Every spring, during Little League season, the parks and ballfields of Westchester County are crowded with kids in bright baseball uniforms, parents cheering them on from the bleachers. Everyone knows the prime objective for young children playing sports is to have fun, but sometimes there are disappointments and frustrations. How can you and your kids get through Little League season with the right attitude so that they learn the game and enjoy themselves? WESTCHESTER PARENT asked two seasoned Little League pros for their advice on dealing with some sticky situations. Roy Sartorius was president of Mount Kisco Little League from 2002-2005. Tom Brennan has been president of Cortlandt National Little League for the past seven years.
What do you do if your child doesn’t want to go to practice?
Sartorius advises parents to remind their kids that they’ve made a commitment to the team, and that practices are as important as the games. “But never force a kid to play if he doesn’t like it,” Sartorius cautions, “If the kid isn’t having fun, parents should try to find out what’s wrong.” Brennan advises parents to have their child call the coach and explain why he/she doesn’t want to come. “I’d rather hear from the kid than the parent,” says Brennan, “And usually a good coach will try to put the kid at ease and give him words of encouragement.”
What if your child is unhappy with the position he’s assigned? Sartorius encourages kids to try everything. “I tell them, this is where you learn to enjoy baseball. But if a kid is afraid of a position, the parents should tell the coach. Maybe the coach can work with the child more in the position before putting him into a game.” Most coaches rotate kids through all the positions when they’re young, explains Sartorius, but when games become more competitive, position assignments are usually based on ability. Brennan adds, “If a kid really wants to be the pitcher, but doesn’t get a chance to pitch in the game, he should go out and practice on his own, and parents should spend time working with him if they can. Kids really have to want it and put the time in working at it.”
What do you do if your child is in tears about striking out?
“I always tell the kids that if you make three hits out of every 10 times at bat, you’re doing as well as the pros do, so don’t feel bad about striking out…it’s part of the game,” says Sartorius. Parents should keep encouraging kids and always give them positive re-enforcement. Brennan concurs and adds, “The first day of practice, I tell my teams that every kid is going to strike out or make an error because that’s how baseball is. When a kid strikes out, team members need to be positive and back him up because that’s the reaction they are going to want when they strike out.” When a kid is really upset, Brennan advises parents to emphasize the positive aspects of his playing. And maybe taking him to the batting cage to practice will make both parent and child feel like they’re doing something to improve the situation.
How do you handle a child who’s upset that he wasn’t picked for the best team?
Brennan admits that this is one of the biggest discussions they have in his league and one of the hardest parts of his job because games get more competitive as the kids get older. “If a kid isn’t picked for the majors, I tell the parents that he is probably playing with kids who are at the same ability level as he is,” Brennan says. “Ninety-five percent of kids who play in the minors would not enjoy being in the majors because the competition level is above them. They’ll have much more fun in the minors.” Sartorius remembers only two incidents where kids had problems with their teams, and mostly it was because their parents weren’t happy with the team and the coach. He asks parents to remember that, “the people on the field are volunteers, giving their time for your child and doing the best they can. It’s a big commitment — from April to June, three to five or six days a week, from 4 to 7 in the evening.” Most importantly, he reminds the players that, “It’s not about winning and losing…it’s all about fun.”
And what about those screaming parents next to you in the stands?
“I tell parents to let the players play, the coaches coach and the umps ump. It’s your job to cheer for the team,” says Sartorius. If some parents are yelling at the kids or coach, he encourages other parents to talk to them and remind them that it’s only a game. And he observes, “It seems to be getting worse. It seems to be a sign of the times that people think it’s OK just to react without thinking.” Brennan sometimes asks screaming parents to move further away from the field, explaining to them that they are distracting the team and that kids are not focusing on the game, but on them. Brennan emphasizes, “If parents put too much pressure on their kids, they won’t do as well in baseball. In baseball you have to be relaxed, confident and comfortable to play well.” Sartorius agrees. “The more relaxed kids are, the better they’ll hit. That’s why it’s so important to give your kids positive re-enforcement. Parents should just cheer — cheer everyone just for being out there.”