hmmmmm, Indoctrination, it seems to me. It appears to be a training ground for the military... hmmmmm.
July 31, 2005
Boys of Summer
By DAVID BROOKS
Every few weeks a newspaper or magazine will do an article on the professionalization of youth sports. It will be about these insane parents who spend their weekends driving or flying around the country for tournaments; who spend $60 an hour so their little ones can get tutoring from former minor leaguers; who can be seen screaming on the sidelines as their children compete.
For the past seven years my family and I have been living that life. My son plays on a travel baseball team called the BCC Heat, which has meant countless nights at Comfort Inns across rural America, driving through ice storms to get to winter practices and an infinity of weekends spent sitting in blue folding chairs on the sidelines while the boys grapple with the baseball gods.
Those of us involved in this sort of life can see why people object to the over-the-topness of it all: the $200 bats, the professional coaches, not to mention the sheer competitiveness of the games. There isn't a boy on this team who hasn't experienced, along with many moments of glory, crushing moments of defeat - the crucial strikeout, the game-altering error, giving up the season-ending grand slam - moments when tears come to even adolescent eyes and the parents on the sidelines sort of crumple inside at the sight of their child's pain.
Yet this team, which ends one phase of its existence here in Sarasota at the A.A.U. Nationals before the boys go off to their different high school programs, has been one of the most fabulous experiences of our lives.
What the critics miss is the irrepressible boyness of the kids, the rhythms of disciplined learning and exuberant play. They compete practically as men in 14-year-old tournament baseball in the morning, and then they go off and organize their own stickball games on the beach until the sun goes down at night. They've played together as a unit for all these years - from when they were four feet tall until now, when some have passed six feet - and not a single boy has lost his love of baseball or his comrades.
They have a physical confidence about them now, which comes from knowing they have become good at something really hard. They have come into contact with coaches who commanded an authority that, frankly, surpasses that of many of their teachers; coaches who talk more directly about character, self-sacrifice and discipline than other people in their lives or in their culture. They have become members of the community of baseball, the oddballs, near-stars and legends from Little League to the Hall of Fame, who speak a similar language and share a common attitude.
The attitude comes from the reality of the game, which is that the difference between a home run and a pop-up is minuscule. A pitcher dominates one day and is shelled the next. So the players, even our boys, develop this emotional resilience, this fatalistic ability to accept the good and the bad, which will serve them well in life.
The parents have a tougher time. There's almost a biological urge to want your child to be pre-eminent, and to shelter him from setbacks. And yet we've developed an unarticulated honor code for the team. Never lobby for playing time for your kid. Never speak ill of a teammate.
Human nature being what it is, everybody doesn't always live up to the code all the time, but we've become a tight community, enjoying and depending upon one another's company year after year.
We have seen loutish coaches and parents who live through their kids' glory - the stuff of Little League cliché. But that is rare. And there is no correlation between the quality of a team and the behavior of the parents. We have seen more bad sportsmanship at the local recreation level than at the national level.
Mostly we've seen boys experiencing the thrills of competition and the joy of being with teammates who share a common passion. We've seen boys who have matured not by being sheltered from challenges in order to protect their self-esteem, but by being able to go out and play against the best. We've seen boys who were thrilled to be sixth at nationals last year and who responded to this year's lower finish by going to the hotel pool and doing back flips.
This team is the chord running through their childhoods. It has turned them into remarkable young men.