Where to Place the Emphasis When Teaching Kids to Play Sports

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The other day, I was at my grandson’s baseball game. I thought about how much where we place the emphasis matters when teaching youngsters how to play baseball or to do anything, really. For example, should we place the emphasis on the player who gets tagged out running to first base or on the player who tags the runner out?

In our league, the progression goes from t-ball to coach-pitch, to “kid-pitch” baseball. Coach-pitch is the youngest level that occasionally looks like real baseball. There’s still a wide disparity in the kids’ sizes and skill levels, so, pardon the pun, it’s hit or miss.

Sadly, the pre-woke era wokeness of the don’t-keep-score (at the t-ball and coach-pitch level) mentality still prevails. Why? Ostensibly, so losing won’t hurt players’ feelings. Well, we kept score playing sports when I was a kid, and you only got a trophy—if you actually won (which is why I never had a room full of trophies). Yes, losing sucks, but that way, kids learned to deal with and then get over hurt feelings. Winning means much less without knowing how it feels to lose.

There were only four teams in coach-pitch this year, so the league decided to extend the season by adding three playoff games: two semifinal games whose winners would play in a “championship” game. Are you getting ahead of me? How do you know who won?

Yeah, no one seemed to realize, in order to move on from the semi-finals, you have to know which team won the game, right? Thus, you must keep score. Some of the more “woke” parents seemed perplexed, but I guess they finally decided to tolerate the inevitable. They sent the don’t-keep-score rule to the showers and kept score for the playoff games and championship game (the kids usually kept score during regular games, anyway, but don’t tell anyone).

I started to think about aspects, other than scorekeeping, of emphases we forget about when we try to “protect” kids from hurt feelings beyond enforcing good sportsmanship, which is essential. One of those aspects was the parents’ emphasis on the kids getting a hit, running to base, and being called, “safe.” At a recent game, some parents got upset that a player who rarely hits the ball was called out at first base on a close call.

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Everyone felt bad for the batter/baserunner, even parents on the opposing team. Well, reverse the situation. What if the runner had been called “safe?” Does anyone care about the kid at first base who missed the tag? What about his or her feelings? They’re just kids, too, trying to do their best. Think those kids feel bad when they don’t get the out, and the runner is called, “safe,” and the parents cheer? Which situation has more value? The child running to base or the child making the out?

The answer should be obvious. Neither child has more or less value than the other. However, the game situation does have differing values. The game situation that has more technical “value” is the successful play for one team or the other. Plays that are not made, not successful, are not valuable toward a team winning the game. Either the runner who gets a hit or the fielder who makes the out adds concrete value to his or her team’s efforts to win the game.

While everyone competing has actual value, any sincere effort means something, their contributions must also be judged by accomplishments. Failure is necessary and can teach us lessons that drive us toward overall success. But success in itself means you have accomplished something positive. In life, success can mean you thrive rather than languish, eat rather than go hungry, and even live rather than die.

When teaching kids sports, or any endeavor that will help them in life, what we emphasize, the focus, is crucial. We need to balance the more elusive benefits of failure while still passing along the significance of success. So, to reiterate, emphasis matters.

meet the author

Steve Pomper is a retired Seattle police officer. He's served as a field training officer and on the East Precinct Community Police Team. He's the author of four books, including "De-Policing America: A Street Cop's View of the Anti-Police State." He's also a contributor to the National Police Association.

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