It seems like most people should know the answer to this, but a walk around any baseball complex will leave you doubting that anyone does. It’s pretty simple, fun is the most important aspect in youth baseball. The child should be enjoying the game that he plays. Notice the words game and plays. Both things are meant to be fun.
All other goals out there lead through this one, or should. If your child’s goal is the Major Leagues or just making new friends, true enjoyment will make him want to come back to the next practice or game.
As much as parents get in the way, let’s face it, we have goals too. Usually we want our child to improve themselves in some way. Baseball offers chances to improve socially, mentally, emotionally, and athletically among other areas. A team sport requires you to interact with others. The complexity of baseball requires problem solving and decision making that will sharpen the mind. Every batter will strike out and get out on base often in their career, and hopefully they will also find some success too. Baseball offers a chance to deal with failure and success many times over. The chance to improve athleticism often trumps everything else, and why shouldn’t it, that’s a huge part of sports.
The way to maximize improvement is practice, I think we all can agree there. And further than that, active participation at practice helps immensely as well. Many parents have dealt with forcing kids to do things they don’t want. It usually doesn’t turn out well. It’s easy though to watch them improve at their favorite video games. The same applies to adults at their jobs. Most would agree that the easiest jobs they ever have are the ones they enjoy. The same applies to baseball and sports in general.
If the child enjoys showing up to practice, they are going to get much more out of it. They will give the drills the needed chance to show their merit. They’ll put out greater effort during their time there, and improvements will come easier.
The hard part comes in finding the right coach to do these things. A babysitter with baseball equipment would probably be a better option than a coach with a stern disposition towards winning. In the latter, the boys are pushed to be the player the coach wants them to be (which might not be the right kind of player anyway). In the former, the kids might have a chance to go out and play with friends, expending maximum energy for multiple hours. With a slight guiding hand, this can actually be a great thing. I even condone it in practice here and there. These are my ‘Sandlot Practices’.
My Sandlot Practices or events are where I let the boys go out with minimal adult interruption. I help them figure out a way to pick teams and positions if they can’t figure it out themselves without fighting too much, and I make sure that at least some safety is kept in mind. Then I just let them play. They make their own calls on the field. The adults all watch as spectators, coaches included. The best practices on these occasions are the ones where the adults aren’t needed at all.
This isn’t to say that instruction is not needed. Learning the fundamentals and getting a lot of repetitions can help a young player find his way onto teams in order to keep moving his baseball career forward. As the years go by, less and less players play organized baseball, and the talent improves all around. To continue to compete, a player must improve. Back to the point of the post though. A child will be much more willing to learn the fundamentals and take extra repetitions when they truly enjoy the game.
Winning and losing is given too much focus in youth sports. Any team can win a game. All they have to do is play against weaker teams. The same can be said about losing. There is always someone out there who can beat you. High school, college and professional coaches don’t care how many games your team won, they care about the baseball talent of the individual. The talented players are kids who want to practice all of the time, the kids who enjoy the game.
Keep it Fun!