Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Performance anxiety

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Holly Hunter-Morley demonstrates in the San Jose Mercury News why so many youth league officials have carpal-tunnel syndrome from repeatedly throwing their hands.

Ms. Hunter-Morley is peeved her sons had to go through an evaluation before being assigned to a team in the Los Gatos (Calif.) Little League:

I understand that at a certain age, say 11 or 12, it makes sense to “balance teams” so they can compete at a more even level. At that age, children have developed an appreciation for certain sports and have decided to hone their skills to compete more seriously.

But, at 7, 8 or 9 years old? Putting any pressure on children to perform at this age is just nuts. Do kids really need that stress, especially when it comes to a recreational sport?

I e-mailed the Little League board president to express my concern about the younger players being required to go through this process, and asked how the evaluations would benefit the children.

His response included several potential benefits to the league and only one point that might directly benefit the children — the younger players would have exposure to evaluations so they can “understand the process for later years.”

I’m no old school sports parent — for one thing, I think 6 years old is a little young to accuse your son of being a pussy. But jeepers, is an evaluation really worth an e-conniption?

Believe it or not, there is supposed to be no “pressure to perform” during an evaluation. It’s helpful to the coaches and the league to know the players’ abilities before you coach them, so you can have some idea at the first practice where to start. And for every Ms. Hunter-Morley who is miffed about their little darlings having to run a few drills so one team isn’t stacked like the Gas House Gorillas, there is another parent who would be ticked if the teams weren’t evenly matched, as well as another who would suspect some coach gamed the system to get all the best players on his team.

player_comparison

Computer-generated image of Los Gatos Little League matchup if evaluations not performed.

Parents are usually blamed for putting athletic stress on their children when they pressure them to perform, but I wonder if Ms. Hunter-Morley and some parents put it out their kids when they freak out over a hint of competition:

At the conclusion of my son’s evaluation, my husband asked our future hall-of-famer how he felt about the experience. “I hated it,” he said with a quiet voice. “I was embarrassed because everyone was watching me and I stunk at hitting.” This comes from a boy who has loved every second of baseball up until this year.

And what about the 7- or 8-year-old child who has never played the sport before and just wants to try it? The whole idea of an evaluation would likely be intimidating enough for some kids to not show up at all. And for the newcomers attending evaluations, their first impression is that youth baseball isn’t about having fun — it’s about being “good” and winning. Is that what we want our Little League to be?

Well, of course not. But I would advise any parent whose child has to go through a preseason evaluation not to get all goofy over it. Generally, it’s done with the best of intentions. And the lesson for you and your children is to look at the evaluation as a starting point for learning and improving. The evaluation is a benefit for the 7- or 8-year-old child who has never played the sports before and just wants to try it. Let’s put it this way — if your child didn’t have fun at the evaluation, your child might not have fun playing baseball at all. What you learn about your child’s lack of enthusiasm during the evaluation might save you time sitting under a blanket on a lawn chair while your child putters about joylessly.

As for league officials, the lesson, as always, is to be fair, and to expect never to go a full season without parental grief of some kind.

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