Rabbi Ross. I know that you are involved with a local baseball league, and we have a question about that. Our 5th grade son is currently in a similar league and is a horrible player. He can’t make any plays in the field, and he strikes out pretty much every time he comes to the plate. He begs us not to sign him up, but we have no other options. Baseball requires the least talent of all the sports, and we want him to have at least one sport he can play. In case you think his teammates pick on him, they really don’t. They always tell him “Nice try” and encourage him. We think he should stick this out, but he wants to quit. What’s the best play? Lauren – Kew Gardens
I am impressed that you understand your son is a weak player. In our local league, many parents with sons who are extremely weak players still give them strong ratings. This hurts our rating system since those teams end up mismatched, and then these same parents complain that the teams aren’t fair. Some of the ratings were actually quite funny. We had a parent rate their child (who is an extremely weak player) a 10 out of 10. She explained later, “He has such wonderful middos—I couldn’t give him a lower number!”
You make a few valid points. First of all, baseball requires the least amount of talent to play at a basic skill level. Almost any child can be taught to catch a ball, stop a grounder, and hit a baseball. When parents tell me “My son is just clueless and can’t really play,” I always disagree. Almost every child can be taught baseball at an elementary level.
There are two ways to foster these basic skills. The obvious way is to spend time playing with him. This even includes having friends come over and play, having a catch, or even watching a game together. Alternatively, you can hire someone to work with him on these skills. If he’s not athletic, he probably won’t become an all-star but he will develop basic fundamentals and enjoy playing the game.
Most important is his attitude. If he refuses to play and just stands in the field doing nothing, you have a problem. You can’t force a child to play ball if you know he won’t actively participate. If your son wants to play, spends time practicing, and isn’t a good player, kids will understand. If however, he doesn’t care about the game, the other kids will be a lot less tolerant.
This brings us to a question that has been debated for many years in Little Leagues across the U.S. At what age should children that aren’t able to make even basic plays continue to be on the team. Certainly in 1st through 3rd grades all kids should play. I’ve noticed that once the boys hit 4th grade, there is a large discrepancy between the boys that can and cannot play. Here’s an example. I was watching a 4th grade game where there was a pop fly to right field. The fielder got completely confused, didn’t come close to catching it, and then threw to first when the runner was already on the way to 3rd.
Even though the team was tolerant and sweet, (they lost the game), the coach told me that they were frustrated with this boy. Therein lies the problem. While you’re correct that they boys are being nice to your son, they are probably a bit frustrated. It’s understandable if your son is a weak player but is trying hard to win. It’s not so simple if your son just wants to be on a winning team and doesn’t take the game seriously.
A few people have e-mailed our league asking why we have playoffs and why we keep scores. “Let the kids just play friendly matchups!” is a common request. As sweet as that sounds, it’s not baseball. We’ve had other people ask us why there are strikeouts. When does it end? Are we at the point that we’re so worried about children’s feelings that we need to stop all competitive sports? I dislike when games end in a tie. Kids need to learn how to lose and even how to win. We’re not preparing our children very well for the future if we’re always “protecting” them.
I’m sure that many people will disagree with this, and I’m ok with that. My personal feelings are, if your son shows no interest in playing baseball, perhaps it isn’t the right sport. When you have leagues in baseball, it’s inherently somewhat competitive. If your son has no interest in playing, I would agree that he should not have to play.
What he should be doing to get exercise is something discussed in a different article. I would agree that you shouldn’t call it quitting. Rather, tell him that if he really feels strongly that he doesn’t want to play, he should come up with a different activity. Alternatively, he should agree to at least play baseball with your husband in the backyard.
Wishing you hatzachah and a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.