Monday, June 15, 2015

4 comments Slate Wants to Get Rid of Youth Sports Leagues, Because This Will Totally Get Rid of Obnoxious Sports Parents

Baseball is dying, football will eventually die and now "Slate" wants to get rid of youth sports leagues. It appears that sports, while seemingly to be as popular as they have ever been, are in fact dying. Who knew? A columnist for "Slate" writes that it is time to get rid of youth leagues, specifically Little League, because it serves no purpose other than to allow parents to fill the void in their own soul through their children's sports activities. God knows if youth leagues went away parents would find no other way to fill that empty part of their soul where the crowning sports glories of the past that never happened reside. Get rid of Little League, get rid of obnoxious sports parents. Plus, one city has shown a decrease in sports participation and it may be a sign youth sports participation is declining everywhere. So rather than answer the question of whether this decline in youth league participation is just indicative of one specific area and not a worldwide trend, the author responds to this possibility with "Who cares," which probably sums up his attitude towards youth sports and affects his point of view that all youth sports should be eliminated. Because mostly, we can't have kids becoming stressed. Kids who become stressed become adults who haven't learned how to deal with stress and adults who don't know to handle stress are definitely the type of person the world needs more of. Parents would never find a way to stress their children out if it weren't for youth sports. No way. No how.

Is Little League participation on the wane? And, if so, should we care?

Who cares if Little League participation is on the wane? If you don't care for Little League like the author doesn't care for Little League then that's his point of view. End of column. The author doesn't care if Little League dies or not, while those who do care can continue to participate. Good talk. Let's move on to ano---

Those were two major questions raised by a Wall Street Journal piece from last week documenting the apparent decline of casual sporting leagues in a nation of kids who have either been bewitched by video games or encouraged to specialize in one sport year-round—or both, if the sport in which they specialize is competitive Minecraft.

Here's my issue with casual sporting leagues. It's not that I don't want my kids to participate, but it's a massive time suck. There are only so many hours in a day and one practice during the middle of the week for an hour, combined with games every Saturday morning can kill a family's free time. That's just for one kid. If a family has multiple children, that's multiple games during the weekend and multiple practices during the week. I don't think that's the entire reason why youth leagues have declined, but kids participating in sporting events all year round means all year round the kids will have to be somewhere at 6pm every single Tuesday evening and be free every Saturday from 8am to 11am (depending on the time of the game) nine months of the year. When there are two parents working and other kids in the household who have shit to do during the week, it becomes a time suck. No more do we live in a society where mommy can take the kids to soccer practice at 5:30 a couple times a week. Mommy sometimes doesn't get home until 5:45pm and then mommy wants to do shit that mommy wants to do, like stop doing work or eat a plate of food. I'm sure these were problems in the past as well, but from my personal experience, these leagues are a time suck, especially when practice takes place in the middle of the week. But there are parents who don't mind their child participating in one sport or participating in all sorts of sports throughout the year. They enjoy youth sports and that's good for them. I enjoyed youth sports as a kid, but I also used to ride my bike to tennis and baseball practice, and now parents are generally required to stand there while practice is going on. My parents didn't have to attend practice for two of the four sports I played because I went alone.

{I was thinking about this the other day. I rode my bike to school everyday...elementary school. I met my friends outside their house and we rode our bike three miles to school. I would go to school, come home, do my homework and then leave again. I would never let my kid do that. Same goes for tennis and baseball practice. My mom was not there for either practice. She just knew where I was (without a cell phone!) and trusted I would be home at some point or later tell her where I was going. Now if my son wants to play soccer, practice is on a field that is eight miles away from my house. It's just how it is I guess, but I think this has something to do with youth leagues being on the decline. Parents have less free time and don't feel right sending their kid out the door by themselves. If I sent my son out the door to go to the park by himself he would look at me like I was drunk. He's going to be nine years old in July. He can ride his bike 2.5 miles to the park, but the idea I would let him do that would blow his mind. I recognize this is anecdotal evidence, but I do believe time constraints are part of the reason for decline in youth sports league participation...assuming it is declining.}

Whether you find the WSJ report convincing and conclusive—and there are good reasons to be skeptical of it—it should raise in your mind an overwhelmingly important point: Little League and other youth sports leagues are terrible, and we should not be sad to see them go.

Nope. Not really. Perhaps the author doesn't care for youth sports, but they teach teamwork and are fun to play. I would play youth league sports if it weren't for the fact I'm not a youth. Some of the best memories of my childhood was playing youth sports. They can be terrible at times, but they can also be great. Much like everything else in the world.

the Journal reported that while 8.8 million children between the ages of 7 and 17 played baseball in 2000, only 5.3 million children in that age group did the same in 2013. It’s worth noting, though, that the study seems to document declining youth participation in almost all sports, not just baseball.

But of course the author only focuses on Little League, because baseball is dying and all of that. May as well just stick to the story.

By the way, the fact participation has declined around all sports (I believe) reflects the demographic changes more than it reflects declining interest in organized youth sports. Sports are very popular and more and more families just don't have the time for their kids to take part in multiple sports over a calendar year.

The only sport highlighted by the Journal with increased participation from 2000 to 2013 is tackle football,

And more and more kids are playing only one sport and it makes sense the kid's choice would be the most current most popular sport.

proving once again that Americans do not read the newspaper.

Or proving once again that kids like football and parents haven't gotten to the point they where they believe football can't be made reasonably safe at the youth league level.

The Journal also reported on the declining fortunes of a youth baseball league in Newburgh, New York, a city “on the front lines of the fight for baseball’s future.” Whereas 206 children played Little League in Newburgh in 2009, only 74 signed up to play this year

A sample size of one city. What could go wrong with extrapolating a larger trend out of this one city's fortunes?

Extrapolated to the wider world, this purported Little League participation crisis is bad news for Major League Baseball, given that the boy who plays baseball grows up to be the man who spends $149 on a Mark Trumbo jersey.

Baseball is dying at a much younger age now! Also, you can get a Mark Trumbo jersey for cheaper than $149. If a man spends that much on a jersey there is a chance he is getting ripped off.

Is the Newburgh Little League crisis truly indicative of broader Little League trends? Or is the Journal’s piece just a small-sample-size look at the amateur sporting fortunes of an impoverished city in a cold-weather region? 

Great question. Let's see i---

And does it matter?

Since this is the second time you have posed this question and this entire column is based around the premise that this one small sample size is indicative of a larger trend, then yes, I would say that it does matter. I do like how the author throws out potentially misleading information and then rather investigate whether the information is misleading or not he just throws his hands up and says, "Fuck it, let's pretend it's accurate." The author makes contentions and then tries to end the discussion with "And does it matter?" before these contentions can be proven correct or incorrect. 

Along with Mom and apple pie, Little League baseball symbolizes wholesome Americana. But just as apple pie is fattening and Mom won’t stop nagging you to come visit, neither is Little League an unalloyed good.

In your opinion, not on the whole. 

Little League was founded in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in the 1930s by a man named Carl Stotz who grew to hate what his creation became. “Originally, I had envisioned baseball for youngsters strictly on the local level without national playoffs and World Series and all that stuff,” Stotz later said, according to Mark Hyman in his book on youth sports, Until It Hurts. Then, in the 1950s, businessmen essentially staged a hostile takeover, forced Stotz out of the league, and proceeded to turn it into the worldwide entity that it is today, with its international World Series and its ESPN affiliation.

So for the last 60 years Little League has been a corporate creation that takes the soul out of sports? Interesting that youth league participating is only now declining. Besides, someone is going to find a way to make a buck off almost anything sports related. It's nearly impossible to avoid.

I became utterly disgusted,” said Stotz. He died a bitter man.

I'm sorry this happened, but it doesn't mean that Little League doesn't serve some good.

Stotz found the bigness of Little League to be awful in part because it seemed like an exploitative ploy that used kids’ athletic ambitions to fill adult-sized voids. 

And if Little League didn't exist then these adults would have no other way to fill those voids. Is that what I am to believe? Outside of outlawing sports on the whole, there is really no way for society to prevent adults living their athletic ambitions through their children. And why is Little League getting picked on here, like there aren't other sports where adults live out their athletic fantasies? Spending time trying to prevent parents from living out their athletic fantasies through their children is a fool's errand. 

For children, Carriere argues, Little League served to reinforce social order; it was “a highly supervised activity that engendered in children a healthy respect for law and order, taught proper gender roles, and, most importantly, brought families together.”

It still can be this. For every parent who lives out their sports fantasy through their child, there are three parents who just enjoy watching their child play a sport. Okay, that's an estimate, but any person attends a youth league game in any sport knows the majority of parents attending are either (a) disinterested or (b) just hoping their child has fun. 

The league helped compensate for the denatured character of postwar corporate labor while simultaneously preparing boys to enter the workforce and “accept such dispositions as specialization, rationalization, and bureaucratization.” By formalizing unstructured youth sporting play, modeling it on professional leagues, putting adults in charge, and keeping score and maintaining league standings, Little League “began to be seen as simply one stop on the trajectory of young people’s professional lives.”

It's also a way to teach children to compete and get used to losing every once in a while. It still serves a purpose, even if there seems to be less and less participation. 

So why should this bother us? Because youth sports leagues are stressful and regimented at their worst, and even at their best, they promote the idea that organized, performative play is the most valid and important kind of play.

What? This is ridiculous. Kids can play in a spontaneous or organized fashion. It's not one or the other. Youth leagues promote the idea that an organized competition with rules, people enforcing those rules and families showing up to support the kids is a fun activity. It's not some regimented task. Anyone who thinks a youth sports league is a regimented task children are forced to perform hasn't been to any 5 or 6 year old youth league games. 

The mere fact that adults take such a keen interest in the sporting activities of children invests those activities with an importance that just screwing around in a vacant lot will never have.

Much like school. Adults showing interest in children doing their homework, getting good grades and being a high achiever says that learning is important and just randomly learning knowledge is not something that is valued. 

That’s a horrible attitude to promote. 

Exactly. Adults showing an interest in their child succeeding in school tells the kid that organized learning is the only learning that will be accepted and not encouraging learning outside of school is a horrible attitude to promote. 

I played organized youth baseball until I was 14 or so, and the fun moments I remember are vastly outnumbered by the terrible and stressful ones: botching a critical play and feeling horrible about it for a week, failing to make all-star teams because the coaches nominated their own kids, the tension and agita of pretending these games have actual stakes, and the sense that if you don’t perform at your best, you’re letting everybody down.

So basically, the author had a bad experience in Little League. The author thinks this means that every child had the same experience in Little League that the author had. While criticizing organized sports for imposing one worldview on children, the author is imposing his own worldview on organized sports. The author believes his experiences in organized sports are the experiences of every child in organized sports. Because he has these feelings, every child must have these feelings. Bill Simmons is that you? 

In contrast, the most fun I had in childhood was with ad hoc games with other kids from my neighborhood: basketball on my driveway until dark, baseball with maybe four other kids in a vacant lot.

Spontaneous play is better than organized play

Again, the irony of the author criticizing organized sports for imposing one view on how sports are supposed to be played, while imposing his own view on how sports are supposed to be played in wanting youth leagues to be eliminated is delicious.

"I had a bad experience in Little League. Little League tells children that organized sports are the only way that sports can be played. Little League, and youth leagues like it, should be left to die because there is only one way to play sports...spontaneously."

The two can coexist, of course.

Apparently not. This entire column is about how organized sports can not co-exist with spontaneous sports, because organized sports are part of an attempt to suck the fun out of sports to fulfill their parents' fantasies of athletic achievement. So apparently the author does not think organized sports can co-exist with spontaneous sports.

But spontaneous play allows children to be in charge of their worlds for a while, to set and explore their own rules and boundaries, to exercise their imaginations in addition to their bodies.

Children can do both. They can play sports with their friends sometimes and then play organized sports against other children at other times. The author says it doesn't have to be one or the other, but he doesn't mean it, because the premise of this column is that children can't play spontaneous sports due to the lessons organized sports teaches. 

So who cares whether youth baseball really is waning in Newburgh?

Obviously you do because this entire column is based around the idea youth baseball is declining in popularity, especially in Newburgh. You then use the waning of baseball in Newburgh as a reason why it would be fine if Little League just was eliminated all together. So it seems you deeply care if youth baseball is really waning in Newburgh, because it proves the point you want to prove. 

As long as they can play pickup games, the town’s children will be fine.

And they can play pickup games while playing organized sports. It's awful hard to find 18 kids that all can play baseball at the same time, so just playing pickup baseball is hard. The same goes for a pickup game of football. Organized sports have their place in society. If the reason for getting rid of organized sports is because there are parents who take it too seriously, well, these parents will just find something else to take too seriously. You can't get rid of Little League because a minority of parents live out their fantasies through their children. 


JBsptfn said...

With youth tackle football participation waning, that may be due to the concussion issue. Personally, I think that there shouldn't be any tackle leagues until 9th grade, but that's just me. They should be playing flag football up until then (although school districts could have eighth-graders participate in football orientation for a few weeks in the fall).

Slag-King said...

It is like you say, Ben. Parents are changing what kids do. I remember growing up the neighborhood parks were full of kids playing sandlot baseball. I do not see this anymore (I'm 38 now). I used to join the sandlot games when I was a kid. The park was about 16 or so blocks from my house, and I'd ride my bike there. My mom didn't worry about me. Today, the nearest park is Hornet's Nest Park, and it is about 1/2 mile from our house; however, I would not send my kids alone because of traffic, feeling of unsafety, and the fact that Hornet's Nezt is a more of a natural Park than a neighborhood park with large grassy fields with some trees and playground and some eating benches. It does not feel safe.

Another factor I see that are different from our youth are video games. Our kids are probably not as bad as some of their peers, but still way more than me when I was growing up. Our kids have, wii, computer, and some tablets that they play on. Most of the time they play outside in the backyard...thankfully an acre sized backyard for them to explore and run around. Most of the kids their peers are inside playing video games...some have all the consoles xbox, 360, xbone, ps2, ps3, ps4, GameCube, wii, wii universe, ds, etc. and they also spend time looking at game guides online. I know one kid who is my oldest's age would talk about nothing except for Call of Duty games. I'd ask him about baseball, and he'd say huh, what's that?

Another factor for us for our kids not playing organized sports and it is the main reason for us is that it is expensive! We have 6 kids and there is no way I'm spending my money on sports for each child. Little league baseball can run at a minimum of $500 per child per year, minimum (league fee, equipment fee, travel fee, food fee, game fees). It adds up quickly. Basketball fees are not cheap either. Football leagues are twice as expensive as baseball.

It is interesting that the author focuses solely on little league as if they were the only baseball league for the youth. In Charlotte, there's little league, pony league, usab league, legion league, and in some place in south charlotte there is cal Ripken league. All of these leagues have large number of participants.

Bengoodfella said...

JB, I played tackle football when I was younger and it was probably not smart since I was the smallest kid out there usually. So yes, flag football is very, very much less fun, but probably a good idea. Fortunately, I don't see this issue in my future with my kids.

Slag, I used to play in the neighborhood with my friends as well. I rode my bike to baseball practice, which involved crossing a big scary road (or was at the time). It's different now. I think video games have something to do with it. There are very few kids out in the neighborhood I live in. So there is almost no chance of baseball game breaking out. My son plays basketball at the afterschool center he goes to. That's all he does it play sports there with other kids. But that's not usual because there are bored kids (i.e. no video games) who are all in the same spot, which doesn't happen much. So unorganized sports are hard to come by. Pick up games don't just happen as much.

And yes, organized sports are a money and time drain. My son played basketball and soccer and practice was on Friday night and games were Saturday morning. That's not easy to attend on a Friday and Saturday morning. That's time spent doing other things when the parents are off work and he didn't enjoy it enough, so he stop playing organized sports. There is the cost issue and all of that too. I think organized sports are not dying or anything like that, but there are different issues that cause kids not to participate as much. I don't see the point of getting rid of them.

JBsptfn said...

SlagKing, if you think that those sports are expensive, try hockey. It is worse because you have to buy the equipment and pay for ice time. And, I think that the K thru 12 players have to pay a fee every year to USA Hockey for insurance or something.