November 26, 2014

What Happens When the Little League World Series Ends?

August 16, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Recently, ESPN has been airing the Little League World Series.  I normally love watching the LLWS.  You see more true emotion and love for the game in two innings of between the teams from Toms River, NJ and Korea than you might in an entire three game series between the Yankees and Orioles.  The coaches are almost always responsible role models, who know their primary job is to help raise these athletes to be gentlemen.  Winning is secondary.

The Little League World Series is one of the only arenas in sports, where the old cliché, “We’re just happy to be here,” isn’t actually a cliché.

This year, I haven’t been able to convince myself to watch.  Maybe my newly changed marital status on Facebook makes me look at this event from a more mature point of view.  Maybe, at 27, I just can’t identify with 12-year-old ballplayers like I used to.  Maybe as a teacher, I’m just concerned about what the future holds for these kids.

This past June, I finished arguably my most successful season as a middle school baseball coach.  The key to that success was simple: I had a core of players who straight-up loved baseball.  Like Homer Simpson and Krusty Burgers, they just couldn’t get enough.  They’d stay late after practice and demand that I heat it up for their extra batting practice.  They’d ask me to mix in curveballs, changes, and the occasional knuckler.  In the midst of all this, it was easy to forget that they were sixth graders, a year removed from the comfort and shelter of Little League.

As much fun as it was to watch these kids revel and succeed in a game I have spent my life with, there was a nagging doubt that always tugged at the back of my conscience.  Many of these kids played in leagues beyond school.  Leagues that weren’t subject to the same rules, regulations, and limitations in place in a national organization like Little League.  Before I pitched one of my players, I normally asked if they had thrown this weekend?  A couple days ago?  Yesterday?  They would respond,

Yep, but let me pitch today.  I feel fine.

In today’s culture, kids specialize in sports much too early.  They don’t have a chance to give themselves a chance to rest and recover from injuries and instabilities they don’t even know they have.  At twelve and thirteen, they play in three or four leagues a season to maximize their playing time and to improve their chances of ultimately starting at the high school level, getting a scholarship to a Division I program, and maybe, just maybe, being drafted by a major league club.  Never mind the fact that the chances of that happening are smaller than Sylvester Stallone winning Best Actor for his performance in The Expendables.

As a teacher, a coach, or even a sportswriter, it’s far from my job to tell parents how to raise their kids.  At the heart of every parent lies the fundamental hope that his or her child will make his or her way through the world as comfortably as possible.  When you see a kid with some athletic talent, you provide him with all the private instruction, playing time, and exposure you can, all in the hopes of creating the next Jason Heyward.

I get it.

If I have a kid with talent, I’ll probably do the same thing.

But in the end, it’s a disservice to the child.  The fact of the matter is that these kids always want to play and to please the adults in their life.  When they say, I’m fine, despite having thrown three or four innings the day before, they simply don’t know any better.

They’ve never taken a daily regimen of Advil or Aleve just to get through routine practices and throwing sessions.  Never heard a snap-crackle-pop emanate from their shoulder when rearing back.  Never lay awake at night staring at the ceiling hoping not that the dull ache in their shoulder or elbow would go away, but simply that it would just stay a dull ache.  Never slept on their side clutching a pillow, knowing that if they roll onto their throwing arm, the pain’s going to keep them up at night.  Never convinced themselves that they’d be fine to pitch as long as possible, because their arms would go numb after twenty pitches anyway.

Right now, the kids in the Little League World Series are protected.  Innings limits and strict team districting keep them from being overused.  What happens next year?  These kids are going to have to find some other teams.  Rec teams, tournament teams, local travel teams, and modified school teams will all compete for the attention of these athletes.  Most of these leagues don’t have the oversight that Little League has.  Also, some kids won’t choose, but compete in all of them.

At that point, will we have the courage to tell them not to play, to back off, to relax for a month?  Go swimming, shoot some hoops, watch TV?

If it was my kid, I don’t know if I could.

Scary.  Right?

For more information on youth sports injuries, visit STOP sports injuries.

Comments

One Response to “What Happens When the Little League World Series Ends?”
  1. David says:

    It starts so much earlier than that, though. Our Youth Rec teams are constantly pillaged by travel ball, Challenge, Elite and Select.

    I find that left to their own devices, my little ballplayer would rather play xBox… there comes a point where you’ve got to keep them more active than that. It’s the age old balancing act called parenting, and this is just one decision you have to help them make.

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