For the love of the game

As a young kid, I loved sports. Summertime was great with no school, along with a lot of wiffle ball and baseball! It doesn’t get much better than that. Or so I thought. My friends and I spent countless hours in our backyard. About the only downside was hitting the wiffle ball into my mom’s flower garden. She didn’t appreciate our frequent forays into her garden to retrieve the ball. Fortunately, dad had our backs. While cautioning us to try and be careful, he told her we would grow up some day and the games in the yard would cease. Translation – don’t get too upset. Let the boys enjoy themselves for now. Playing catch with a baseball, we also broke more than a few of our basement windows with errant throws. A friend and I were playing soccer one cold New Year’s Day in the backyard when one of us kicked the ball through the basement window, which landed near my dad in the basement after shattering the glass. To this day I don’t know how he maintained his self- control, especially since my friend and I were teenagers by this time and should have known better. But dad said nary a word. He got up, went outside, and boarded up the window until he could get it replaced. Organized sports were fun, too, but in those days many of us played on our own. In the book “The Matheny Manifesto,” Royals manager Mike Matheny wrote, “Somehow, the more organized sports became, the more they became about the parents and not about the kids.” Matheny saw a shocking shift in the values and actions of parents and coaches. He said, “If I was right, youth sports was long overdue for an overhaul of business as usual. “Imagine yourself in the most stressful situation possible, with all your family and friends watching. Imagine being asked to do something so difficult that most people fail three times more often than they succeed. Now imagine that the people you love most in the world are screaming at the top of their lungs while you’re trying to do this? “Sound tough? “Welcome to the world of youth sports,” said Matheny. Matheny asked everyone in the game, from current players to Hall of Famers, “How did your parents act at your games?” The response was nearly unanimous – they never heard a word from them. Many parents feel the need to show their kid how crazy they are about him or her by how crazy they are in the stands. But the truth is, it’s completely the opposite. Matheny said, “The parents, naturally, are trying so hard to help him succeed and think they are boosting his confidence by saying, ‘You can do this!’” But many kids blame themselves for failing and wind up saying, “Forget it.” Matheny said, “He has the rest of his life to learn about real pressure and disappointment. Let him have fun. You’ll be amazed by how much more enjoyable the game will be for you when you take the pressure off yourself to be the world’s best cheerleader – and be just a spectator and fan of your child doing something that he loves. “You’ll be glad you did. Your child will, too,” said Matheny. Times have changed in the past 50-plus years. There probably aren’t as many unsupervised neighborhood games as when I was growing up. Recreation programs have become the norm, and there’s a lot to like with well-run rec programs. Nowadays, there are summer basketball, football, and baseball camps, to name a few, and more opportunities than ever for kids who like sports. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, or maybe I have a bad memory, but I’m glad I grew up as a kid in the 1960s. We had a lot of fun!

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