Friday, April 29, 2011

Let's Play Ball

Today was Connor's first baseball practice of the year. He was so excited.  He loves ball. It is such a great outlet for him. He's pretty good too. He still has a lot to learn but he has the basic skills down. This year is his first year in the minors (ages 9/10) so he gets to try new things like sliding, stealing bases and pitching. I've never been a baseball fan but it sure is different when it's your child playing. It's funny how "in to" the game you get when it's your child out there running the bases or throwing a ball in field.
Connor and Daddy after last year's season

I was reading an article on about the benefits of children playing sports. These are the benefits it lists,
  • physical exercise
  • social skills
  • self-esteem
  • handling disappointment
  • empathy
  • reaching goals
  • discovery of skills
I have to say that Connor has benefited in all these ways.
He loves video games like most kids his age but he'd choose getting sweaty running bases over any video game.
He enjoys meeting new people and can make friends with anyone pretty fast (pretty impressive for an "un-socialized" homeschool).
Self-esteem is a big one. Every kid needs to feel good about themselves and when they find something they are good at it does make them feel good. I love when he comes home filled with pride that he played hard and did his best, especially when his effort pays off.
Handling disappointment, this is a big one as well. I think we all are guilty of allowing our kids to win at Chutes and Ladders or running a little slower in a race, etc. The problem with that is some times we forget to teach our children how to lose. Losing, especially in sports, is a part of life. We are not always going to be the best at everything and it is very important for a child to learn that it is okay to lose and it is okay to not always be the best. I try to remind my children that we all have our own strengths and we all have our own weaknesses.
The meaning of empathy: the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person's feelings . I have seen this a lot in sports. My son's first year of playing baseball he played against a team of all disabled children. I watched as the kids patiently waited for a blind child to hit the ball off a tee and when he hit it they cheered for him just as if he was on their team. Another time a child on my son's team was hit in the eye with a fly ball, knocking him to the ground. The children on both teams cheered and were amazed when he got up and continued to play even as his eye was swelling shut. The children didn't feel sorry for these children, they didn't pity them, they put themselves in their shoes and felt how proud they were.
Children definitely are able to set goals while playing sports and when they reach that goal the results are noticeable. They can physically see that they hit the ball harder, threw further, fielded more balls, etc. Reaching goals also helps in the self-esteem area and empathy area as well.  Who doesn't feel better when they reach a goal?
Finally we come to the discovery of skills.Sports or not, it is important for children to try new things. They will never know if they have a skill in something if they are never able to attempt it.

So those are some of the benefits of sports, but what if your child doesn't enjoy sports? Do you force him/her to play? Do you make them keep trying different sports until they find the one they like? Do you figure that sooner or later they will enjoy it?
I'm no psychologist but my opinion is a big fat NO. Once again everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. You might have been an excellent ball player (baseball, soccer, football, etc) but it doesn't mean your child is, or that your child even has any desire in playing. Forcing them to do so will just result in them probably resenting you and all the above benefits would be outweighed by the detriments it would cause.

Are you one of "those" parents? You know what I'm talking about. The one who is practically climbing the fence yelling at your child for not hitting hard enough or not running fast enough? The one the pulls them aside and is obviously saying something to shame them bad enough that they look around to make sure no one is looking at them? Your defense being that if you aren't tough enough on them they will never make it to the big leagues. Do you understand that you are in most cases building a hate of the game in your child and a resentment of you? The game is not fun for them, it is just a place where they can never do good enough in your eyes. It's a place of humiliation, a place of shame. I just don't understand why/how a parent can break their child down like that.

Am I saying you should praise your child for sitting in the outfield playing in the dirt? No, you should encourage your child to at least try if they really want to play. However when they do try, whether the outcome is good or bad, you should praise your child. I promise it has never hurt a child to tell them "Good try", "You'll get em next time", "You're getting faster every time", etc.

Don't get me wrong, it's not just parents like this. I have seen many coaches that take the fun of any sport away. They yell at and put down the child for not being good enough. I've even seen a coach get mad throw his glove down, cursing, and throwing an outright tantrum. Seriously, is a kid's baseball game that serious? I'll say now that if my child is ever on a team with a coach like that, he would be pulled off quickly. Is that teaching my child to quit? I don't think so, but it is teaching my child that he/she deserves respect and should never allow ANY ONE to make them feel like anything less than they are.

I'll get off my soap box now and enjoy the season with my son. Those of you going in to baseball season as well, Have fun, and tell your kids that this momma says Good job and go get 'em.

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