Young player on bench still can contribute


September 03, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

I HAVE A 12-YEAR-OLD SON WHO is on a travel baseball team. We went out of town for a tournament and the coach brought an additional boy who was not on the team and the boy took my son's spot in the field while my child sat on the bench for the whole game. This has devastated my son. We stayed for the whole tournament and he did not quit -- although he would have liked to. Is this a common practice with travel ball? If the coach did not feel my son was good enough, why would he encourage us to go out of town and then humiliate my son? Parents were fuming and asking me why my son was not playing because they think he is a good ballplayer. Please help me explain this to my son.


DEAR KAREN / / Adding players from other teams or locations for the purpose of competing in a specific tournament is not new to youth baseball. That practice has been going on at least since I was a young ballplayer. To me, your son's coach is sending a message to his team that winning is the ultimate goal and that he doesn't feel that the team he has put together is capable of being successful. That is a confusing -- and in some cases, upsetting -- message to communicate to the members of that team.

My concerns when it comes to travel baseball, especially for kids who are 12 years old and younger, always have focused on placing too much emphasis on winning and playing so many games that the players burn out. Baseball gets serious enough fast enough, so there is no reason to speed up the process. At the 12-and-under level, when it comes to travel teams, the main goals should be to expose the players to a higher level of play, allow them to play in as many games as they can handle physically and emotionally and to help them develop into well-rounded baseball players.

Your best bet is to help your son use this situation as a learning experience. Explain to him the importance of being a supportive teammate and keeping his head in the game. Bench players never know when they are going to be called upon to perform, and if his attitude is positive and he understands what is expected of him, his chances of success will be that much better. If he is successful, it is more likely that the coach will turn to him again. He also might notice things that are happening on the field that he can communicate to his teammates to help them. In the long run, by being a good teammate he will become an even more respected member of the team among the players and the coaches.

My 6-year-old grandson is not comfortable with athletic activities. His mom is concerned that he will be taunted by his classmates. She would like to get him into some kind of tutoring to learn skills such as throwing and catching balls, and running. She was physically timid as a child, and is eager to help him avoid the teasing she endured. They live in New York. How should she go about finding someone to provide some one-on-one coaching?


DEAR DEBORAH / / There are plenty of programs out there for kids in your grandson's age group that are designed to develop their motor skills and coordination. Sports clinics, general sports camps and tumbling programs are easy to find. However, finding one-on-one programs for a 6-year-old might be difficult. Your best option might be to visit a local community center, YMCA or other organization that offers programs similar to what I mentioned above and see if one of their instructors might be interested in taking on your grandson as a client on a one-on-one basis. Or, you might check with a local physical education teacher to see if he or she might be willing to work with your grandson on weekends and when school is not in session. I'm sure you can find someone who is qualified and wouldn't mind making a few extra dollars on the side.

When I was younger, we didn't start playing organized baseball until we were 9. I am now in charge of a sports program with football, basketball and baseball. I think 7 or 8 is a good age to start with a program based on teaching fundamentals and teamwork, not winning and losing. What age do you think children should start competitive sports?

ED STRONG, Pensacola, Fla.

DEAR ED / / Like so many questions I receive, I don't think that yours has one blanket answer. Kids mature physically and emotionally at different rates, so it is hard to say that all children should be held out of competitive athletics until a certain age.

In addition, the word "competitive" is very subjective. We don't need to push our kids into seriously competitive situations too quickly. Sports naturally become more competitive every year as kids get older. On the other hand, there's no reason that children as young as 4 or 5 can't participate in organized athletic activities that allow them to be active and learn the motor skills and basic rules necessary to play a particular sport. The structure and goals of the program are the keys. If you can find a program that emphasizes fun, fundamentals and participation, there is a good chance your child will enjoy that program and get a lot out of it. It would be a shame for a kid to miss out on that type of opportunity.

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