When children lose interest, probe their motivation but don't push


November 26, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My son is 11 and has played baseball since he was 5. He has become a very good pitcher, but not a good hitter. Recently he told me that he doesn't want to play anymore. I told him that we can work on his batting, but he insists that he doesn't like playing anymore. Is it wrong to make him play?

Diana Seabolt, Pasadena

DEAR DIANA -- I think it is wrong to force your son to play. You have to keep your son's best interest in mind, and sometimes as a parent you have to push kids through things to make them understand that it's OK. I would ask more questions about why he doesn't want to play. Start by saying, "Look, you don't have to play if you don't want to. It's your life and your decision. At age 11, you're old enough to determine what you like and don't like. But what are some of the things that bother you, that you enjoy and that you don't enjoy?"

Maybe through questioning you'll discover the underlying problem. It might be a coach or a teammate causing these feelings. Maybe it won't happen for a few days, but by opening a dialogue that's not intimidating, you might be able to uncover the underlying root of his feelings.

Then, occasionally take your son out back and play catch to keep him in touch with what he likes about baseball. But I would not push it. It's just not worth it to force a child to do something that he doesn't want to do.

DEAR CAL -- I was curious what you thought about George Mason's run to the [men's basketball] Final Four last season. More important, what message does it send to kids of all levels about the mental and emotional aspects of sports? Nobody gave that team a chance, but the players obviously believed in themselves and each other.

Tom Comi, Sterling, Va.

DEAR TOM -- George Mason's run captured the attention of people all over the country, myself included. We always want to pull for the underdog. It's similar to the situation in baseball with small-market teams vs. big-market teams. I think George Mason's success was a matter of teamwork, competency and expertise.

Certainly it overachieved in the sense that maybe its overall talent was less than that of its competition, but George Mason proved that if you play as a team, it gives you an edge and allows you to peak at the highest level.

Teamwork is important. Many times more attention is paid to individual accomplishments. In this case, you can look at George Mason and say this is what a good TEAM can accomplish. It's a good message for kids and a good message for coaches. In the youngest age groups, while it is important to teach skill development, it is just as important - if not more important - to teach team play and the importance of being a part of a team. Those are the skills you are going to apply again and again as you go through life.

DEAR CAL -- I am a 51-year-old varsity squash coach at an all-girls private school. This is my sixth year coaching, and I'm having a blast doing it. The girls are having fun and have improved because of footwork, cardio, technique and staying focused throughout the match. When is it time to hang it up and let some new blood in with fresh ideas and enthusiasm? Don't get me wrong, I love what I'm doing. But in fairness to the girls, when is it time to throw the towel in?

Joe Lacy, Timonium

DEAR JOE -- I think that if you love what you are doing and the kids are benefiting, you should stick it out. If it's fresh ideas and enthusiasm that you're worried about, then talk to younger coaches and grab new ideas. If you're worried that your ideas are getting stale, find ways to get fresh ideas.

As long as you are having fun and are developing and teaching the girls, stick with it. Age is only a number. If you can hang out with younger coaches and pick up ideas from them, it could be a good association, because certainly the wisdom and experience you have can benefit them. In return, hopefully some of their enthusiasm will rub off. So I say hang in there as long as you can.

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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