Casual

BROOKS, DAVID

Casual SMELLS LIKE TEAM SPIRIT I sometimes find myself in dinner party conversations with people who complain about the increasing professionalization of kids' sports. And I find that most of the...

...When you see little groups of 11-year-olds getting pick-off move advice from former major leaguers at skills clinics, you're sort of agog...
...Pitchers lose the strike zone...
...And we're lucky that the dad who runs and sets the tone for the team has a relentlessly upbeat spirit...
...When you pull into one of the hotels for a weekend tournament, you see coaches' vans, sometimes with team decals on the doors...
...Last summer the team played in a tournament in Cooperstown, New York...
...The hotel pool is teeming with kids with baseball tansóbrown on their necks and faces, pale on their foreheads where their caps protect them from the sun...
...Players have to sit on the bench...
...A while back my son played in the Beast of the East tournament in southern Maryland...
...When's the last time you heard a teacher tell a kid to tuck in his shirt...
...If they could, they would wake up and practice baseball, have lunch while reading Baseball Weekly, play baseball in the afternoon, and watch ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" in the evening...
...The moms talk about deeper things and take turns being nervous when their kids are at the plate...
...The educational system teaches kids how to read and do math (maybe), but only coaches are unapologetic about teaching deportment and integrity...
...Facing incredible teams from California and Florida, they went 2-5, nothing to brag about...
...The norm is that kids who play this way are, by some freak of brain chemistry, baseball fanatics...
...Sometimes I think they are the only ones left in society with the self-confidence to give moral instruction and the wherewithal to know what to say...
...The siblings have their own friendships...
...And I find that most of the people who utter these laments have one thing in common: They don't know what they are talking about...
...DAVID BROOKS...
...The standard critique of this level of competition is that the kids are turned into little automatons by parents who are trying to live vicariously through their kids' performance...
...He plays about 80 games a year and practices once a week during the winter...
...Batters are out most of the time...
...We finally asked him what he did for a living...
...It's been a wonderful experience for all involved...
...During parts of the spring and summer we drive up and down the mid-Atlantic states, playing in large tournaments with heavyweight bout-type names...
...But they got to sleep in the Thurman Munson cabin and eat meals with the players from the 63 other teams...
...The general rule seems to be that kids take about 5 to 10 minutes to get over a crushing loss, but the parents and coaches take about an hour...
...The dads talk baseball...
...Baseball is full of failure...
...On the surface, I concede, it looks a little extreme...
...And so it provides plenty of character-building opportunities...
...But most coaches are good-humored, and there's no correlation between the quality of the team and the loutishness of the coach...
...Over the past four years, and despite his paternal genetic inheritance, my older son has played on a travel baseball team...
...Over the past four years we've seen almost none of that...
...Coaches do it all the time...
...And there are roving packs of soccer girls there for their own tournament, putting serious strain on the dinner buffet...
...The families travel together, eat together, and spend long mornings and afternoons together as one jolly community...
...We once saw a coach kick dirt at an umpire (one parent on the same team threw a whiffle ball in the air to distract opposing outfielders when one of their kids hit a fly ball), and a few times we've seen coaches who are jerks shout abusively at their players...
...Last weekend we were up near Reading, Pennsylvania, for the Clash of the Champions, and this weekend we'll be just south of Charlottesville for a tournament organized by the novelist John Grisham, maybe called The Legal Thrilla in Charlottesvilla...
...Without ever discussing it, we parents have settled on the rule that we will never lobby the coach for playing time for our kids...
...Our kid promptly declared it one of the best weeks of his life...
...I'm a litigator," he said...
...A good one, too, but he refuses to take it out on the field...
...When our kids were eight, we noticed that in every disagreement with the other coach or an umpire, our coach always backed down...
...It's as if the entire weekend economy of semi-rural America depends on traveling tribes of prepu-bescent jocks...
...The final thing the kids get out of the team, not to be solemn about it, is character instruction...
...Aside from the joy of the game and the camaraderie of the team, players do get something important out of it, aside from the ability to extract sunflower seeds from the shells without even thinking...
...The adults are not always so pure of heart...
...We have no factional politics on our team...

Vol. 7 • August 2002 • No. 45


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.