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Brian Hamilton: It’s not about us; it’s about our children

As the rookie stepped into the batter’s box, I caught the umpire’s attention and called for a timeout.

In the thick of a tight tournament game and runners at second and third base, I couldn’t help but think back to what had happened the last time our rookie stood in the box facing a similar situation.

A pitch got by the catcher, which turned loose our baserunner from third. But when the runner reached the plate, not only did she have to contend with the catcher, but also our rookie who was still standing in the box.



Although everyone survived with just a few scrapes, the collision that ensued was one not easily forgotten, but one that could have been easily avoided if our rookie had remembered to get out of the box.

As I reminded her of this during the timeout, I barely had gotten the point across when I heard shouts of “Stalling! He’s stalling!”




As I turned to see some familiar and friendly faces doing the shouting, I smiled as I thought they were just joking. But it became apparent pretty quick that these folks, some of whom I knew fairly well, actually thought I was trying to waste time in order to bring the game’s time limit into effect so we would win the game.

Really?

Did I mention this was 9-and-10 year old recreation softball?

It was at that moment that I decided what my next coaching gig would be.

I’ve gladly accepted an assignment to serve as skipper of the Lightning, a Bobby Sox (ages 4 1/2 to 6) squad with whom I’ll be so busy keeping our players from picking dandelions that I won’t have time to come up with such sneaky strategies to steal games from 9-and-10 year old girls.

I know. I know.

Someone shouting “stalling” is hardly a hard-core example of the out-of-hand competitive environment that seems to be surrounding our youth sports these days.

I’ve both seen and heard much worse out of parents just like me.

Maybe it’s the group of four fathers standing under the basket shouting directions to their sons, who by the way aren’t the only ones on the floor feeling like they’re being shouted at by a bunch of men 2 feet taller than them.

Or maybe it’s the mom screaming at the teenager wearing the black-and-white stripes and the whistle, who came out to make a few bucks by calling what they thought was just a kids’ game.

Or perhaps it’s the coaches or board members who actually do look for ways to twist and manipulate the rules in order to gain an advantage for their team or their own agenda.

Yessiree, there are a whole lot worse examples out there on your child’s field of play.

And we need to put a stop to them.

Look, it’s completely understandable for folks to get caught up in the moment, as their child is giving it his or her all. You want them to taste a bit of success, sure to boost their confidence and bring a smile to their face.

But when you find yourself progressing from just cheering on your own team to complaining about referee calls or actually shouting at players and coaches, you need to take a step back.

This isn’t about you. It’s about them.

Coaches should remember that, too. As you work with your team, you should spend as much time, if not more, working with the less-skilled kids as you do with the top performers. And as you trim your roster, cutting players to keep playing time from becoming a problem, you should remember that your job is to stoke the fire inside the child rather than extinguish it at an early age.

I’ve heard talk about junior high basketball teams cutting down to 10 members on the squad. That’s defeating the entire purpose of youth sports. At that age we should be looking to add second or third teams in order to provide as many opportunities as possible for kids to grow through their sport.

By doing that, of course, you’ll not only provide more opportunities, but also a much deeper pool of talent from which the area high school coaches can build their programs.

They’ll be thankful for it.

And for crying out loud, please stop asking 10 year olds to focus on the sport you coach on a year-round basis. There is plenty of time ahead for them to make such a decision at the high school level and they certainly don’t need any undue pressure to make it early.

Talk all you want about the promise of scholarships and the importance of focusing solely on one sport. But after 20 years in this business, I’ve seen many more kids wrap up their careers without an athletic scholarship in hand than the few who are fortunate enough to be granted one.

So kids should feel free to enjoy as many sports as they like for as long as they can, without worrying they’re hurting their shot at a scholarship because they aren’t playing ball year-round by the time they reach puberty.

As we shift winter to spring sports, and all of those games ahead offering our kids chances to build both lasting memories and a love for sport, I’m hopeful that the adults can remember that this actually is child’s play.

You had your time. These are their games.

Quite simply, let them play.

If you want to see how that works, just head to Union Hill School on a sunny Saturday morning, where a bunch of Bobby Sox girls will be glad to show you, once again, how fun is done.

Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. Contact him via e-mail at http://www.TheUnion.com or by phone at 477-4240.


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