The familiar sights and sounds of spring are just around the corner--birds chirping, flowers blooming and millions of parents cheering on children participating in organized baseball and softball programs nationwide.
Yet alarmingly, many kids’ experiences will be sabotaged when that nasty storm cloud--the All-Star selection process--rolls through. That ridiculous time of the year when ego-driven coaches and parents begin puffing their chests out a little more at the ballpark, and talks shift to how their child is All-Star worthy because of their ability to throw harder or hit better than their teammates.
Granted, there are endless issues that today’s parks and recreation professionals must deal with while orchestrating programs, but it has baffled me for decades that this topic continues to be ignored season after season.
A Bruised Ego
There’s nothing like sticking a dagger into a youngster’s self-esteem the first season he plays the sport by letting him know that he’s not good enough or considered worthy to be part of this elite group of teammates. That’s not the message we want to send to children who are already less active and more obese than any previous generation in history.
Just think for a moment how preposterous All-Star games are, especially in T-ball or beginning-level programs. In kindergarten classrooms across the country, do we take the kids who are learning letters and numbers quicker than their classmates and announce that these kids are special and give them extra attention and cool extracurricular activities to participate in? Of course not! That would destroy the others’ confidence and make them feel insignificant.
So why do administrators continue to allow these senseless games to be played at their facilities? Just because they’ve been conducted for decades doesn’t mean that’s the blueprint for the future.
All-Star games make about as much sense as taking a vegetarian to a fancy steakhouse, or hitting an all-you-can-eat buffet with a friend who is struggling to stick to a diet.
All-Star games should be benched for several reasons:
· It doesn’t take much to figure out that kids who mature quicker than others are going to be stronger, faster and probably more productive on the field. So, we’re simply recognizing players whose bodies have developed faster in many cases.
· The entire process is twisted. I’d love to know the percentage of kids who are chosen for these All-Star teams who have a parent involved in coaching. Mom or Dad justify choosing their own child--even if he’s clearly not one of the better players--because they’ve surrendered a lot of their free time to volunteer to coach.
· The injury factor. Stress fractures, trips to specialists and surgeries come into play when these seasons are extended with extra games and practices. They take a toll on young bodies and lead to an avalanche of overuse injuries.
On top of all this, the National Standards for Youth Sports state that leagues should not engage in choosing post-season All-Star teams. The standards were put together by some of the nation’s top recreation professionals and are the true voice of reason when it comes to youth sports.
Take The Initiative
The solution is clear and simple--ban All-Star games. Singling out players for these teams smothers the purpose of recreational youth sports leagues, where the emphasis should be on participation and learning.
Yes, many parents nationwide will no doubt cringe at this stance because All-Star games are a great source of pride when a child earns that distinction, but the kids could care less. What 5 year old, who can’t even tie his shoes yet, gains any extra satisfaction from being chosen for these teams?
I’ll bet your recreation department is involved in All-Star games in some way. If you don’t step forward to push for change, who will?
If you’re feeling reluctant to do something, consider all the children who feel hurt, left out and embarrassed by being passed over every season.
Youth sports aren’t meant to single out only a handful of kids; they’re about making every child feel special, including those who won’t make the All-Star team.
Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” which is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org