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Note to parents: Lighten up on Little Leaguers

Wesley will celebrate his eighteenth birthday tomorrow. He better graduate from Thomson High School in one month. Our daughter Ashley is completing her junior year in college and starting to seriously wrangle with her plans for adulthood. You know, getting off my payroll.

Like their grandparents did with us, Pam and I have encouraged Wesley and Ashley to be as independent as they can be as early as they can. Sometimes this encouragement works, sometimes it doesn't. We still fall into the trap of doing too much for our kids, and all too often they take full advantage of it.

With Little League and recreation baseball and softball underway, now is a good time for parents to start letting their kids get a glimpse of independence. Support them, yes, live your fantasies through them, no.

Both Wesley and Ashley played through the various stages of baseball and softball as youngsters. Pam and I both helped coach their teams. Wesley played recreation basketball and middle school football in the seventh grade. As a former coach who loves sports, especially football, admittedly I loved it.

When circumstances dictated that I give up coaching, Wesley was six years old. His first comment was, "but Daddy you said I could go to football camp with you when I get 10." I didn't rush back into coaching just to make sure Wesley had the chance to be totally engrossed in high school football as a little boy, or that he play for me.

As my kids started to reach their teenage years, I could see the writing on the wall. They were becoming more interested in things other than playing ball all of the time. What those things were and the reasons why didn't matter. The thing that mattered most was the reason for their changing interests was theirs, not mine. They were showing signs of becoming independent thinkers. Who was I to question their choices of positive leisure activities? It wasn't life or death.

I've never been much for tooting my own horn, but this is one time that I'll brag on myself. I never tried to rectify the many failures or embellish the few successes I had in athletics through the lives of my children. Sure I made a fool of myself a few times at their ballgames like any other parent, but I never pushed for them to become an All-Star or earn an athletic scholarship at age eight.

I've been around too many kids that have been pulled in one direction by their parents when they wanted to go in another. When it comes to sports, it just does not work. As a child gets older, sports usually become more and more competitive and involve hard and often tedious work. It becomes more about winning and less about fun. There's nothing wrong with that, but if a kid ain't up for it, he ain't up for it.

I firmly believe that playing sports has many advantages. I believe even more that to make parents look good is not on the list of advantages.

So my advice to you Little League dads and soccer moms is to lighten up a little. Let Junior find his own way. Let sports be his choice. You both will be a lot happier in the long run.



Web posted on Thursday, April 21, 2005











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