Play Ball! (and ball and ball)

The first-time tee ball mother really didn’t know. “Is it normal for a tee ball team to practice twice a week? I mean, he’s only five.”

“They won’t have any practices once the season begins,” I consoled. I didn’t have the heart to tell her why: They’ll be playing two games a week.

Fifty years ago, organized youth sports consisted of a pickup truck rumbling around town picking players up to take on a similarly aggregated group in the next town over.

No parents watched. No grandparents came. Uniforms were like-colored t-shirts. Hats were a luxury, as were gloves that fit. My left-handed father played catcher with a right-hander’s mitt.

There were no all-stars or state tournaments. Heck, there weren’t even fences. Only kids competing presumably for the love of America’s game.

We’ve progressed since then. We have dugouts and pitching machines. Parents do the signing up. Grandparents do the cheering on. I am thankful for the advancements and the people who made them happen.

Yet youth sports clearly reflect the kid-centric quality of contemporary American life. Parents tend to view their progeny as extensions of, even judgments on, themselves. A relentlessly comparative culture exacerbates the tendency.

So we travel two hours for a 9-year-old football game. We revolve the family’s weekend around a 10-year-old’s tournament. We pay thousands of dollars for personal coaching and select squad participation.

My preacher begins most sermons with this prayer, “Forgive the one who speaks for his sins are many.” Likewise, please pardon him who writes because he gets more of a surge than he should out of watching his 6-year-old shoot a ball.

As baseball and softball seasons open, a paradox should help keep things in perspective: the most impactful moments of life are unplanned, unorganized.

It won’t be the hit or the catch that a kid will remember, but the snack after the game. Not the game under the lights on Friday night, but the campout under the stars on Saturday.

My fiercely competitive 8-year-old saw a Cub Scout flyer last week. “I want to do that next year,” he told his mother.

“You won’t be able to play any sports then,” she replied.

“That’s fine.”

That’s fine?!? But what about your place on the depth chart? Your chances of making the high school team? Your plans to play in the NFL?

I hope he’s thought through the implications.

Which brings me to these questions: How do you know if a kid really wants to play the sport she’s in? If her parents enrolled her at an early age and it’s all she’s ever known or done, is it really her choice? Or is she simply falling in line with what she thinks is expected or required?

I thought of these recently as a successful businessman told me about his teenage daughter’s ascendant golf career. She plays in tournaments all over the country.

“Golf is the easiest sport for girls to get a scholarship in,” said the man who likely needs no assistance paying for his daughter’s education.

On Sunday, Tiger Woods won his first PGA tournament since his life melted down two years ago. His father pushed him from a very young age to be the world’s best. Is it sport sacrilege to wonder if he was meant to be an accountant?

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Subscribe to his articles at

1 Response to “Play Ball! (and ball and ball)”

  1. 1 jessestroup March 30, 2012 at 11:00

    Kevin your article made me LOL. Your article touches my emotions. Thanks,

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