Let kids be kids
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, November 7, 2017
When I was 14, I went through a crisis of sorts in my life. I was an overweight, insecure freshman who had just been cut from his high school junior varsity baseball team. After 10 years of spending summers absorbed in travel teams and private coaches, I was coming to the realization that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t good enough. It was a scary thought for anyone, let alone a 14-year-old already wracked with doubts about his worth among his peers and in the world.
As I sat down and told my dad the news, my resolve crumbled. I broke down in tears, and proclaimed to him that I was done with the sport that I had loved since we had first played catch so long ago. After a silent car ride home, both he and my mom tried to convince me not to give up, but I was inconsolable. Some weeks later, wary of having future regrets, I allowed my dad to convince me to give it another shot in a local recreational league with lower-level competition.
In my one spring on this team, I discovered something too often in today’s youth sports climate that has such an emphasis on “the future” and college scholarships. I discovered — or maybe rediscovered — how to play baseball with a simple love in my heart. I played with kids who had no care other in the world other than having fun, and did so for a group of three coaches who fundamentally changed the way that I looked at myself and the way I looked at the sport of baseball as a whole. And you know what? I loved it. I loved playing like a kid again, carefree and unburdened.
My coaches treated my teammates and me differently than any other coach I had ever experienced, other than my dad — they treated us like human beings, like kids who just wanted to play baseball, not live it. They took away the days of sleepless nights spent stressing over my performance in tournaments and they brought back the days of me falling in love with my favorite sport over and over again.
This past summer, I taught private baseball lessons to a rising sixth grader. When I asked him what other sports he played, he replied, with a dumbfounded look on his face that in fact, he only played baseball. His dad had him playing on several different travel teams, and he simply did not have time to do anything with his life other than baseball. My first thought was one of befuddlement: when I was in sixth grade, I played baseball, basketball, flag football and every other sport that involved a ball or running around. When I thought about it more, however, I realized that this is not an uncommon or new situation — the signs have been prevalent for a long time.
The goal-focused nature of American society has long been creeping into childhood, stretching far beyond sports. I cannot say that I am a “back in my day” geezer. I too am a millennial, and I applied to college in the SAT prep-class and essay coach era. My conversation with this sixth-grader struck me, however, as different. He simply did not comprehend anything other than his goals: become the star player on his varsity baseball team and eventually obtain a Division I college scholarship.
I don’t want to frame goal-setting in a negative light; having the motivation and drive to follow your dreams and do what you love is a fantastic thing. In reality, though, can we say that a sixth grader is mature enough to decide his life plans? At what point do we say enough is enough and just let kids be kids?
Youth sports are an incredible thing when done right. They allow for kids to learn valuable life skills, all the while staying active and healthy. Adolescents are extremely malleable in what they absorb, and if coaches and parents teach them that the only thing that matters is improving because they need to make the varsity team, get the college scholarship and go to the Ivy League school, then that is what they will grow up believing. I don’t know about everyone else, but I would much rather live in a society that teaches our next generation to live in the moment and love what they do, than one that teaches them to live for tomorrow and aim for success.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.