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Youth Baseball-Is It Just A Game Or A Path To The Pros?
When I Was Young, We Played For Fun
I started playing baseball at the age of seven. I remember the first time I stepped onto that little field, I was so scared and nervous but at the same time so excited I couldn't stop smiling. The sun was shining bright so I pulled my brand new hat down to shade my eyes. We played hard and tried our best, that is what our coach instructed us to do. He never yelled or screamed, he didn't get mad if we didn't catch the ball or if we made a bad throw. He made it fun for all of us. I don't remember if we won that day and to be honest, it didn't matter to me then so I guess it doesn't really matter now. All that mattered was that I got to play. Baseball, the best game in the world. That was the beginning of what would become a passion, almost a way of life, for me and for my family.
Within a couple of years, my families' love of the game grew stronger and stronger. My older brother had already been playing for a couple of years so we had been involved with little league for a while. My Dad was asked if he would be President of the league and held that position for seven or eight years. My Mom also became President of the Women's auxiliary board but did so many more things in the league she probably could have run it herself. Needless to say, we were at the park all of the time. But that was okay, we didn't mind, as long as we were either playing in a game or practicing or even starting a game on the side with our friends we were happy as could be.
That kind of love of something makes you devote your life to it. It completely consumes you and it's all you think about. It's not something you can teach and it's not something that everybody has inside of them, especially when they're young. But we had it, bubbling inside of us like a volcano trying to erupt. And we got good too. Our close knit group of friends that were all around together growing up all got better and better. All of us All Stars with people patting us on the back and telling us how good we were. We won a few championships and as we got older did really well in High School. Some of my friends went on to play college with promising pro careers and some of us decided to concentrate on school and stopped playing. I played with my own men's team until I was thirty and have some friends that are still playing today in their forties. It was a great run while we had it. But now it's over. Sure I think about what it would have been like to play Professional Baseball, I'd be lying if I told you otherwise. My friends would tell you the same thing because none of them, as good as they were, ever made it to the pros. What is most important to me is that I can look back at my baseball career and say "that was the most fun I have ever had in my life!" I never looked at baseball as my future or a way to make a living, it was just a game that we played and loved to do.
Why Are Things So Different Today?
Unfortunately, the game of baseball today has been tainted. Kids today don't play because they love it. They play because they're made to or because they want to stay in shape for another sport. There are too many distractions in the world today with video games, cell phones, home computers and other sports. Most kids today would rather spend the whole day inside the house playing with all of their tech stuff than to go outside and play a game they don't really like.
Other kids who do enjoy playing baseball or at least seem to, may be playing for the wrong reasons too. It seems to me that many of the kids that I know that are in the 12-17 year old range, are playing with the intention of becoming professionals. They aren't playing because they love to play but because there's something they want to get back in the end, a paycheck. Oh sure there are some that truly enjoy it. But I hear many of them talking about how they're going to be in the Major League one day and make millions of dollars. It's upsetting to me because that's not why baseball was invented. It's a game that was started to get exercise and have fun. Today it seems like anything you do well you have to look for how you can get paid for it. Does that not bother anyone else? Why are we doing this to our kids? Why can't we teach them to just enjoy life and all of the things they do in it instead of teaching them that life is about chasing the almighty dollar?
Look at me, I'm 44 years old and I have a wonderful life. I have a beautiful wife of 20 years who has been with me since we were 14, (see story about that at http://hubpages.com/_3c5da2khm0ysj/hub/myfavoritestory) I have two beautiful children, one 19 and the other 14, I am a successful businessman with over 25 years experience in packaging and I still am chasing more money here on the Internet. I understand why people are always looking for money, that's not my point. I just don't think it's right to start teaching our kids so young that they have to. Let them have a childhood. Let them experience their friends and focus on getting an education. If they do play sports, let them enjoy it. It will help them appreciate it and maybe then will they be able to play with some enthusiasm for a longer period of time instead of getting burned out by the time they are 18 or 20. If they are good enough to become a pro that's great but don't base their whole childhood on a possibility. That is what I'm teaching my boy. Play sports if you want and work hard to get better if that's what you really want to do. But don't sacrifice your education or too much time that could be spent with friends and family to play sports. Understand that 99.99% of the best players in the world never make it to the Major League. If you want to let your kids base their future on the possibility of being in the .01% that do make it, I hope you have a good back-up plan for them.
My Thoughts: What You Should Do As Parents And Coaches
Look, I'm no expert in the field of child psychology but I do have two kids and I understand the daily pressures they already face in the course of a normal day. With one child in College (Cal State Fullerton) and the other in his freshman year of high school, I see how much pressure they are under to perform normal duties just being a student. Class lectures and taking notes for tests, studying for exams or even worse midterms or finals. Not to mention the everyday struggle with homework in two or three classes. Pile on top of that the extra effort they have to put in to play a sport like baseball, with so many aspects that have to be diligently practiced and suddenly you have a child that has to make decisions as to what more important, studies or baseball. And you know what they are going to choose 9 times out of 10. Baseball, because it's more fun to play baseball than to do homework.
As I review my own writing I realize that I may not be getting the point across that I had intended when I started. So let me summarize my feelings more clearly.
I have seen first hand how some young men have been pushed by both parents and coaches to play, baseball in particular, at an extremely high level of competition. To keep the skills it takes to play at such a high level, the child or young man is asked, or forced in some cases, to play on many teams, in many leagues and almost every day of the week. There is only one possible reason why a parent or coach would allow a young man to subject himself to that kind of daily punishment, to become a pro someday. So many of these boys don't even realize that they don't have to put so much of themselves into the sport and that they might even be hurting themselves in the long run. The body can only take so much abuse and with all of the throwing and hitting they are doing on a daily basis, their young muscles are being broken down more than they are being built up.
Even more, most of them don't see that the probability of them even becoming a professional baseball player is very slim at best and are setting themselves up for the biggest letdown they will ever have in their lives. But by the time they find out it will be too late. They will have already missed many important things in life, like time they didn't get to spend with friends or family or vacations they couldn't go on because they were doing something baseball related. And it is sad to me to think that that child is going to come to the realization someday that maybe he should have done things differently and enjoyed life a little more when they were younger. I understand that baseball is fun too, I played 23 years myself, but I enjoyed many other things as well. Like camping and riding motorcycles.
So to the parents and coaches out there that are pushing those 12 to 16 year olds so hard and you are telling them that it's for their own good. STOP IT! It's not for their own good. It might benefit you some day but look at what you are taking away from them. You can teach them the game and all about discipline a couple of days a week and let them enjoy the others. Prepare them for what to expect in high school and then back off and let the high school coaches do their jobs. They in turn can get them ready for college where it gets taken to another level. If they are good enough at that time and have stayed healthy, that is the time in their life that they might have the chance to become a professional. Stop trying to turn those kids into pros at such an early age and just let them be kids. They will thank you for it later instead of remembering how hard you were on them. Think about it.