Youth sports: Kids playing, parents competing

     Fans cheer passionately for their favorite athletes. Coaches yell out instructions and shake their heads angrily at “unfair” referee calls. One player slides dramatically getting dirt on his uniform and sending a cloud of dust in the air. The player on deck loosens up and swings, getting ready to go up for bat. The pitcher threateningly turns around and throws the ball to the third basemen, sending a warning to the player who is trying to steal. It’s an intense ball game.
     But this isn’t a typical baseball game of the MLB. The players are about two feet shorter. Some of them are sitting in the outfield playing with the grass and chasing the butterflies in the air. The crowd includes “soccer moms” and bored younger siblings. Yes, this is just one of the little league games.
     Professional baseball is enjoyable to watch, but if you want to see some real drama, head to your local park. Though the kids may not hit as hard or run as fast, the environment makes up for it. Crazy moms, dads, and coaches seem to be involved in the game as if there was a major league title on the line.
     “C’mon!! Go go go go!”  “Give me a hit here kid.” “Run to first!” “Hold the bat higher!” “Anything close here kid.” “Protect the plate!”
     We’ve all seen the passionate parents and coaches that chant those phrases and watch the game with an attention that is commendable. They coach from the sidelines and give their kids what they think are kind words of advice but really they are step-by-step instructions about what to do on the field. They argue with referees and other parents as if there were more than a little league win at stake. They provide their children with state of the art equipment and travel to tournaments hours away.
     While it’s wonderful that parents take interest and encourage their child athletes, sometimes I wonder if they take it too far.
     Kids are involved in a sport because they love it, right? Why else would they do it? But the pressures put on child and student athletes are so incredible, sometimes it takes away from the fun aspect of the game.
     Kids are just kids after all. There are some who have lofty ambitions of becoming star athletes, but some might not  have even the slightest interest in becoming a pro — they might not even fully understand what that means. All they know is that they fell in love with a sport the moment they picked up a racquet or played catch for the first time; and that’s what they need to remember every time they go out for a practice or game, not the high expectations of their parents, coaches, or teammates. The love of the game shouldn’t be buried underneath all the pressure, expectations, and competitiveness.
     Sean Gregory was also struck by the competitiveness of young kids in sports, when he found out about the Amateur Athletic Union, an organization that holds national basketball championships for kids as young as 2nd grade. Read his eye-opening and entertaining article in Time Magazine Second grade hoops go pro. It brings out the ridiculous lengths parents go to for their young athletes, such as one parent cursing in anger and others putting up highlight videos online of their superstars.
     The tournaments can be intense, and one of the refs knows ahead of time, “The parents are going to be crazy.”

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