’s hard for adults to take, imagine being a kid out on the field. Embarrassing at the least. I ran into a parent the other day whose kid was sitting out of sports for a few weeks due to a stress fracture in his back. She said it was due to too much intense football, basketball and baseball. AT ELEVEN! It’s disturbing what we are doing to our children these days when it comes to athletics. They don’t have to do it all and they shouldn’t do it all. I tell my son, if you want to play again someday, you’ll find a way to play. A professional baseball player once watched him pitch and told him, “Someday you’ll be a great pitcher.” In our minds, that seems awesome. A professional baseball player?? But what if that’s not what he wants to be. I was forced to take piano lessons against my will for years. I played and I played well. I have not touched a piano since I left for college. Someday I might want to, but it certainly wasn’t going to be for me what my grandmother hoped because it wasn’t MY dream. Think twice about what you’re asking of your kid. If your kid wants to play three competitive sports at once, be the adult. Tell him no. Teach him to make decisions and prioritize. And ask yourselves, “Am I in this for my child or the kudos I’ll receive when he excels?” I say this because I know for a fact that you just might destroy your child in the process and I refuse to be this kind of parent. At eleven, they’re kids, not athletes. I will miss seeing that boy on the mound. I will miss watching the fierce determination inside him become visible in his eyes as he releases that pitch. And I will miss him sliding into home. I will miss so much. But I don’t want to be “that” parent. If he ever decides to pursue a sport with all of his heart again, I will be there to support him and help guide him, but for now he’s retiring his cleats. And that’s OK.