pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

Children’s Sports

Some baseball seasons past I followed the little league “career” of a neighborhood youngster by attending almost all of his games.

As I became familiar with his style of play, his teammates, and coaches I became fond of him and I found myself happy when his team won, saddened when they lost, but overall anxious to see that he gained from every game.
Basketball, favored sport for children

Children’s Sports: Just a Game?

The team found themselves in the season playoff and won their first game handily on their home field.  They lost the second on the other teams field.

The win was taken graciously but the loss seemed to be taken quite devastatingly for both the players and the fans (parents).

In the third and final game, although they were winning, half way into it someone became quite upset about a possible infraction of the other teams’ pitcher’s glove.

After pointing out the infraction to the other team’s coach, and subsequently to the umps, the whole tone of the game changed as they both voiced different interpretations of the wording in the official rule book.

As a non-committed, but interested observer I watched tension mount, anger flare, “cheering” turn malicious, coaches get angry and little leaguers become anxious and distressed.

Then, as usually happens when a child becomes anxious, the players began making mistakes; and, with all the hostility in the air, the umpires didn’t do too good of a job either.

“Little League” Parent

WHAT ON EARTH HAD HAPPENED?!  Loving, sensible parents, children out to have fun, and umpires out to honestly do a good job were literally filled with anger and resentment.

Child psychologist, Dr. Terry Orlick has written “children’s sports have often resulted in excessive competition, exploitation, frustration, destructive aggression, distress, feelings of failure, restricted participation and outright rejection.  Competition is aimed at proving ones superiority over something, or someone, rather than upon the improvement of our physical, social and psychological state of being.”

Another time, I watched an ex-pro, turned school football coach, grab a player by the face mask and jerk his neck mercilessly in an apparent fit of anger over the boy missing a block!

“Uptight children are being raised by uptight parents who even direct the children’s’ recreational activities into uptight games,” wrote one author.

Historically we have all looked toward professional ball teams for an example.  However, they now play a brand of ball devoid of the friendly rivalry of times past … they seem to play for blood!

Can you picture any of them kneeling prior to a game and voicing anything like Berton Brayley’s “Prayer of a Sportsman”?  He intoned: “If I should lose, let me stand by the road and cheer as the winners go by!”

Could it be that we are in such a hurry to emulate the “pros” that we entirely lose track of the fact that we are dealing with the lives of children?

In his anxiety, my little league baseball player friend I was telling you about, was overwhelmed with the feeling that he and his teammates had done something wrong.

“We just kept making mistakes, we couldn’t do anything right” he told me, near tears.

My heart ached over what this game had done to the boy and we talked about it during the ride home.

Author Jack Griffin writes “there is not evil, of course, in winning.  There is great value in competition, if the values are properly scaled.  In demanding only victory we are unable to live with defeat which can be crushing and even leave a terrible scar.”

I was in an interesting dilemma a while back.  I stood on the lines next to the father of one of my patients, who I knew quite well.

I heard him tell his son “stick him, hurt him and he will be easier to block.”

As if that aggression wasn’t enough, I looked up to find that the boy he was assigned to block was another patient of mine!

I pondered for awhile about what to do and then said, clearly enough to be heard by his son “like your son, that other boy is a patient of mine, and I prefer not to have him hurt!”

He didn’t want his son hurt but it seemed to be alright if someone else’s son was.   He at first glared at me, but then smiled as he realized the implication of what he had said.   “OK, just play your best” he told his son.  Whew! I was able to keep both patients.

We should all realize the real perspective: it is not what the child does to the ball that counts but what the ball does to the child.  The game must never be allowed to become more important than the player.

Children’s Sports: Just a Game?

All children need to win more than trophies and hollow, fleeting accolades; rather somehow winning self-confidence and self respect from having “done my best.”  The scoreboard be hanged.

Some of the best gifts to give children are the skills of loosing without bitterness and wining with grace and compassion.

Wouldn’t we all be better off if we lived by the motto: “If I can’t win without hurting someone, I’ll either loose and be happy or won’t play.”

Organized Children’s Sports

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following items for parents to consider when enrolling their children in organized sports:

  • Be sure your child is ready for an organized sports program both physically and maturationally.
  • Weigh the time spent on sports against that for other important activities.
  • Know how many months and hours your child will be involved in practices, games and tournaments.
  • Find out who will be your child’s coaches.  Get to know them, their qualifications and goals.
  • Know the health and safety policies of the program.
  • Know that children are appropriately matched for maturity, size and skill.
  • know that each player on the team gets to play.
  • Plan on how you will behave when your child looses a game, is a “bench warmer,” or wants to quit.
  • Plan on attending most games.
  • Be ready for the expense of uniform, fees and transportation.
  • Observe how other parents, coaches and spectators behave in front of children.
  • Consider what your child’s participation will mean for your family’s meal time, vacation time and weekends.

If you have concerns over any of the above considerations, politely discuss them with the coach and/or league director.

[See also: Nathan J. Smith, M.D., “Medical Issues and Sports Medicine” in Pediatrics in Review, Feb 1981.]


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