“Woo hoo! You can do it!” A clapping parent yells out their encouragement to the awkward seven-year-old standing at home plate. His stance looks uncomfortable, his arms crooked and bent, tongue sticking out displaying his complete concentration. The bat is ready, he swings and hits the ball. “Go! Go! Go!” come the cheers from a group of enthusiastic parents.
Surviving Little League
So why do we play baseball anyway? Because it’s America’s favorite past time? Partly. But more importantly, we include this sport in our children’s lives in order to teach teamwork, sportsmanship and to encourage fair play. But most of all, so they can have some fun. After all, it’s a game, right?
Children need encouragement in everything they do, sports are certainly no exception. It can be very damaging to chastise a child for not hitting a pitch or for being tagged out. Whether your child is at bat, in the outfield or playing catcher, an occasional “You can do it!” can make a world of difference… especially to a child who feels like the whole world is watching!
Being tagged “out” can be rough on a child. Do your best to make them feel better. A clapping, smiling parent can often be all it takes to bring the smiles back.
The batter hits the ball and it sails out toward third base. The first baseman, shortstop and all the infielders run after it! Two players fight over who gets it and the batter is safe on second. This is commonplace when players don’t understand why they have a position to play. Tell your kids how the game works: draw it out on paper, walk the bases on the field before the game starts, use rocks and sticks on the grass the map out the field if you need to. But teach them why they have a position in the game so they understand why the first baseman is not supposed to run to third to get the ball. Helping your child this way will turn frustration into fun.
This is one of the most important aspects of playing the game. Children can easily become angry at one another for a number of reasons. Teaching kids to be a good sport can be very challenging. Put the emphasis on fun and remind your kids that everyone is still learning and that anger won’t solve the problem. Encourage your children to cheer for his/her teammates and to congratulate the other team on a good game.
Baseball is a game. Games are meant to be fun. It can be very easy to get caught up in the competition, just be very careful not to say anything damaging that the kids may hear. It is a child’s nature to enjoy games and activities. It is from the influential people in their lives that they learn whether to enjoy the game or not. There is plenty of time for competition when your child gets older. For now, baseball should be something your child say “Yeah!” to.
Tips For Those Who Are Interested In Coaching
- Accept the fact early on that every parent on the team will have some complaint/criticism of your techniques, rules, decisions. It’s the just the nature of the beast. I find it helpful to open up the discussion to let them voice their opinions, (pretend to) consider it all, then say that you’ve tried to incorporate all their ideas in a compromise because there was a something helpful in every suggestion. I find that that instantly lowers their hackles!
- Try to keep your coaching and instruction to practices. Focus on encouragement and minimal guidance at the games. If someone’s constantly yelling from the dugout at every play, they turn it off and it detracts from their enjoyment.
- Don’t get anxious/discouraged about their abilities. You’ll find that with each game, each practice, you’ll see major improvements.
- As far as snacks, assign a game to the roster and let the parent have the option of either providing a $1 to each kid in snack shack tickets or to provide the snack. That way you consider those who are busy as well as those who are more health conscious.
- Focus on the very basic fundamentals at first. Don’t assume that they know why the ball has to beat the runner!
- Obviously, don’t criticize, guide. Frame instruction positively, i.e., “When the ball comes near you, picture it landing in your glove, know you can get it. If you try and it passes by you, your teammates will be ready to get it. You’re part of a team and that’s what a team does.”
- Anything to build team spirit is great — devise a team cheer for the parents, another for the kids to cheer from the dugout; team scrunchies/sweatbands, specially decorated hats (we did their visors with names and logo with puffy paint).
- At first, try them at different positions, let them tell you their top 3 picks where they feel comfortable, then try to meet their preferences. Don’t be locked into positions for the entire season. A new pitcher might appear halfway through.
- Bring a small chalkboard to keep inside the dugout to show the kids the batting order and the innings (though not the score!). I found the players were always asking who was up next (even though they sat in order on the bench) and how many more innings were in the game. The blackboard seemed to answer their questions and settle the confusion. I don’t keep track of the score because they’re beginners and winning still isn’t important to them.
Having fun is the important part! It will benefit them much more down the road.
Little League Survival Kit For Parents
Below is a list of items I have found to be very helpful when at a game. With a little planning, we as parents can be comfortable in any conditions! Put these items in a duffle or gym bag. Keep the bag in the closet or in the car, specify this bag just for games. These items should be kept in the bag when not at a game so that you are not missing anything when it comes time to leave.
- Baseball cap (of course!)
- Extra hair tie for each girl in the family cheering section
- Lip balm
- Water bottle
- Bag of chips or popcorn
- Light jacket
- Small bag for garbage (plastic grocery bags work great)
- Small toy(s) for younger children
- Small pad & box of crayons
Obviously, some of these items will have to be replenished after each game, but you get the idea. You can make baseball, or any other sport, an enjoyable experience for your child and the whole family.
Amanda Formaro is the mom of four grown children, three of which played many years in Little League. She has authored 5 craft books for kids, developed a line of craft kits, and is well known for creating projects with easy instructions that anyone can follow. She loves to create, finds relaxation through a paintbrush and blogs over at CraftsbyAmanda.com.
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