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Having Fun and Skill Development As Important As Winning In Youth Sports

My triplet sons were just five when they started T-ball. I can still vividly recall the April night when the head coach called to tell me that they were on the T-ball Red Sox and that the first practice would be held at the high school softball field in two days.

After I hung up I paused a moment to catch my breath. It was a truly exciting time. The first five years of my sons' lives had been a ton of work, but now I felt some of the real fun was about to start. I knew if my sons were anything like me, they would love sports, especially baseball. Mostly, I hoped that the triplets would find a sport or two that they could enjoy playing the rest of their lives.

Serious Business 

When we arrived at the first practice, were greeted by four fathers holding clipboards and wearing Red Sox caps and jackets. The boys were told to pair up and play catch, while the coaches circulated, writing notes on their clipboards. Their stern expressions and lack of jovial banter conveyed the message to parents that they were in charge and this was serious business. We were told we could leave and come back to pick up our sons in an hour.

Some of the veteran parents left. Like a few of the rookies, I stayed to watch. Over the course of the practice, each of my sons checked in with me several times, looking for reassurance. They were the youngest boys on the team, just old enough by age cutoff date to be eligible to play that spring. Some of their teammates were almost a year older, a huge difference developmentally at such a young age. I kept telling them that everyone, including the coaches, was there to have fun. But I had a tough time believing it. If T-ball was all about having fun, why weren't the coaches smiling? Why weren't they interacting with any of the boys? What could possibly be so important that all four were toting clipboards and stopwatches?

Never Given a Chance 

As the season progressed, it became obvious that my sons and a number of other boys on the team were not having fun. During each game and practice, they had the same complaint: the coaches weren't letting them play any of the "fun" position in the infield, relegating them instead to the outfield, where very few balls were ever hit. The only boys playing the fun spots were the sons of the four coaches! Six boys were never given a chance to play the infield.

I can still remember the sad look on my son Spencer's face as he asked me why he couldn't play the infield. I put my arms around him and whispered, "When your team comes off the field next inning, go up to the coach and tell him you would like to play an infield position. Better yet, tell him all the boys who always stand in the outfield want a turn." With a twinkle in his eye that suggested that our plan just might work, he returned to his position in right field.

When the Red Sox came off the field to bat, I saw Spencer approach the coach. He brought along his two brothers for support. "Coach, can we play the fun spots next inning, please?" he asked. How could anyone resist a five-year old with a big smile and a twinkle in his eye?

One of the coaches' sons-who was almost a year older than my sons-blurted out, "You stink. That's why you are out there. We are the best."

Spencer began to cry. Between sobs he managed to say, "I don't stink!" No coach came to his defense. Ever-present-clipboard in hand, the head coach simply walked away and called off the batting order, leaving it to me to try to console a little boy whose only crime was that he wanted to have fun.

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