Parent Like You Mean It 9: Give Them A Sporting Chance

Parent Like You Mean It 9: Give Them A Sporting Chance February 13, 2015

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Hello and welcome to Parent Like You Mean It – the podcast where we talk about purpose-driven-parenting, as Rick Warren might say. Or, in other words, parenting with intentionality instead of just reacting to life one day to the next in regards to your kids.  I’m Jefferson Drexler, and just like you, I swing and miss quite a bit in life, and there are some days where I’m just glad that I haven’t gotten cut from the team.

Keeping with baseball, Little League Baseball made some headlines this week by stripping last year’s U.S. champs of their title.

This is from Steve Ginsburg of Reuters:

A Chicago-based team that last year became the first all-black contingent to win the U.S. Little League Baseball championship was stripped of the title on Wednesday for cheating by using players who lived outside the geographic area set for the squad.

Little League Baseball blamed the situation on “the action of adults.”

Little League International Chief Executive Stephen Keener told Reuters the team “encroached” on the neighboring territory of at least three other Little League programs to secure players.

“It’s a sad day for a bunch of great kids,” Keener said. “We adults will deal with this. But today, our hearts are heavy for the kids that played on that Jackie Robinson team. They’re as much victims in this as anybody.”

Darold Butler, the Chicago team’s manager, has been suspended from Little League activity because of the violation and a district Illinois administrator, Michael Kelly, was removed from his position, Keener said.

“We have 7,000 leagues in 82 countries that look to this organization to maintain the integrity and the credibility of the Little League program,” Keener said. “When we’re presented with confirmation of violation like this, it’s our responsibility to not tolerate it and take the appropriate action.”

“As painful as it is, as heartbreaking as it is, it’s unfortunately a necessary action that we had to take,” he said.

So, how or why does this happen? It’s actually an easy slipper slope, when you think about it. If Zone A has a better little league program – more resources, great coaches, a talented flock of kids turning twelve that year – but Johnny lives in Zone B, then according to the letter of the law, Johnny can’t be on the Zone A All-Star team. However, if Johnny’s parents both work 40-hour weeks and he spends most of his time staying with his grandma, who happens to live in Zone A, then often times, leagues are willing to bend the rules a bit and consider Johnny “living” at Grandma’s house. I mean, after all, Grandma’s house is closer to Zone A’s ball field, the neighbor kids all around Grandma’s house are great kids and love playing with Johnny, compared to the kids who live around Johnny’s parent’s house, whom he hardly ever sees. For Johnny’s sake, let the kid play near Grandma’s house!

OK, now let’s say it’s not Johnny’s grandma. Let’s say it’s his aunt… or just a close family friend who lives in Zone A. Now, you might say that the rule is being stretched a bit. What if the “friend” isn’t actually a close friend of the family at all, but actually just someone “looking out for Johnny’s best interest”? And, what if his parents don’t work a combined 80-hour week, but all the adults simply think that “Johnny would thrive more playing in Zone A than over in Zone B.”

You can see where this can be headed – right to where we are today, where these pre-teen ballplayers come off the time of their lives – for almost all of them the apex of their athletic careers. Because most kids who make it to the Little League World Series, their baseball success never gets any higher than that. But, then these kids get their title and honor stripped away… because of the decisions of the adults. Not because the kids were caught cheating, or misbehaving, or accused of poor sportsmanship. Because of the adults. Because of their lack of moral compass, of good values. Because they thought that bending – no BREAKING – the rules was justifiable in order to bring the most success to their Little League program.

I mean, it’s all about the kids, right?

So, how do we adults prevent something like this from happening to our kids? The first lesson I learned in regards to parenting and sports is, I believe the toughest. Ready for it? This is huge. You may want to get a pen and write it down. Pull over, if you’re listening to this in the car, so you don’t crash while trying to text it to your spouse. Ready? Here it is:

Your kids are not you.

Now, I know that you’re sitting there going, “Duh, Jefferson… if they were me, they wouldn’t be addicted to Minecraft or swooning over One Direction.”

So, here’s what I mean – and what I mean when I say it’s the toughest lesson to learn: Just because you loved baseball as a kid, doesn’t mean that your kid is going to love baseball. Just because you were all-county at soccer doesn’t mean that your kid will even make the varsity squad. In fact, just because you were captain of your football team doesn’t mean that your kid will enjoy or be any good at team sports whatsoever.

Now, I know the parental argument: I don’t expect my kid to be the best, I just want them to be the best they can be and learn all the lessons I learned about teamwork and sportsmanship. And I totally agree with the intention behind that statement. But there’s a truth that stands in the way sometimes: What if your kid isn’t athletic? Not even a little bit? Or what if he actually thrives in individual sports like tennis, golf or cross country and not football, baseball or soccer? Or, here’s one… what if your kid absolutely HATES sports?

Then what?

That’s where the intentionality game starts to be played by us, the parents­.

Now, first off, let me make myself perfectly clear: kids (all kids, even me and my friends when we were young) have the propensity to be lazy. There were more than a couple years when my parents would practically need a shovel to scoop me off the floor to go out to tryouts while I moaned that I didn’t want to play baseball anymore. My parents knew better. They had paid careful attention to me over the year and knew that this was a passing mood, not my actual feelings toward the sport and I love playing still today.

So, NOT playing anything is not an option. That’s just lazy, and God knows that there are too many obese, lazy, video game obsessed kids stuck to couches across our country today.

Add to that the fact that there are more athletic options for kids today than there ever have been before: Does he love baseball and nothing else? There’s now winterball in most cities. Or if he loves hockey, have him pick up a lacrosse stick in the off-season. Can’t stand “stick and ball sports”? How about gymnastics, indoor rock climbing, or even MMA? (it’s not as severe as it sounds… it resembles tae kwon do or karate, not cage fighting). And all these options are available for girls, too! And if organized sports are too expensive or simply not an option, every kid can lace up a pair of shoes, go outside and run. Run for longer than a few minutes and call it cross-country.

So, my point is two-fold: All our kids should be doing something athletic.   Get their bodies in motion and teach them perseverance through fatigue, teamwork, sportsmanship, the thrill of victory and most importantly how to lose gracefully.

Secondly, stop trying to raise them to be either “little yous”, or worse “little what you wished you weres”. The epidemic of jerk dads screaming at little Johnny from the sidelines is so bad, they now have “recovery reality television shows” dedicated to the subject. It’s sickening and it needs to stop.

We need to parent and coach with the perspective of teaching our kids the life-lessons that sports offer, not with the false dreams that they are destined to be the next Tom Brady. With inappropriate parenting, they’ll instead turn out to be the next Todd Marinovich.

I’ll sum up with this: As I said, I played baseball throughout my entire youth. When I was little, I stunk. But it was fun and I got a snowcone after each game. As I grew older, I got better and even made a few All-Star teams. But, no matter how great or terrible each season turned out, each one started the same. At opening ceremonies, each and every season, all us players and coaches would parade across the field and fill the entire outfield in our shiny new uniforms. We’d all say the pledge of allegiance to the U.S. flag, and then we would all recite the Little League Pledge. It’s the same pledge that is used today and has remained unchanged since its inception in the 1950’s, and it governed the way we approached the game… and life off the field as well. The Pledge goes like this:

I trust in God
I love my country
And will respect its laws
I will play fair
And strive to win
But win or lose
I will always do my best

If we keep these ideals in mind, I promise that we will see incredible changes for the positive in our kids and their teammates… but only if we parent like we mean it.

For the e2 media network, I’m Jefferson Drexler.

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