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Understanding Kids and Sport

  It is important to understand children's motivation to participate in sports in order to fully appreciate the impact adult behavior can have on the children who participate in organized sports. Dr. Martens provides this advice in The Parents Guide To Little League Baseball.

Why Children Play Baseball
  You can fulfill your responsibilities better as a Little League parent by knowing why young people choose to play baseball and why they choose to quit. The most important thing to know is that children have the right to choose. Of course it's OK to encourage your child to play, but it's not OK to pressure her or him. The difficulty is in distinguishing between encouragement and pressure. You'll need to be very careful that you don't push your goals onto your child so hard that playing Little League becomes stressful.

Why Children Play
  Young people play baseball because they like the action and excitement of the game. They don't want to sit on the bench or be spectators; they want to be involved in the action. They like close scores and playing teams of similar ability who challenge their skills. They don't want to get walloped, nor do they find much fun in clobbering another team.

  Young people also play baseball because it provides opportunity to make new friends, but more importantly they want to play sports with their existing friends. These are the qualities that make sports fun for young people.

Why Children Quit
  Young people say they quit baseball for the reasons given here (listed from most to least important).
    1. Change in interest to other sports and nonsport activities
    2. Lack of playing time
    3. Failure and fear of failure
    4. Disapproval by significant others, often coaches and parents but sometimes teammates
    5. Psychological stress, usually from too much emphasis on winning
    6. Too-intense training
    7. Fear of injury

  By far the most common reason young people give quitting baseball is that their interest has shifted to other things which should not be seen as negative. As we all do, children sample life's activities to see what they are good at and enjoy doing. If your child does not enjoy baseball but would prefer to play the clarinet, for example, there is nothing wrong with this.

  We adults should be concerned, however, when young people quit baseball or any activity because their self-worth is threatened through repeated failure, adult criticism, or inordinate stress. You and your child's coach are responsible to see that playing baseball enhances your child's self-worth, not destroy it. Otherwise, it is best for your daughter or son to seek a more positive activity.

Enhancing Self-Worth
  The challenge of helping every athlete feel worthy is a difficult one. Adults must find a way for every athlete to experience success in an environment in which actual winners are few and losers are many. The basic problem is that young athletes learn from coaches, teammates, and parents to gauge their self-worth largely by whether they win or lose. The devastating result is that athletes then feel they can only maintain their sense of self-worth by wining.
Some adults also teach young athletes to believe they are entirely responsible for winning or losing a game. This is certainly incorrect. Winning or losing are determined by many factors, not only the play of any one athlete, but also the play of teammates and opponents, officials' calls, and luck.

  So when young people learn to evaluate their self-worth according to winning and losing, they do so on the basis of something they do not entirely control. This can lead to athletes' taking credit for success and blame for failure when they are not entirely responsible for either one. Consequently, the most important thing you can do as a parent is to help your child use a different yardstick for success.

  Success for an athlete must be seen in terms of exceeding personal goals rather than surpassing the performance of others.

  Winning is important, but it becomes secondary to an athlete's striving to achieve personal goals. In baseball, personal goals might include such things as making good contact with the ball when batting, fielding balls correctly, throwing accurately to the base.

  By learning to focus on personal goals, goals related to behaviors he or she has control over, your child is much more likely to be successful, regardless of the outcome of a game. The important thing for you here is to help your athlete set realistic goals, for doing so ensures a reasonable degree of success. Given all the competitive pressures and peer influence young athletes face, it is you and the coach who must help your child set realistic goals.

  When you help your child set realistic goals, she or he will likely experience more success and feel more competent. By becoming more competent, a child gains confidence and can learn skills of moderate difficulty without fearing failure. So you can see that setting realistic goals robs failure of its threat. Rather than indicating that athletes are not worthy, failure indicates they should try harder.

  De-emphasize winning reemphasize the attainment of personal goals. This principle is the key to enhancing your young athlete's feelings of self-worth.

© Copyright 1993, Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.  / © 2002, Little League Baseball Incorporated