When youth sports return, hopefully soon, might the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic help push changes that will bring the game back to simpler times?
With three boys, I’ve been coaching our kids’ teams for the better part of the last decade. I’ve loved it. It’s true that one of the draws to managing amateurs, beyond time with your child and investing in the next generation, is a chance to relive a bit of your own youth.
From the smell of dirt and freshly cut grass to the ping of the bat, time on a Little League field, basketball court, soccer pitch, or football gridiron takes you back to childhood and all things good.
But as fields lay fallow this spring and kids eagerly look forward to once again playing the games they love, let’s use this emerging “new normal” to reimagine or reform some of the more maddening and completely avoidable aspects of youth athletics.
Let me start at the end – the snacks.
Given sensitivity to the sustainability of germs on surfaces, I suggest we hereby and forever ban snacks from all youth sports. I’ve never quite understood why they’re even necessary. Are kids so on the verge of physical collapse that they need an immediate infusion of sugar after a game? It’s gotten so bad that I’ll regularly have kids ask me about the snacks before play even begins.
In fact, I’ve heard some of my players debating and rating previous game spreads. “The mini Gatorades weren’t very cold,” our left fielder bemoaned last year. “Yeah,” responded the first baseman, “but the small cans of Pringles were great.”
Next, in youth baseball, the pitch counts. Eliminate them. It’s not necessary. I get that no parent (or coach) wants their child’s arm to turn into a used, worn out rubber band, but counting every throw that junior pitches is a painful and largely useless exercise. Most kids don’t throw hard enough to cause damage. Instead, keep it simple. Count and limit innings per week.
Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan once threw 235 pitches in a 15-inning victory in 1974. Back in 1920, Leon Cadore, a hurler for the Brooklyn Robins, tossed 360 balls in a 26-inning game. Both survived just fine.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of family time, so let’s keep the momentum going by avoiding play on Sundays when many families worship together. With so many other days and nights to play, why force parents and children to choose between God and a game?
The Dodgers Sandy Koufax famously declined to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the contest fell on Yom Kippur. His decision became a point of great pride for the American Jewish community.
I regularly remind parents our goal isn’t to raise great kids – but raise kids who grow into honorable, responsible and great adults. Reminding them that the eternal trumps the temporal is an important part of childrearing – and coaching.
Last but certainly not least, let’s reaffirm respect for umpires, referees and officials. There should be consequences to parents berating them from the stands. Is it any wonder we’re awash in political and societal dysfunction when mothers and fathers can’t even behave themselves while watching a youth ballgame?
Our kids are watching. Remember – values are more often caught than taught.
Sports are a great metaphor for life and never more so than in the age of the coronavirus. In this fight to defeat the invisible enemy, it’s unclear what inning we’re in, but we’re ahead, and we won’t stop playing until the game is over.
Just don’t expect a juice box and granola bar once the virus is officially defeated.