Any Excuse to Win

I recently received an email from a parent who claimed that something I’d written in our blog had given ammunition to her son’s coaches who not giving enough playing time to very young players. She wrote:

I know your blog is supposed to help coaches and parents deal with little league concerns. I am hoping you actually do read this. Recently our coaches used one of your blogs to bully our parents into keeping their mouths shut about how the organization is being run. Our coaches for 5 & 6 and 7 & 8 think that only their kids and their friends’ kids should get to play in the games. They use the excuse they are playing to WIN and they used your blog as a tool saying our kids need to practice to earn time in the game. They all have earned time, as they have said. Some are even good, but the point is it’s little league where they have come to learn the game and to have fun. I just thought you should know that your blog is being used as a bully tool. They obviously missed the article you wrote about winning or being a star, when is it okay to start playing the better players more often than the others. I definitely don’t think that starts at this age. If you read this far I really appreciate it, thank you for your time.

I replied and asked which blog posting she was referring to.

Thank you for your reply. It has to do with parents and playing time. The article was well written and would not necessarily say anything wrong. The problem is, our coaches have decided to not play most of these two younger teams and think it’s okay to do so, just for the sake of winning. They didn’t even start out trying to coach the ones who had never played because they never planned on playing them. When they used your article we all took it as a slap in the face. My son was out there months before most of the kids they actually have let on the field and is actually good at some positions. He tries real hard and is at every practice but barely gets to play, then he sees the coaches kids and their friend’s kids play the entire game he feels he must “suck” (his own words). Many of these children have just started and just want a chance to learn the game. Many coaches today have forgotten what Little League is really for. It’s not all about winning, It’s supposed to be about building these children up, not breaking them down. I’m just hoping my son doesn’t end up hating the sport after this experience. Thank you for your response.

I responded: Thanks again for getting back to me. If what you’re saying is accurate, aren’t these folks in violation of league rules? There is a mandatory play rule for Little League, even up to the highest levels. Certainly there would be a rule for minimum play for ages 5-8.

Unfortunately, the response to the first parents to complain was that the rules say they only have to play them one play. So the rules are stacked against the kids there. After watching our son’s self-esteem suffer for so long I finally confronted it. That’s when I found out from my husband that he said he thought he “sucked” and I knew we had made the right decision to get him out of there. He is relieved, and doesn’t want to talk about whether to try to play somewhere else next year right now. He’s going to focus on the upcoming basketball season at the church (where they haven’t ruined it yet). I wouldn’t mind at all if you use my comments. Maybe it will help others across the country dealing with this same situation. Thank you again for your time.

The theme of the Parents and Playing Time article was that eventually we have to let our children succeed or fail on their own, and that sports is a terrific teacher of these life lessons. We need to help them understand that hard work and effort are what get you what you want in life. Sometimes no matter how hard we try, we may still fall, and we must get up and go on – maybe to something different. The article encouraged young athletes to have discussions with their coaches if they felt they deserved more playing time, not depend on mom and dad to use their influence and come to the rescue. But clearly, no one would suggest that five, six, seven or eight years-old need to be able to stand up for themselves or be taught these tough life lessons at such an early age. At least I thought no one would suggest that.

Brian Gotta is a former professional recreational youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is President of Help Kids Play, a collection of companies whose mission is to further the development and enjoyment of youth sports.

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