Earlier this week, Tyler Juranovich lamented the decline in youth baseball participation. He mentioned that Little League Baseball enrollment dropped 24 percent from 2000 to 2009 and asked what the future held for the sport that struggles to live up to its nickname, America’s pastime.
While part of me wants to grieve the loss of youth baseball with Tyler, a larger part of me can’t, because it knows that I’m part of the problem.
A Parent’s Responsibility…Or Is It?
I have an eight-year-old son who has never set foot on a baseball field.
Reading Tyler’s column, I realized that there isn’t a single baseball glove or softball mitt anywhere in my house (unless you count the SpongeBob and Dora mitts that each of my oldest children got for their third birthdays).
I feel as though I’m denying my children some essential slice of Americana.
Can a person live a normal life in this country without having played baseball or softball? Can that person really understand the language and culture?
Here’s a more important question: How responsible am I for getting my kids involved in bat-and-ball sports? How much encouragement and/or pressure should I apply if they express no interest?
I have asked my son, on several occasions, if he would like to play baseball. The conversations usually go something like this:
“Hey, buddy, do you think you might want to play baseb——”
“Are you sure?”
“I know you don’t think you’ll like it, but I think you should give it a try.”
[getting agitated] “I don’t want to.”
“But don’t some of your friends at school play?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I think so. I just don’t want to play baseball. OK?”
I first played baseball when I was five years old (almost six). And I didn’t have a choice. A friend of my parents’ called my dad, said that he had an open roster spot on his Pee Wee baseball team, and asked if I would fill that spot. My dad said, “Yes,” then told me I was playing baseball.
A year later my mom told me that I would be playing soccer; and a year after that my parents informed me that I would be on a swim team. Of all the sports I played as a kid, the only one I chose was basketball.
My parents, without being malicious or manipulative, signed me up for all sorts of stuff without my consent. And it worked. As a child I didn’t choose to take piano lessons or to swim competitively, but there are few activities I enjoy more as an adult than swimming and playing piano.
I’ve never registered my kids for anything without asking first. Maybe I should start.
A few months ago my eight-year-old told me that he didn’t want to be on the swim team again this summer. I decided that I needed to change his mind. He swam last year and, in three months, went from not being able to cross the pool without stopping to finishing fourth in the backstroke at the county elementary school meet. He’d worked too hard and showed too much potential to quit after one season.
But I never said, “You’re swimming this summer and that’s that.” Instead, I bargained with him. As a result of that bargaining, I’ll be helping out with the team this summer as an assistant coach.
I’m still upset that my daughter, now six, quit soccer after one season. As four-year-olds go, she was quite a player. One game, her team had a 2-1 lead at halftime, and she had scored all three goals. But she insists that she hates soccer and never wants to play again, and I’ve respected her wishes.
At the moment, she’s doing gymnastics (which is great) and refuses to try anything else. If she’s still this stubborn by the time she’s old enough to play basketball and volleyball, I’ll probably pull the sign-up-without-consent move.
Who Should Make The Decision?
Should elementary school-aged children make their own decisions about what sports they will play, or should their parents make those decisions for them?
On one hand, a kid will never know if he or she enjoys a sport if he or she never tries it. How can a six-year-old know whether or not he likes baseball? What is his point of reference? On the other hand, few things in parenthood are more painful than getting a tantrum-throwing child ready for an 8:00 a.m. Saturday game that she has no interest in playing.
What do you think?
Though I feel all sorts of guilt for the opportunities I’ve denied my children by allowing them to make their own choices, they’ve nonetheless managed to keep busy and become well-rounded kids. We already juggle swimming, gymnastics, basketball, piano lessons, Cub Scouts, and choir, so I’m in no rush to sign up the kids for more stuff.
Oh, and I have a three-year-old. So I have one more chance to get this right.