Spring has finally sprung in my neck of the woods, and with it come spring sports. And increasingly, it appears, with spring sports come “pre-season skills clinics,” “School Vacation skills clinics” and even skills clinics that are offered during the regular season (in addition to team practices).
Huh? My kids are 11, 9 and 7. We have a lacrosse player, a softball player and a baseball player. And I am inundated with offers from sports organizations to teach them how to play the sport before they join their team. Honestly, with lacrosse, I kind of get why they offer additional clinics, because it is a difficult sport and kids don’t usually have the opportunity to pick up the basic skills in their backyard. But baseball? For first graders? Is someone trying to suggest that a 7 year old needs to have mastered the skills of baseball before he steps onto the field? Am I the only one who finds that crazy?
Some of the program literature advertises that they will give my child “everything he needs to be ready for a successful baseball season!” Need. What a funny word. As far as I am concerned, a 7 year old “needs” only 5 things for a successful baseball season:
1. A willingness to listen to the coach
2. A willingness to participate and try his or her best
3. A baseball glove
4. A batting helmet
5. A ride to and from practices and games
Anything beyond the five isn’t really a “need,” is it? The league even provides bats and balls for the games, plus a hat and uniform.
When I was young, I approached team sports (ok, everything) with a bit of intensity (ok, I still do). I was the kid who would love a pre-season clinic and extra practices had they been offered. I loved working on improving my skills and bettering my game. But there were lots of kids who did not, and there was plenty of room for them on the team, too.
My concern is that if kids feel that they need to master a sport before they play it, the less-dedicated kids will choose not to play. And that would be a shame. I might have brought my “A” game to every game I played, but other kids on the team brought different skills and talents even if they never scored. Humor. Perseverance. Good sportsmanship. A great personality. Perspective. Fun snacks. If every kid on my team was like me, we would have won a lot of games, but not had nearly as much fun. The players who brought their different talents to the game taught me how to keep perspective, laugh at myself and have fun, yes, even while losing. These lessons were just as important as the extra batting practice I happily provided to anyone who wanted it.
I know that these sports clinics, at their most basic level, are probably directed more at making money than at trying to create a youth sports world where there is no room for anyone other than the most dedicated, talented player. But I still worry that their mere existence – especially as I see their popularity grow with each year- might cause that to happen.
And it would be a sad, sad thing if we lived in a little league world where Lupus was too intimidated to join the Bad News Bears.