We have all witnessed kids playing scrub baseball, road hockey, basketball, singing or maybe just playing with marbles and we have all seen them enjoying these activities without adults involved. But adults can make things better for them. Add organization, make up some rules, bring in a referee, divide them up into teams and right away things are better. Sounds good, and it should work but all too often, there is a problem. Ejection from games, forfeits, verbal abuse and in severe situations, physical confrontations, are just a few of those problems.
When the kids are playing amongst themselves there is seldom a problem, yet when adults get involved problems arise. Problems exist today in every sport, every age group, and on boys or girls teams. Having heard a thousand stories one thing has become very clear to me---the root problem is almost always the same.
Recently, after a 45-minute speech in Mississauga, Ontario (Canada), a woman asked me to help her with a problem she had with a coach in her son's life. Due to a birth defect, the eleven-year-old boy wore a prosthetic leg. This did not stop the young boy from participating in a sport he loved---a hockey goalie. The boy's mother, in tears continued, "his coach took him aside at the beginning of the year and told my son that because of his leg he would hurt the teams' chances of winning and could not play on this team." Fortunately, the boy's coach from years past took the youngster on his team. She asked me, "How can we deal with that?"
"Yes," was her reply when I asked if her son was having fun. I suggested she push her son to achieve all his goals and desires. I continued, "He has a rougher road than most of us and handles his handicap well. He has already risen above the level of that dangerous coach, so continue to encourage him to aim high with his dreams and aspirations. As proud of your son as you are now, I believe the best is yet to come."
What could that coach have possibly been thinking?
A coach in many respects is like a teacher. Coaches for kids exist simply to teach and improve the children's knowledge and abilities with the program they are involved in.
Imagine if a schoolteacher said something like that to an eleven-year-old boy. Hurt the team's chances of winning?!
The attitude of this coach bothers me terribly, possibly because I, too, am handicapped. I was born with polio but still played minor baseball. My friends convinced me that it was fun. I was fourteen. I could throw, catch, field, pitch just as good or better than anyone on the team, but due to my handicap, I limped. I could not run as fast as the other kids could. The coach envisioned me hurting the team's chances of winning so I sat on the bench far more than what was fair to any child. It was also the only year I ever played minor sports. I joined because my friends said it was fun. And it should have been fun, but for a coach focused more on winning, it became nothing more than a sad memory for me to live with the rest of my life.
Both these stories are part of the same problem plaguing minor sports and I hope to change the way many coaches think, so children are not subject to such diatribe. Especially the ones with a handicap.
I will never stop my efforts to rid the minor sports scene of coaches such as the two I just described. It is the very reason a book such as "Winning Without Winning" exists.
[Editor's Note: With a very gentle philosophy and no finger pointing, Gerry's book meets the participation problem head on and subtly offers a solution. We recommend it as a god read to broaden your perspective on baseball, sports in general, and childhood development.]
Children love to participate. It can be a ball game or a checker game. It can be the choir or dancing. It can be as a participant or even a spectator, and it can be a boy or a girl. Age makes no difference and their reason is almost always the same - "because it's fun."
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