Competition: Is winning everything?

kids baseball back cover.rgbBy CURTIS COWARD and TONY SEED*

Edited by Paul Healy

COMPETITIVE SPORTS can apply a lot of pressure on our youth. Baseball is no exception.

Young people register in baseball leagues for recreation, to be with their friends, or just to have fun. Many want to learn and become better at the game. But all join for positive reasons.

Learning and fun do not have to be two exclusive functions. Coaches, there is no law in baseball that says a player cannot have fun while learning. You can increase the knowledge, abilities, and skills in a manner which also improves the players’ enjoyment and satisfaction. Practice drills can be fun, but hard work is required to improve. Can there be fun which involves work? Of course! Why not?

Unfortunately, the fun can be lost because the sport becomes too competitive. A competition is a contest with definite laws and rules according to which the game must be played and the result decided. In our society, with competition comes pressure, and not everyone can deal with the pressure. Some play well and rise to the occasion under pressure, but others become withdrawn, nervous and overstressed.

Have you ever seen a World Series baseball game or an NBA basketball game go into extra innings or overtime? A player has to make a key play to win the game. If a player hesitates and makes a mistake, it may cost the team the game. Some of you may remember the 1986 World Series game where Bill Buckner, the first baseman of the Boston Red Sox, made a mistake that cost them the game. All he had to do was field a routine ground ball, step on first base, and they would have won the game. He got nervous, hesitated, and the ball rolled between his legs. His mistake cost them not only the game, but also the World Series. The pressure on him was tremendous.

Parents have to remember that these young ball players are learning. Don’t make the mistake of adding to the pressure on youth by yelling on the sidelines. Your children know your voice. If they hear you yelling, they will not be concentrating on the game; they will lose their focus, and their will be a higher percentage of mistakes. Some children become embarrassed when their parents are drawing attention to them by yelling during the game. Parents also have to remember that when they are yelling at the coach to take a player out of the game, that player is someone else’s son or daughter. These children have feelings, too.

Coaches sometimes add pressure to the players by using a loud and aggressive style of coaching. Children do not want you to yell at them when you make mistakes. They are already disappointed if they did not make the play. Players do appreciate it when coaches when coaches give them advice at appropriate times. If a child drops a ball don’t yell, “I told you to catch with two hands, didn’t I ?” Use a soft and encouraging approach, “Nice try, but remember, use two hands when you make a catch.”

Some coaches use the win-at-all-cost approach. This means that the coach’s attitude is that whatever has to be done to win this game will be done. This is the pragmatic philosophy known as “The ends justify the means.” It is an unprincipled approach. Players’ feelings are sacrificed. They feel used and some players don’t get to play. Is winning a game more important than your players’ enjoyment of the game and their participation in the sport? If a player is not enjoying the game, he or she will quit. This is one of the major reasons why so many are dropping out of all organized sports. Is this “the end” these coaches are striving for?

Two years ago, I met a young player visiting from Toronto. Tom’s desire was to play baseball, because he loved the game. He played for four or five years, and was MVP once. Recently I spoke with his family and was saddened to hear that Tom does not want to play organized baseball anymore. The game has become too competitive and the pressure of carrying the responsibility too great. He is a boy who wants to participate in, and enjoy, baseball. To him, baseball is fun and simple; however, someone has made it emotional, difficult, and confusing.

My message to Tom and every young player enjoying the game of baseball is:

1. Speak up and let someone know when they are taking the fun out of the game.

2. If your league becomes too competitive, take a step down to increase your enjoyment. A less competitive league or house league may be the answer.

3. If the coaches have a win-at-all-cost attitude, players should get together and express what they want-fun.

4. To all leagues and associations: If you have to make a decision between a rude, obnoxious coach or the players, ensure the coach understands why he or she is no longer needed.

Parents, coaches, spectators, and players-the game of baseball, at any level, like all sport and recreation, is meant to be enjoyed. If we continue to discourage or pressure the young players, baseball will eventually become extinct in our country. Judging by the decline of registration numbers across Canada, this has already started.

* Excerpt from Curtis Coward and Tony Seed, The Kids’ Baseball Book, Halifax: New Media Publications, 1994

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