Lessons are OK if child, not parent, is driven one

ASK CAL

Youth Sports

December 23, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- A lot of other parents we know are getting expensive pitching and hitting lessons for their kids as early as ages 8 and 9. Is this too early to start kids on this sort of stuff? And realistically, at what age do kids really start to show the sort of talent that might suggest the kid has a future beyond recreational leagues and high school?

Alicia Davis, Nashville, Tenn.

DEAR ALICIA -- It is true that more and more parents are willing to invest in their sons' or daughters' sports futures at a young age. To me, if a child shows a real interest in something and has a thirst to play and get better, it's never too early to have him learn from a qualified teacher. The problem is, however, that much of this is parent-driven. Some parents live vicariously through their childrens' athletic successes and want to do everything possible to help ensure that they are able to continue playing as they get older and the competition becomes more challenging.

If you have a child who is constantly asking you to play catch or to pitch to him or her, then I think pitching or hitting lessons are a nice way to feed that interest in a productive manner. Just be careful to make sure that your child's desire - not yours - is the driving force behind that decision.

As for the other part of your question, some kids show athleticism and instincts that suggest they will be successful at a particular sport at a young age. Some kids who are not as coordinated or as interested in sports will mature physically later in life. You really can't tell how kids are going stack up against high school competition until they get to that level and compete.

DEAR CAL -- I have a simmering issue with another parent on my daughter's basketball team. This other mom isn't the coach or officially even an assistant coach, but she often steps in to help out at practices and games. It's OK when she's just helping with the basketball stuff - positioning, explaining what the girls can and can't do. Where I think she crosses the line is when she disciplines the girls for cheers she doesn't think are appropriate ("You shouldn't say you're going to beat the other team"), or critiques them on the way they dress ("Those are regular shorts, not basketball shorts"). These girls are 10 to 11 and she seems to be nitpicking them too much. I know I'm not the only parent bothered by this. Do I say something to her? Should I throw it to the coach to say something?

Regina Harrison, York, Pa.

DEAR REGINA -- I think if you and the other parents have some issues with a particular parent, the best way to address those concerns is by meeting with the coach to discuss the situation in private. Maybe the coach is in such dire need of help that he or she is willing to put up with some of the behaviors that you describe in exchange for the needed assistance on the floor. You seem to indicate that the parent does a decent job teaching the game, and perhaps the coach really values that input and doesn't feel he or she can look anywhere else for help.

On the other hand, you might find that the coach feels exactly the same way that you do, but feels uncomfortable approaching the parent about the situation. If that is the case, it might turn out that if the coach is aware that he or she has the support of the majority of the parents, it would be easier to address the concerns.

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

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