We have a number of reasons to be thankful for competitive baseball. This Thanksgiving, we pay homage to the value of competition, the love of organized sports and our grandparents.
Why Comp Sports can be Terrible
There are several articles making the case that ultra-competitive sports at young ages are terrible. Some argue, among other things, it is a waste of time because your kids aren’t going pro, they also aren’t getting scholarships, repeated impact from the same sport will deteriorate their joints sooner, and excessive specialization in a particular sport won’t give them the chance to explore other interests. In the end, they’ll move out of state and hate you for it.
While they make a number of points worth considering, we suggest the deriders of ultra-competitive youth sports miss a few things more fundamental to these parents’ motivations. Three stand out in particular, and, in defense of little league, we are thankful for them.
We are thankful for parents willing to allow their children to fail when things don’t matter, so those children can strive when life doesn’t go their way.
Teaching your child the type of care and attention it requires to successfully compete at something is a reasonable approach to parenting. And where better to do that than in an environment where things really don’t matter? Little league competition is war without death. Disappointment without any real consequences. Fabricated conflict, but real emotion. All served in a weekend event with high, yet ironically inconsequential, stakes for a fee where the whole family can experience, and win or lose, go out to ice cream afterward to relive the moments.
The fact is, all but one team ends the season in a loss and the lessons we learn in disappointment and failure prepare us for future moments in life when it actually does matter. Parents don’t commit a serious amount of their family’s time to organized sports because it is their life, but because sports mimic what life is. Those who learn early and often the type of effort and journey it requires to improve in sports will benefit when those life lessons really do matter.
#2 We Are Thankful For Organized Sports
We are thankful for competitive sports, which keep us active far longer than any other program on the planet.
Today, our children need structured little league sports more than ever. It competes with a life lived in a basement with good WiFi. And boys, who years ago got together to play ball in some field, now get together on summer days to sit in basements and text.
Consider these facts:
- In the last 7 years, 5% fewer children play organized sports.
- In the last 24 hours, over 50% of children have played a video game but only 33% have done some sort of exercise.
- 7% more of our children in the last dozen years are now clinically obese.
- Rates of childhood diabetes in the last decade are up by 30%.
The list of data points highlighting the epidemic of inactive children go on and on. De-emphasizing and criticizing the increased structure and involvement little league sports can require undermines a great solution to some of our kids’ greatest needs. Society is dying from heart disease and blocked arteries—not ACL injuries, broken arms and Tommy John surgery.
#3 We Are Thankful For Grandparents
We are grateful for grandparents and parents that loved baseball enough to let us play, and promise to let our children and grandchildren do the same.
Another defense for little league sports is the quantity and quality of communication it produces. While parents and kids don’t have similar taste in TV shows, music, books, political affiliations, friends or even what they hope to find on the table at dinner time, little league sports are different. Not only are parent and child interests suddenly united, we are compelled by that interest to actually talk about it. And these parent/child conversations, often on long trips to far away places, have a tempo and intensity that are lacking in most “how was your day at school?” exchanges. In these conversations, principles of determination, reaction and effort are forged and taught so naturally, we as parents fail to realize it’s even happening.
So the next time you hear some gray hair telling little Jimmy through the fence how to stay back on a curve ball, pause before you assume Grandpa has scholarship dollar signs in his eyes. Instead, see for the first time a 50 year inter-generational gap being closed naturally by a conversation about their common interest in something as simple as hitting a curve ball. This Hallmark moment, brought to you by little league sports, will add to a collection of conversations that Jimmy will someday recall to his grandchildren as they stand in the box and try to hit an off-speed pitch—the advice now spanning a hundred years and 5 generations.
Final Thought: In Defense of Little League
None of the above means a high level of involvement in little league sports is for everyone. In fact, we’d be confident in saying it probably isn’t even for most. The needs of families and children differ so greatly, creating a one size fits all approach for sports is impossible. As well, intense interest in children’s music, math, spelling, chess and so on shouldn’t be discounted either for many of the same reasons above.
But, as you think about the value of your involvement in little league sports, please recognize that your family’s emphasis leads to activity, independence and confidence for kids in a society plagued with entitlement and isolating sedentary lives. Please also pay close attention to the inter-generational connections forged on drives to and from practices, games and far away tournaments. Notice, as well, the genuine opportunity your child is given nearly every season (if not every game) to recover from loss and disappointment.
If that life isn’t for you and your family, great. But don’t belittle the immense value parents bring to their children and society when they choose to be highly involved in their child’s sporting lives. For the vast majority who choose that life, it really has nothing to do with collegiate scholarships or signing bonuses. Instead, we look for chances to improve our children’s health, increase the connection to their parents and forge in them an ability to deal with failure in preparation for when life decisions actually matter.