By Alex Flanagan
So there go the parents again, ruining it for everyone … or this time for a group of blameless 8- and 9-year-old boys. It’s not the first time my eyes have widened upon learning about the immature behavior of adults in youth sports; it is, after all, one of the reason’s I started this website. Truth be told though, I didn’t exactly expect it to be happening in my own 8-year-old’s league.
Turns out, while our Little League season was coming to an end, some simmering conflict among parents started gaining serious speed. Verbal and written jabs were exchanged, disparaging remarks were made, egos flared and some parents alledgedly even suggested the best way to resolve the conflict was to “take it into the parking lot.” Luckily, no one had to witness a few Dads channel their inner Sylvester Stallone in a school parking lot, 50 feet away from 25 kids finishing up a baseball game.
Just three days before all this happened, I was feeling all warm and fuzzy about this year’s season, even though it wasn’t perfect. The first year of kid pitch can be painful … and I don’t mean that figuratively.
By season’s end, my 8-year-old had seen so many of his peers get nailed by the errant pitches from kids throwing off the mound for the first time that he became petrified of getting hit. Every time he was at bat he intentionally backed out of the box, despite his coach’s repeated pleas to step closer to the base. He did make two critical plays in the playoffs that earned him the red Gatorade given to the player of each game, but never broke out of his hitting slump. Which I guess, made it easier to explain why he didn’t make the all-star team…he had to bat better to be selected. Who knew not making it would wind up being a good thing? Because at least now I don’t have to tell him how a group of adults who couldn’t decide on the selection process seemingly let their emotions get so out of hand that the all-star game had to be canceled.
“We apologize for any disappointment that previously selected players or their families may feel about this decision, but there simply was no other tenable way to move forward,” wrote our league’s board of directors in an email explaining the decision to cancel the game.
Little League International doesn’t support all-star games in the lower divisions, thus the lack of official selection rules. Our league had implemented a game in the last few years as a fun celebration to reward hard work and effort. When the feuding between the volunteer parent coaches over how the kids should be selected started contradicting everything baseball at this age is supposed to be about, the plug was pulled.
In my humble opinion, you are allowed to be bat shit crazy and emotionally fall apart when something really horrible happens, like God forbid you have a child diagnosed with cancer, but not over a preteen all-star team! Is anyone paying attention to the barrage of research pointing out how detrimental it is to kids when parents overmeddle in youth sports?
After all, aside from exercise, don’t most of us agree, the actual goal of youth sports is to teach our kids some of life’s lessons? To develop their competitive and social skills, to give them a foundation in healthy communication and to help them understand the difference between good and bad sportsmanship?
In my opinion, causing the cancelation of an all-star game because the organization is worried adults won’t be able to get along at it, flies in the face of all of those goals. There is no doubt the kids will recover from the disappointment of a game being canceled long before the damage done to the adult relationships in our small community can be repaired. But unfortunately, instead of ending the season with an event rewarding kids for working hard, following the rules and doing their very best, it seems to me that we have set an entirely different example.
I can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been had we asked the young players to decide which of their peers should be voted to the all-star team? Would they throw a temper tantrum, say and write hurtful, disparaging things to those who didn’t agree with their point of view, threaten to beat each other up and then let someone else (a group of other 8 and 9-year-olds) deal with the fallout and consequences of their actions? I know one thing….Parents certainly wouldn’t accept that kind of behavior from kids.
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.