Prepare the child – Part 1

Years ago, Little League International, published an article entitled Prepare the Child, written by Dr. Thomas P. Johnson, M.D. This article is one of the best we’ve seen relative to parent/coach relationships with young athletes and applies to any sport, not just baseball:

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to be here because I place a high value on Little League’s contribution to individuals and communities. If the world is going to change, it will probably be as the result of how we raise our children and the experiences we give them, and not what is said at conference tables between world powers. In this respect, I think Little League has tremendous responsibility and has contributed a great deal. Sports in general are probably making as many inroads into bettering international relations than any other field.

Over the years, it has been fashionable to criticize Little League. Critics have suggested that competitive athletics for youngsters of Little League age is damaging to their psyche. As a child psychiatrist who has been involved actively in organized baseball for this age group, first as a poor-hitting, left-handed first baseman, and later as a coach, manager, and umpire, I have had a chance to view Little League from a number of vantage points. As a player, I had to deal with the personal disappointment that is a normal part of defeat. As a manager, there were frustrating, provocative questions from parents: “Why isn’t my boy playing more?” As an umpire, they questioned my vision: “You’re blind, ump,” they said. I would like to discuss some of the ways in which Little League can be good and some of the dangers — how to spot and deal with them.

‘Prepare The Child’
From the standpoint of personality developments, we can divide life into a number of stages from the infant with the “I want what I want when I want it” attitude to the mature adult who can be the giving parent. Some main goals of the Little League age child are to gain increased self-control over feelings and channel them into appropriate actions, to increase his ability to subordinate his own wishes for the good of others or the group, to increase the ability to accept delay in gratification, to learn new skills, and to gain the satisfaction of mastery. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, to feel an acceptance as a man by one’s own father, or substitute father such as his coach or manager. This is the key to building self-esteem and confidence in children. Little League experience can provide a supportive environment for sharing in mutually accepted rules of the game. The team effort of practice, of not quitting during a game or a season, are all extremely valuable. These are contributions that are important for a player who may never get a hit or catch a ball in a whole season. If they can do these things, their parents and their managers should be proud of them and praise them for their participation.

There is a saying, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.” There are many of us as parents who feel the urge to intercede on our child’s behalf with the school teacher or the Little League manager about playing our child more. This is preparing the path for the child, not the child for the path. Every time we do it, we rob our youngsters of the chance to solve the problem on their own or to solve it with our support, without our actually doing it for them.

There is value in a child’s experiencing some frustration, tension and anxiety. Properly dosed, it promotes psychological growth. In early childhood development, we find that some frustration promotes the child’s will to move about, to communicate and to learn other skills necessary to get along in this world. The key to frustration’s being helpful is that it not overwhelm the child so that he quits or ends up spinning his wheels with a hopeless feeling. He needs support and guidelines to shift his focus and give him a new sense of direction so that he can finally accomplish some success in the task. The normal Little League age youngster can psychologically handle the disappointment of loss, of personal and team mistakes, if he feels a basic sense of self worth, if he feels the support of his parents and his manager or coach, and if he feels that his relationship with them isn’t changed by his losing, not getting a hit, or dropping the ball.

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