Remember why we play? For fun

Earlier this week, I was at the final baseball tournament for my brother. It’s been a great summer but I saw firsthand the evidence for the mounting injuries and poor sportsmanship that are taking place in youth sports.

To provide some brief context, my brother’s team entered this final game of pool play 2-0 and had advanced to the semifinals the next day. Meanwhile, our opponent was 0-2 and had been eliminated from the tournament as a result of the victory of my brother’s team. Anyway in our 15-16 U age bracket the matchups were pretty much set and due to a rainstorm that had cancelled this game, it was taking place at 9:40 PM.

According to a presentation by George A. Paletta where he discusses the rise of elbow injuries in young pitchers, he mentions the following: “A young athlete should never throw through pain or continue to pitch when he or she is obviously fatigued,” says Dr. Paletta. “Additionally, parents should familiarize themselves with the recommended single game, weekly and season total pitch counts, suggested recovery times, and recommended ages for learning various pitches.”

Now you may ask why am I bringing this up? In a meaningless game for the opposition, the pitcher of the opposing team threw 138 pitches in a complete game 13-2 loss. He gave up 14 hits, 13 runs (3 of which were earned) and faced 42 batters. Again this poor kid threw 138 pitches in a 7 inning game that was completely meaningless for his team!

The game was a 4-2 game in our favor entering the top of the sixth; this poor kid threw half of his pitches in the final two innings. In the seventh inning it just became sad as his team kicked the ball around the infield. On three consecutive plays with two outs, simple errors extended the kid’s night. It got so bad that our kids were trying to get into rundowns and find a way out of the inning.

Yet the coach never came out for a mound visit or took him out.

And then the worst thing happened, the coach had the audacity to yell and swear at the kid as he came off the field. He swore at a kid for something that wasn’t his fault, when the coach should have taken the kid out after seeing the slump shoulders and fatigue at 11:30 at night.

Now isn’t it the responsibility of the coach to protect kids so that they don’t have arm problems in the future and can enjoy their post athletic lives? Isn’t it the responsibility of the coach to practice good sportsmanship and be a positive role model for their players?

I’ve been around youth sports for a long time. As a referee, I have seen it all. I once booed in a recreational floor hockey league for 5th to 8th graders because I didn’t start the second half right away. The reason? One of the coaches and I were having a lovely chat because he threatened to take out a sixth grader because one of his kids’ was playing with an illegal stick that was discovered at halftime. Never was a word uttered until I had to take away the stick of his player.

I have seen parents swear at kids of the opposing teams and say that they are “better than you, we’re the upstanding citizens, even though we’re the ones acting like morons” and “you got lucky”.

There are plenty of examples of poor sportsmanship that exist and the abuse and mismanagement of young kids will continue. Growing up there was never the proliferation of travel teams that exists now. The win at all costs mentality wasn’t there. We just played for fun.

That is the thrill of any activity. To be with your friends and just have fun doing something you enjoy. For me, whether I am at karate, refereeing hockey or performing a standup show, I make sure I am having fun. Fun is what makes it enjoyable and a place where you can relax and be yourself. It’s when I stop having fun that I know I have to stop. It’s why I am officially retiring from the refereeing game as I’m tired of the lack of fun of refereeing what should be an awesome game in a recreational hockey game.

It’s the same for any person who plays an instrument, practices an art or plays a sport. When you aren’t having fun anymore, they quit. At some point the win at all costs mentality saps the fun out of the game. I have seen too many people who are talented at what they do stop doing it because they aren’t having fun.

It could be because a coach doesn’t look out for them and rides them constantly. Or it could be that they are tired of all the poor sports and jerks. There are plenty of reasons but remember that we all start an activity because we love it.

So remember this whether you are a parent, coach, athlete, artist of any kind, musician or whatever you enjoy doing.

Just have fun.

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