One little kid standing at home plate wearing an oversized helmet, wielding a bat as tall as he is, trying and mostly failing to make contact with rainbow tosses arced softly by a dad-coach. Six or seven or eight other little kids arrayed about the skin infield, standing with their baseball gloves on their heads. Kneeling in the dirt sifting for pebbles or bugs or something as dad pitches and kid swings and misses, over and over. A mom standing alongside, urging Morgan and Cody to stop gazing into the dirt and to pay attention. To pay attention . . . um, why?
This soul-sucking scene plays out far too often on far too many dog-walks I take at the field across the street. Well-meaning (I suppose) but coaching-clueless parents leading “baseball” practices for 6-year-olds who have no idea why they are being made to stand on a dirt infield, with little or no activity in their midst, learning nothing at all about baseball other than to hate baseball for, well, making them stand on dirt with little or no activity in their midst, while kids in the other corners of the field are yelling and chasing soccer and lacrosse balls.
These bored kids will not be long for the game, and I do not blame them. I blame societal circumstances that long ago made neighborhood pick-up baseball games extinct as dodos, that left “organized” baseball the only baseball left to be played by kids, that forced well-meaning, coaching-clueless parents to lead baseball practices they have no business leading.
They have no business there because they are blind to what they are doing, namely killing baseball for the kids they are trying to excite to baseball.
This conundrum has puzzled me for the 15 years I have coached in rec ball, American Legion ball, high school ball and observed the coaching that goes on around it all. The puzzle is why moms and dads cannot and do not take the minor steps necessary – minor as in reading articles or viewing YouTube videos for basic drills every kid can do at the same time — to think about structuring practices that include no standing around but steady skill-building, fun activities for 30 or 45 minutes — 60 at the very tops. Run-the-bases races. Catch the easy rollers or pop-up competition and throw-the-ball-at-the-target contests. The underhand tossing of tennis balls — coach to kid, or multiple parents to multiple kids simultaneously — so they can feel and instinctively know what it is to swing a bat (however they swing it) and to feel and see and sense the joy of connecting a rounded stick with a rounded ball in flight.
It is not that hard, not in the least, except that it is being made to seem so at the very entry point where baseball cries out for simple joy, simple activity, simple simplicity.
It hurts my heart, because the kids, and the game, deserve so much better.