A child playing any sport that includes uniforms, umpires, coaches, players and parents will often sense an intense need from the adults that he succeeds. That intense pressure contains all the elements that can cause eventual failure.

This is particularly true with baseball. A round bat used to hit a round ball often traveling at a great speed is a sport built for a child’s failure.

Organized sports places such a high level of stress on a child that many  simply give up most competitive sports by age 12. However, a large number of children will still place themselves in competitive situations, regardless of the degree of failure.

As a child, I had the best of both worlds when it came to sports and competition.

First, my parents were mainly concerned with my having fun with my chosen sport, baseball. Secondly, where I grew up, our initial exposure to sports was sandlot baseball, which consisted of a grassy field where all the neighborhood kids would go to play a baseball game, often lasting for hours. There were no parents, umpires, uniforms or coaches. And, any disagreement was quickly solved by the rock, paper, and scissor method. Finally, our trophy was simply the fun of playing the game.

Interestingly, myself and two other sandlot players went on to play college ball and one even signed to play minor league ball.

Recently, I observed an 11-year-old child on TV who was at bat in a very intense Little League World Series game.  Before 10,000 screaming fans, he struck out, ending the game and causing his team’s elimination; the child broke down in tears. There is no moral to the story. However, like most children at this age, I would have given my right arm to play in a Little League World Series game, regardless of the level of success or failure. But who knows what stress that situation caused on that child and his future willingness to play in competitive sports.

My suggestion to parents of a child dealing with competition is to read John Wooden’s book, “Game Plan For Life.”

Wooden was a successful UCLA basketball coach who believed that winning and losing, although important, should be secondary to skill and character development.

For example, instead of first asking a child did you win or lose the game, we might ask the child did you improve with your passing or dribbling skills? Or, what did you learn from the game, and, above all, did you have fun?

The bottom line is that we should always remember the old adage that children would never learn rules to games if  they didn’t have fun playing the game.

I think the late John Wooden might agree.

*David Sortino, Ed.M, Ph.D. For further information contact davidsortino@comcast.net —  707-480-1649


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