“If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.”
– Mia Hamm
Youth baseball teams, specifically those in rec leagues, are comprised of kids that have varying levels of interest in the game. You may have some kids that are truly passionate about baseball. They can name all of the MLB teams; they know MLB players; they know the rules; and they are genuinely excited to play. These are the kids that take no convincing when parents ask them if they want to play in the Spring. They are eager to practice and love to play games.
But you also have kids that fall on the opposite end of the spectrum. They may know a few MLB teams, but can’t rattle off all the teams; they rarely, if ever, watch games on TV; and may only play because their parents tell them they need to play a Spring sport. They are indifferent about practice and won’t be upset if a game is rained out. They mostly enjoy showing up to practices and games so they can hang out with their friends.
As parents, we love seeing our kids passionate about the game, or anything for that matter. And we know that when our kids are passionate about the game, the chances they improve grow significantly because they are eager to learn new skills and can typically handle the failure that comes with the sport. This is, however, assuming they are paired with a coach who shares their passion and can teach the game. We also know that when our kids are engaged in an activity where they show little or no interest, the chances they grow in that activity are slim.
So, the question is whether we should continue signing our kids up for something that seems to be of little interest to them. My response is yes; but we need to try and help them develop an interest, and hopefully a passion for the game. If you’re not willing to help grow their passion, then another sport may be the option. In the following paragraphs, I outline a few steps that parents can take that may help light a fire within their child.
First, find something that your child did well on the field and compliment them for it. Maybe they did well fielding; or they hit the ball hard; or they were able to throw the ball across the diamond. Or maybe it was their leadership skills that impressed you. It may seem small to you, but a compliment goes a long way. A child that knows an action they took impressed their parents will likely want to repeat that action to draw the same response. But, kids are incredibly intelligent. Don’t fake it or over-embellish it. They’ll pick up on your ‘act’ real quick. Make it genuine and keep it simple. Find something they do well and make them know that you are proud of what they’re doing. It may just trigger them to work harder next time to do something else to draw a similar response from you.
Second, show them online videos of great plays, or even bloopers. When I was little, I loved watching ‘This Week in Baseball’. The show no longer exists today, but there’s plenty of baseball content on TV and online. But, kids that have little interest in the game are probably not likely going to enjoy watching an Analyst on TV breaking down a hitter’s swing. They’re more likely going to enjoy watching highlights. They’re likely going to enjoy watching players making diving catches; players falling into dugouts catching a pop-up; or players hitting 500 foot home runs. They’ll definitely love watching bloopers, plays that will make them laugh. I also recommend that you start small. Show them a video or two at a time. Don’t flood them with content. The idea is to get them asking for more. Show them a video or two here and there. And hopefully, you’ll soon find them asking for more.
Third, take them to a game. And it doesn’t have to be a MLB game. Actually, some kids find that Minor League games are more enjoyable. They are more kid-friendly with activities during the game, and you’re likely to have seats that are closer to the game action. Also, look into College games. Outside of the major programs, they don’t offer activities for kids; but they are free (or cost very little) and you can get them up real close to the action. Regardless of which game you attend, limit your time there to start. Go into the trip telling your child that “listen, I have to be home for something later so we can only stay for a few innings.” Baseball can be boring for kids that aren’t interested in the game. If your child knows that you’ll be leaving soon, they’re less likely to ask you to leave. And, if they do show interest while watching, leaving early will likely have them asking to come back at a later time. When at the game, make it an event. Buy them a hot dog, a pretzel and even cotton candy. Laugh with them when something funny happens on the Jumbo-tron. Don’t just make it about baseball. Remember, the key is to keep them interested and away from asking you to leave. And yes, gradually mix in a few facts about the game. Tell them a story of how you used to go to games when you were a kid. Or, tell them an interesting fact about one of the players. Say things like “hey Mikey, watch the catcher run down to back up first when the hitter hits a roundball.” Mix in some facts about the game without pummeling them (or boring them) with information. If you do it right, your child will look at this as a bonding activity and will likely want to do it again.
Lastly, teach them fun baseball games. As a kid, we used to play run-the-bases (pickle), wall ball, pepper or whiffle ball (don’t have more kids, no problem, use ghost runners and pitcher’s poison). We were always doing something. Kids simply don’t play enough today. They’re like zombies. They show up when practice starts; go through the motions of practice; then leave. Rinse and Repeat. Kids think that playing baseball requires them to be part of a team and have a coach. Honestly, when I was a kid, I enjoyed more what we did after practice than what we did during practice. My dad, who was my coach, would stay after with parents and other coaches to talk. Meanwhile, the kids would play run-the-bases; or we’d play wall ball against a billboard that hung by the field. And without even realizing it, we’re working on our throwing, catching, instincts, and other valuable skills we need to be good players. Show them games that can help improve their skills that don’t require they show up to a practice with 11 other kids. And if you get them playing these games, chances are they will improve. And if they improve, you increase the chance that they will begin to develop a passion for the game.
As the cold weather begins to fade, baseball is starting to resurface. It’s my favorite time of year and one I enjoy with my sons. I’ve enjoyed this game for almost four decades and it’s got me hooked. And there is no reason why you can’t teach your kids the same. It may take a little bit of work; but that little bit of work may bring you a lot of enjoyment in the years to come.