Whatever Happened to Little League?

11:49 AMHeather

Today, I tackle a topic about which I feel strongly.  It goes way beyond a pet peeve.  In fact, it has caused more angst and frustration in my parenting that I should ever have allowed.  And I don't wish to stir up controversy or to step on any toes.  But, I feel the need to voice something that I think needs to be said.

Here's my issue.

Whatever happened to little league?  Whatever happened to the love of a sport and the fun of it?  To teaching children new skills and to encouraging things like being a team player and being inspired to try new things and to work hard and to build their self-esteem and to be good sports?  Whatever happened to the joy of watching your little ones play soccer, where they tended to pick dandelions and run the wrong and we all thought it was adorable and cute and a rite of passage for childhood?

Because in it's place, I see some cultural practices that are disturbing to me. I see a society that so glorifies success and achievement and athletic ability that children and childhoods are being sacrificed on the altars of win-at-any-cost attitudes.  I see weary mothers, exhausted from driving their eight-year-old to practice three times a week, not to mention game days.  I know moms who have lied to one coach about their child's participation in another sport because their child is supposed to be all in, one sport only.  We're talking elementary age children here. I see the pressure that kids are under to strive to become star athletes, working toward the Olympics and college scholarships and professional sports careers.  I see families who never can sit down to eat a meal together because of their children's sports schedules.

Listen, I just want to know...where did we lose our way and begin to accept this practice as not just the norm, but something to strive for?  When did we begin to feed the monster of huge athletic accomplishments at whatever cost necessary?  When did little league coaches go from being the slouchy dad who just loves to invest in the lives of children to the drill sergeants who treat elementary school children as if they are paid professional athletes?  Demanding more of them than I think many young children are capable of giving?

For the love, people.  Can we stop the insanity?  Can I just remind everyone that THESE ARE CHILDREN?  And childhood should be a fun time, with adult coaches who are encouraging and inspiring and investing in children so that they become well rounded adults?  Not bent on creating star athletes who've been forced to consider such things as private coaching in order to keep up before they hit puberty. And sidelining good kids who maybe aren't destined for the NBA or NFL.  

From where I sit, little league sports have become so competitive and bent on winning at all costs, that we no longer allow it to be a fun and inclusive thing.  It's become so exclusive that this is what is happening in my house.  My ten-year-old feels conflicted.  Because she quit volleyball about eighteen months ago.  And now she is "so far behind" that she cannot play with her friends. Listen, I understand her peers have improved and gained skills and want to compete at the level they've earned.  I don't hold that against them. 

But, I have chided myself for letting her quit.  I have felt anxiety about how on earth she will ever catch up and get ahead because, my goodness, I let her try music lessons for a year, as she requested. 

Then, I stop and think.  SHE IS TEN YEARS OLD!  Really?  How do I let myself get so wound up in this?  This parenting angst goes across the board here in my house.  My oldest is such an incredible kid that I really cannot even describe him.  He is wise beyond his years, hard working, and has the integrity and character of his father.  But guess what?  He never got to play the sport he loves for the schools he's attended.  Because he was not quite tall enough.

Apparently, character doesn't count.  Winning is what it's all about.  Not matter how much effort he has made or how hard he has worked to show his commitment and willingness to play hard and contribute as a team leader. And while it grieves me that several school coaches missed an opportunity to give a great kid a chance, I am weepy when I consider the little league coach who actually poured himself into the boys for years simply for the love of the game.  This coach even came to our house one day after a hard loss to encourage my son that his character and attitude and hard work were of greater worth than the score on the scoreboard. 

Can we clone Coach Doug?

I've had many the conversation to remind my incredible kid that in ten years, those boys who do get to play ball will not likely be doing it competitively.  But, his character, his work ethic, his giftedness will be the key to wherever God takes him. 

I feel as if I'm swimming against the flow here, people.  

And while I'm on the subject, I have another son whose interests are not primarily sports.  He is so gifted and creative and talented and brilliant that I long ago learned I cannot stay a step ahead of him. But sometimes, I think its as if he has a second head because it seems to perceived as such an anamoly.  A boy who didn't come out of the womb begging to wear shoulder pads?  Oh, yes.  I've gotten sucked in to the way we idolize athletes and sports.  Then, I remember.  God made each of my kids exactly as they are, with no mistake.  Who cares if my kid has talents and gifts that don't line up with a shelf full of little league trophies?

Don't get me wrong.  I know kids who loves sports.  Who thrive on the competition and the drive and the hard work.  And I don't begrudge them at all.  I applaud that natural bent and wish them nothing but a perfect arena in which to fine tune their talents.  I love these kids' tenacity and competitive spirit.  And they should be encouraged to pursue their loves and talents.  I have a family member, in fact, who was a collegiate athlete.  She loved her sport and worked hard and deserved that scholarship and all the accolades she earned. She needed a place where she could hone her craft.

But, what of the kids who just want to play some sport for the fun of it?  Can we also just let kids be kids?  Can there be a place for kids to play sports and enjoy them without being made to feel inferior or to be weeded out because they aren't some great or natural athlete?  Where is that place, I wonder? And, for the record, I'm not talking about some "everyone gets a trophy" league.  I'm talking about hard work and winning records being rewarded...but all kids being welcomed.

The older I get, the more grateful I am for the opportunities I had growing up.  I am not a natural athlete.  But, I played little league basketball in sixth grade.  My older sister was my coach.  I was awful.  She was always the amazing athlete in our family.  But, I loved the game.  And so, I kept playing it.  I had to work on my ball handling skills and my outside shots...because I was never going to be tall enough or aggressive enough to be a post.  I spent hours with my dad in our driveway, playing horse.  Those still are some of the most precious memories I have of special times with my dad. 

And I got to play basketball through junior high and my freshmen year in high school, when I quit to do drill team.  It was fun and rewarding and it encouraged me to work hard even if I was never going to be some Brittney Griner.  I went to a small high school, where kids got to play sports.  Maybe they sat on the bench a lot.  Maybe they didn't see much action.  But, they got to be part of a team.  They got to put on the uniform and feel a pride of belonging. They got to work out and work hard and to be encouraged and inspired by the coaches at my tiny school who rewarded great character and looked for potential in all the kids.

It makes me nostalgic.  It makes me dream of such a place for my kids.  For your kids, too.  

Because I think we've lost our way a bit on this one.  I think we've exchanged some magical childhood experiences for the sake of the championship trophy.

And I want to tell every kid and every parent one thing.  

You are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 
Ephesians 2:10

You are uniquely gifted and talented and you are a treasure with much to offer the world.  You are a gift!  Athlete or not... be thankful for the perfect and wonderful way that God made you.  Keep asking him to show you the incredible purposes he has for you in your life.  And then, dare to soar.  Dare to dream big dreams and tackle new things and laugh along the way.  

Whether you got to score the winning touchdown or not.

Sports do not define you.  You are so much more than that.

And I believe big things for you.        

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