Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hey batter, batter ...

Not a big fan of kids. I don’t really know why. It is probably because I am not allowed to beat other people’s children … or other children’s people for that matter. But still, being around too many kids makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I’m also rather over protective so therefore I feel like I have to be on the watch for anything and everything that could possibly harm whatever kid is in the area. This, to me, is rather tiring.

I know I’ve broached this subject before on this blog, but it comes up every year at about this time. While I don’t generally enjoy being around groups of children, especially at church functions where you are expected to treat every hellion as though it were an angel of mercy sent forth from the Almighty, I inevitably end up coaching girls’ summer-league softball. The last two years I have helped my brother-in-law coach his daughter’s team. This year, however, my child finally decided she wanted to play, so I am coaching her team.

My daughter is one of the oldest on her team. She plays in the 5-7 year-old league since she was 7 on Dec. 31. She is 8 now and is one of two 8-year-olds on the team. The other is a friend of hers who played last year and played pretty well. They both could have played up to the 8-10 year-old league and would have been successful at that level, but since this is my daughter’s first year, I thought I would keep her with the younger kids until she kind of learned the ropes. Her friend, therefore, decided to stay in the younger league as well.

Altogether, there are 10 girls on the team. They range from the quiet and shy 5-year-olds to the boisterous and out-spoken 8-year-old who is not my daughter. But they are all good kids. And like any kid they are seeking approval for their accomplishments from caring adults. Yet at this very impressionable age, you can already pick out the girls that are going to have trouble as they continue to grow.

I’m pretty lucky with this group really, we have several kids who seem to come from good, solid, two-parent homes. The parents love and encourage them and are willing to participate in their activities. Then there are others. One really cute little girl has a chance to grow up to be a good kid, but something is going to have to change or she will slip through society’s cracks and become another statistic. In an early practice I was talking to the girls about having their mother, father or older sibling just play catch with them so they can work on their hand-eye coordination and just get used to catching the ball.
“My daddy’s in jail,” this girl said. Then with a big grin on her face she added, “but he gets to come home in January.”

How do you respond to that? I said the only thing that came to mind … well, not the only thing, but the only thing that is appropriate to say to a 6-year-old … “Well, tell him he better stay out of jail because you need somebody to play catch with.”

Another girl comes from a broken home with a mother, father, step-father and who knows who else in the equation. She has a lot of talent and potential, but those involved in her life seem to be a little overbearing. Apparently she can never do anything good enough. They always expect her to do something more. She will do exactly what I ask her to do and then have to answer to her parental figures about why she didn’t do that one extra thing. We’ve played two games so far and this has had her nearly in tears at both games.

While working at a newspaper, I saw this parental behavior manifest itself in a high school basketball player. The girl’s parents sat at opposite ends of the gymnasium and continuously yelled at her throughout the game, no matter what end of the floor she was on. And I’m not talking about encouraging, well-wishes. The parents would joke about not being able to sit together because the other one yelled too loudly. You could tell that it really bothered the girl not to be able to perform to her parent’s improbable expectations. It didn’t help that she came from a very successful athletic family with an older sister who was bigger, stronger and more athletically gifted. And while this young lady was an excellent player, she would fold under the pressure of big games. You could see her physically become overwhelmed even though there was no need. There is no doubt in my mind this was due to her parents’ behavior. She was a very nice kid, but always seemed somewhat melancholy around adults who came to the practices or games … that is, until you paid her a compliment. I’ve never seen a kid’s demeanor change so much with one simple compliment than I did with her. She went form a kind of head-down approach to things, to looking up with bright eyes and big smile when I would speak to her.

My point, I guess, is that 5-7 year-old, summer-league, recreational softball can be an interesting study in child psychology ... and it’s probably not the most appropriate place for parents to expect their child to manifest herself as the next Cat Osterman or Jennie Finch. However, practices that begin at this early age can definitely carry over to detrimental behavior in later stages of life.

I just hope I don’t end up sending my child to year’s of therapy – not for softball related issues anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eh, it's just a game.
(by the way, that's not a good thing to say to the softball coach at your local college.)