Intolerance. Obesity. Bullying. The media is full of reminders about the negative things that affect young people today. And there’s a lot of truth there. There’s also a lot of truth behind the idea that participating in sports can help mitigate some of those negative traits. Unfortunately, too many obsessive sports parents are focusing on the material and self-serving aspects of sports instead of on the positive ones.
So let’s do the numbers: A boy who plays high school baseball has a 1 in 4,000 chance of ever playing in the big leagues. Given typical rosters of 20 or so, it would take some two hundred high school baseball teams to produce a single major leaguer.
That doesn’t mean that baseball is a waste of time. But let’s make sure we’re not doing the right things for the wrong reasons. The fact is that kids who participate for the right reasons–not as a cutthroat route to a seven-figure salary that will probably never come—reap benefits that will help them regardless of their career.
This one’s pretty obvious. Most young people who get involved in sports get exercise and time outdoors that they wouldn’t have if they spent that time on a tablet or smartphone. But if you’re not careful, this one can backfire. As parents, our goal should be to foster an interest in and a love for sports. Our kids should see whatever sport they’re playing as something they get to do, not something they have to do. Otherwise, when they lose interest in any particular sport, they’ll end up lounging on the couch instead of finding another physical activity to do.
Not every kid has a pro athlete’s body—and the incredible variety of strengths, heights, weights, and skill levels are obvious from the very first practice. The equipment world is more than happy to accommodate the wide range of sizes and builds, teammates aren’t always as accommodating.
When your child takes up baseball, for example, it’s important that you emphasize that he should value the contributions—whatever they are—of everyone on the team. Remind him that the kid who has been 0 for 40 through the season just might come up with the walk-off hit on that 41st at-bat. (That’s an especially important point to make if your kid is the one batting .000.)
The idea is to emphasize that it’s a team sport and that the team wins and loses as a unit.
Learning the Tools for the Job
Whether they grow up to be a dentist or a ditch digger, kids need to know how important it is that they get the equipment they’ll need to do whatever it is they’re doing.
Nowadays, sports can teach this better than ever. It used to be that the local five-and-dime sold one kind of glove and one kind of bat. Now you’ve got countless bats, dozens of fielding gloves and batting gloves, helmets, cleats, you name it. When a young player learns enough about his size and strength to go through a selection of Easton bats and choose the right one for his game, he’s developed a skill that will help him perform similar evaluations in school and in his career later on.
While many sports teams have one or two dominant players who carry the rest through the season, the best arrangement is a full roster of similar players. In those dugouts, each player learns to carry a little of the load and knows that there’s no room for phoning it in. They learn to rely on each other; the pitcher can take the mound and really work the count when he knows his infield and outfield can handle it when he gives up a hit.
Does that matter after he quits playing? Sure it does. As a manager, one of these days he may need to put his faith in someone he assigned to a particular tasks. A doctor must know that nurses and technicians can hold up their end. Any job, any life activity, requires us to be able to rely on others to contribute. Learning that skill early in life through sports makes adult living easier.
Dad-son time in sports is priceless. But involving your child for the right reasons will help him in ways that will live on long after he’s hung up his cleats.