May 8, 2012

Out of My League

Baseball has always been my favorite sport.

I longed for the day when my kids finally were old enough to play in Little League.  Since I missed the registration deadline last year, this is the first year where they are finally hitting the diamond.  I have to say that the league that we are in has been great so far. Both boys have gotten the opportunity to play and they both really seem to enjoy it. Right now the league is stressing fun and fundamentals and since it's your typical instructional league, there are no politics involved.

Politics?  In kids sports?

I fortunately have not seen it yet, but I know it exists.  There will be a time when they have the opportunity to take their games to the next level and this is where politics comes into play.  Since I haven't experienced it yet, I thought that I would let an old college pal who's currently juggling parenting, marriage, work and coaching explain what is going on on baseball diamonds all across the country. Enjoy this guest post.

Out of My League 
By Dresden Wolf*

When my son started playing organized baseball two years ago, he was six years old and the emphasis was on fun and fundamentals. As parents, we were happy when they’d hit the ball without knocking the tee over, or run around the bases in the right direction (yes, we had a couple who tried to steal 3rd …from home). Hell, we didn’t even officially keep score.

But as the seasons went on, tee ball gave way to coach pitch, and coach pitch to machine pitch. In that time, a funny thing happened. My son and a few of his buddies got very good at baseball (pause to pat myself on the back as coach – ha ha ha), and the emphasis shifted. Now, it’s more like baseball. We not only keep score, but offensive and defensive stats. They’re eating sunflower seeds in the dugout. Kids SHIFT FOR LEFTIES. This shit just got real.

All of a sudden, everyone is scouting other teams, bailing to join travel teams, and our own house all-star process is worthy of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. (Although I still don’t speak quickly enough to deliver the lines in one.)

I sigh and change the channel when I see “Pageant Kids” or “Dance Moms” or “I’m gonna grow up and have all kinds of issues because you started putting me in makeup and heels when I was 18 months old,” but I look around, and sports are no different. There are cliques, kids taking private lessons from coaches they won’t share. And everyone is jockeying to get on the “best” team with the best coach. Every playdate or schoolyard run-in is a chance to ask what team your kid is on, and if they’ve heard about the neighboring community’s travel team. There’s always rumbling about how competitive your league is (or isn’t). And everyone thinks they have an in because they know someone on “the board.”

As a friend said, “as long as the parents are involved, it’s always political.”

Back to my point. At the lowest competitive level, we’ve got 9U (the u is for “and under”) and 8U all-star squads. So, as you might imagine, many of the talented 8-year-olds try out for both. Where it gets sticky is when those 8-year-olds all get drafted by the 9U squad, leaving the 8U team with the less talented 8’s, as well as all the younger kids.

Having been to the tournaments these kids play in, an 8U squad of mediocre talent and a bunch 7-year-olds, no matter how good those 7-year-olds are, will get CREAMED. The other teams are huge. Like, “show me the birth certificates” huge. Then the kids will be discouraged, the parents will be sad, and the coaches (and the league) get blamed for setting the kids up to fail. On the flipside, a 9U team with a bunch of 8-year-olds will ALSO get creamed. BUT, everyone believes that “playing up” will get their kids a baseball scholarship (which coincidentally averages $5K, even at big baseball schools) and eventually into the MLB. But there’s a difference between playing with older kids and having your asses kicked by them.

So, is it better to be a big fish in a small pond? Or the smallest fish in a big pond? Personally I think being a goldfish in a plastic bag at a carnival is the worst, but that’s not relevant to this discussion. At the end of the day, I want my son to feel good about himself for being good at something among kids his own age. He’s got the rest of his life to compete with older guys for girls, jobs, social security checks, whatever.

Anyway, the opportunity to choose between the teams puts parents in a position to negotiate. And this is where it gets fun. Not.

So as the clock ticks on draft day (35 hours and counting), I find myself pouring over rosters, checking birthdates, and planning to call parents as late as 10PM on a Tuesday, trying to convince them to “play down” with the 8s instead of playing up with the 9s. Some have already asked “what’s in it for them.” Uhm, baseball…a uniform…a few nice days outside this summer? Some want guaranteed playing time, to only play a certain position, to bat ahead of (insert name here), or for their kid to be named team captain.

They’re EIGHT.


I joke a little, but I legitimately fear that the next call will be one asking for cash considerations or an actual contract.

Crazy, isn’t it? But in a world where kids get trophies just for showing up, and think they’re the best at everything, this sense of entitlement is not surprising.

But at the end of the day, the kids want to play. And at this age, they want to win, no matter what mamby-pamby, kumbaya, politically correct crap we’re supposed to be subscribing to. I still believe that kids’ sports should be fun, but anyone who’s ever competed with an 8-year-old boy will tell you, winning IS fun to them. So, we do what we can to put them in a position to win – or at the very least, compete. Because losing 24-2 because you’re out of your league stings a lot more than losing 6-5 to a team you can hang with. (I’ve done both.)

But if you’re a parent who cares more about telling people that seven-year-old Johnny “played ball with kids two years older than him,” than Johnny actually having fun playing, I don’t know what to tell you.

Ugh. I think I had a point, but now I’ve got a call from an agent on line two. (Insert touching conclusion that includes the phrase “for the love of the game.”)

*To protect the parties involved, mainly the kids, Dresden Wolf is not his real name.

John Willey - Daddy's in Charge?



  1. Excellent post.  Replace baseball with hockey and it's a Canadian story.  I'm sure the same could be said about any sport with the potential for professional play. 

  2. Any sport, any activity. Unfortunately we push our kids without the thought of what it might do to THE KIDS.

  3. Fantastic post!  Just stumbled upon, and am now following your blog.  (Btw, love that you guys are big Lego fans too!) My son is only 3 but is already counting down the days until he is old enough to play t-ball.  Your comment about kids wanting to WIN, and forgetting all the kumbaya politically correct crap is SO TOTALLY SPOT ON!  Wish there were more people like you willing to state that out loud.  Obviously these kids are young, and I want my son & daughter to hold onto that youthful ignorance as long as possible, but not everything (even at this age) has to be made equal and "happy".  Thanks for letting me follow!

  4. Thanks for stopping by... While the words are from a friend of mine, I wholeheartedly agree with him. I am all for every kid getting a trophy as long as the winner gets a bigger one. Yes we are very much into Legos around here. It's pretty much taken over my life.

  5. I coach U7 baseball and, unbeknownst to us, the kids were ranking each other the other day, my twin boys were in the middle but some of the boys were a bit unhappy about it apparently.  Here's the thing; they do it from a very deep and survivalist place; we as a species must be constantly sizing up the competition so we know where we stand.  I think they really can't help it.  And, I truly don't believe they meant it mean-spiritedly.

    That's where we, coaches, parents and teachers come in and try to sort out the feelings and raw emotions, and soothe the bruised egos and broken hearts.  Welcome to life kids.

    I'm a huge fan of your blog and would like to know if I could reference in mine.

  6. Absolutely! I'm glad you like it. I'm coaching too and I get that kids are always sizing up each other. Coaching is tough because some kids are just better than others and they always will be. Every kid needs to have his heart broken or his ego bruised. In the long run its going to make them a better player.

  7. I am going to respond to this line, "At the end of the day, I want my son to feel good about himself for being good at something among kids his own age."

    The point of competition is not to feel good about being good, but to measure yourself, and learn from winning AND from losing. I am happy when my daughter hangs with her bigger cousin and is not the biggest, or fastest anymore, because I can see the determination to get better in her eyes. I do not want my kids to only be satisfied with success, but with giving it their best effort. Winning is fun, but not always, and it is not necessary for kids to have self-esteem.

    Just so you know, I am responding to that one line. I do like what you wrote, and feel that little league has l been taken away from kids and has been made too important. It's no longer a fun thing to do with friends, but an over politicized function.

  8. No I get that... Being pushed to get better is always good but yo a point. These kids are being pushed to play with the older kids by parents an coaches, not by their own choice. If my son wanted to play with his older cousin that woul be his choice not mine. I would let the kid decide what level he wants to play at. Coaches and parents should know when the kid is ready and it seems to me they aren't ready for it.

  9. I worked for a youth organization wherein every child got a trophy for showing up, & it always drove me nuts. They did try to emphasize that the generic prize was gifted to reward the kids just for trying, because it takes guts to get out in front of people & attempt a routine. I get that, & even like it to some degree. But then the announcer would go on to say that no one here is a loser, they're all winners, etc. Why can't we stress that *LOSING* a game or competition doesn't make one a *LOSER*. Because, yeah --- some teams, some individuals, some competitors are GONNA LOSE, whether due to better preparation, more skill, age, dedication, luck, karma, destiny, or faulty equipment --- take your pick. Any time people compete, there is a person/team who wins, & a person/team who loses. My 7-yr-old loved playing & being with other kids & getting a pat on the back from her coach. The end. She couldn't even remember if her team won or lost at the end of the day. And when she asked, I told her the other kids with the green uniform took first place, & she said, "Oh yeah, they were so cool! I liked them a lot!" That's what it should be about. Do your best, have fun, & cheer for your fellow team mates & competitors. I had to work with moms who said losing event "was the worst day of my 4-yr-old's life!" WTF??? Really? Not placing at a competition scored higher on the scale of things that suck than that time you peed your pants in class, or fell down in front of everyone, or got stung by a bee, or bonked your head? For realz? How sad, for both that mom & her doofy munchkin. *ugh*... sorry! End Rant.

    PS. Great article - loved your friend's writing & would love to see more by him! :)

  10. PPS. Which isn't to say that I like him more than you. Trophies go to you both. No losers, no winners, pure enjoyment all around. For goodness sakes!