Softball can hold its own in any league

ASK CAL

November 06, 2005|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

I find it frustrating and sexist that girls are expected to play softball, not baseball. Why can't girls play baseball, which is a more challenging and rigorous sport than softball? We don't water down basketball or soccer for girls, so why do we expect them to play softball?

-- Steven Crimy, Sebastopol, Calif.

DEAR STEVEN -- I agree that girls should be allowed to play baseball. In fact, many do. When I was a kid, girls weren't allowed to play baseball ... good thing, because my sister was better than me and I probably would have gotten frustrated and quit (just kidding).

When my brother Billy was playing youth baseball a few years later, the rules had changed and there were a few girls on his team. In fact, in several instances, they were the better players.

Softball is not second fiddle to baseball. It is a great game that requires its own unique set of skills and there are many wonderful athletes who excel in softball. Olympian Jennie Finch has had some fun traveling to big league ballparks and striking out major league hitters.

The bottom line is that if the challenge of baseball is appealing to girls, they should have the opportunity to compete and play. If they prefer softball, they should pursue softball. Hopefully, over time, the mindset that baseball is just for boys and softball is just for girls will continue to change.

After I complete a task, I often focus on what I could have done better. I found as a youth coach, that leading with the negative is a prescription for heartache and hard feelings. I agree with the importance of positive coaching and leading with what went well. But I don't agree with the "my child can do no wrong" method of parenting. Have you figured out a way to communicate negative information to children in a way that leads to positive improvement rather than hurt feelings?

-- Bruce Adams, Bethesda

DEAR BRUCE -- I agree with your philosophy wholeheartedly. The one thing that I would recommend when it comes to critical analysis of a young athlete's game is good timing.

What I mean by that is simply the patience to wait before you instruct. Talking to an athlete, young or older for that matter, during the game and in the heat of the action very rarely has the desired effect. I find that when the emotion of the contest has passed, the kids are much more open to learning and improving.

I would suggest that during games you offer very little or no instruction or comments on their performance. Let them experience the game. Simply keep a notebook with you and take notes and then devise a plan of how you will approach the athletes. When the time is right, either the next day or simply when the emotions of the game have passed, sit with the youngster and review the game. Gently and candidly explain the area that needs improvement and always end on a positive note. I remember how my Dad used to do this with the players he managed in the minor leagues. He might point out a base-running error and explain why it was a mistake but end the conversation by complimenting the player's overall aggressiveness on the base paths and let him know this was a good thing. That way the ballplayer would leave the meeting with a positive feeling about his game.

When counseling our children about a career in sports, should we downplay or even discuss the effects it may have on family, morally and financially? Being away from family and dealing with those lucrative contracts may interfere with their love of game.

-- Philip Pascoe, Hampstead

DEAR PHILIP - - I think that those questions and concerns will be addressed down the road if your child starts to see his or her career blossom in high school and / or college.

I personally believe that the issues you raised are real. However, that all comes back to an overall message that children receive while growing up. It is about maintaining perspective and valuing things like family above all else. If these messages are relayed to children as they grow up, they tend to develop the skills necessary to deal with any adversity that comes their way.

I would encourage you to let your young children dream, whatever that dream may be, and address those weightier issues if necessary later.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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