Little ironmen Burned out on sport: Childhood is about fun and experiences, not grooming for big leagues.

October 22, 1997

BALTIMORE ORIOLES trainer Richie Bancells wants his pitchers to take a month off -- no throwing to catchers or targets. They need time to rest their arms and minds. If this advice is good for major leaguers, it should be sound, too, for Little Leaguers who increasingly are playing baseball year-round. Spring, summer, fall and winter -- even in cold-weather states -- young players are adding velocity to their fastballs or perfecting their swings.

The trend toward year-round baseball is growing. The Western Howard Youth Baseball League has two traveling squads this fall and plans to expand next year. In Baltimore County, more than 400 children play baseball in the fall, despite the prominence of football and the growing popularity of soccer. Winter baseball clinics are springing up indoors.

But youth baseball coaches fear that children could burn out. Tom McMillen, the former University of Maryland and pro basketball star and former U.S. congressman from Anne Arundel County, worries that children specializing in one sport could become "robo-kids." Indeed, some children with single-minded devotion to one activity have won Olympic medals or golf titles, but many have also sacrificed their childhoods along the way. In some sports, such as gymnastics and figure skating, athletes may be considered past their prime to embark in serious competition when they hit adolescence.

Marty McGinty, a certified athletic trainer at the sports medicine center at Baltimore's Union Memorial Hospital, worries that parents sometimes push their children into athletics.

His sound advice: Let children make decisions about what sports to play and how much to play. Parents should watch for the signs. When a Little Leaguer polishes his bat and is in uniform hours before game time, play ball. But it's time to stop when a child has to be dragged to the field repeatedly. The signs of both are evident on the sidelines of every sandlot and soccer field in America.

Baseball certainly is important to Mr. Bancells, the Orioles trainer. But he does not think it should be the only sport or the only thing in a child's life. He advises parents to encourage children to participate in other sports -- along with music, art and cultural activities -- to develop multi-dimensional talents in youngsters.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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