Parents, be supportive, but let kids decide how involved they want to be in sports

ASK CAL

March 12, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

As a sports fan and a mother of two, how do we teach our children to play ball, love it for the game, and that sportsmanship is important in so many different aspects of the game and in other things you may do in life? There seems to be a need to have kids excel at such young ages when they really should be learning the fundamentals of the game. What do you suggest we do so we don't become one of "those" parents on the sidelines that everyone dreads?

Amanda J. Lancaster, Louisburg, Kan.

DEAR AMANDA / / As with anything, parents can set the tone when it comes to the way children perceive sports. If we show a lot of excitement and enthusiasm to take our kids to their games and practices, there is a better chance that they are going to enjoy the activity. If we get there a few minutes early and offer to practice with them or stay for a few minutes after practices or games to play with them, they may start to look forward to that extra time with mom or dad. The key is not to pressure your kids to play or practice the sports at home, but still be willing to play with them or work with them -- even if we are not very good at that sport -- when they ask us to. Let the kids dictate their level of involvement and support them in whatever they decide. As they grow to enjoy sports, they naturally will gravitate toward the ones they like best.

At Ripken Baseball, our teaching philosophy is to focus on the fundamentals, keeping the game simple, while still making it fun and allowing kids to be kids. Sports get serious enough fast enough these days. If your kids want to practice or play, let them do it and join them if you are able. Don't force them to do things away from practice or games, but also keep this in mind: One of the important life lessons to teach them is that if they are part of a team that they need to attend the practices and games (unless they are sick or injured, of course), or they are letting their teammates down.

You can use the games to address sportsmanship and other standards of behavior as well. Ask your kids how they feel about the way one of the coaches yelled at the umpires and what it means to respect authority. Discuss why it is important to actually look someone you have competed with in the eye and give him a firm handshake at the end of a game. Explain to them how in every aspect of life they will have to accept final outcomes and decisions that are made, without crying or complaining, and that as long as they truly gave their best effort, there is no reason to be upset about those outcomes.

Between work schedules, school schedules and extracurricular activities it seems as though there are fewer and fewer opportunities for parents to participate in activities with their kids and have meaningful dialogue with them about life and its lessons. Sports can provide a means to do both, so try to take advantage of the opportunity whenever you can.

Our son (who's 12), is trying out for a travel baseball team. He throws well for his age and the coach wants him to pitch. He also wants him to take pitching lessons, which I think are sort of expensive. How much good do pitching lessons do at this age anyway?

Tom Davis, Dundalk

DEAR TOM / / That's a tough question. Baseball instruction is very subjective. There are many ways to perform many of the fundamental skills of baseball, and even more theories about the proper way to teach those skills. How much your 12-year-old is going to get out of individual pitching lessons depends on the instructor and the child's ability to pay attention and absorb what is being taught. Some kids will be mature enough to handle it and others may not.

With an instructor who is willing to take the time to actually observe your son and see what kind of results he is getting before trying to instruct, the lessons can be extremely valuable. Beware of an instructor who starts teaching your child how to pitch before really taking the time to observe him. There is no one set formula that works for every player, and that goes for all aspects of the game.

As you said, pitching lessons can be expensive. I don't really see a need to go to a personal instructor more than once per week during the off season. At that session, the instructor can analyze your son's throwing mechanics and offer suggestions. Make sure that your son asks what drills he can do in between sessions to work on the areas in which he needs to improve. Once the season starts, your son should be throwing on a regular basis during practices and games, so it might be too much to ask of him physically to fit in a throwing lesson. Throwing lessons during the season, if not monitored closely, can mess up the throwing program that a coach has designed for his pitching staff, and it can be confusing for a player to receive instruction from two adults at the same time.

The No. 1 consideration when choosing a pitching instructor is whether the instructor has your child's best interests at heart. Sign up for one lesson and monitor the instruction. Make sure the instructor watches your child throw quite a few pitches before offering suggestions. Not all methods of instruction work with all kids, and you don't want someone forcing his philosophies on your son if they are not appropriate for him. This can lead to frustration, disappointment and possibly even injury.

Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

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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