Trophy Kids – “What Happened to the ‘Joy’ of the Game?”

LB: A Dad — yes, GIRLilla Warfare has a strong male readership — recently told me that he has a story to tell, and the response may be controversial. Was I IN? 100 percent, I told him. So IN.  You may agree or disagree with “Steve’s” viewpoint – or perhaps you will even see yourself between the lines. But like it or hate it, there’s no keeping a good man down. Read on …

“Steve”- Dad of two kids 

When I was a kid, we played baseball in the street, park or a sandlot, we played football at the school “field,” we even did something they called “Little League.” We had fun, we competed, and our parents were there for moral support, sitting on hideous plaid woven lawn chairs, barely even noticeable, cheering at home runs, and encouraging their kids with a pack of lifesavers if they blew the win. Thank you, Mr. Cunningham.

When we went home, we ate dinner and moved on. Maybe, if grandpa stopped by for dinner, he asked how the game went, and maybe I bragged about pitching a no-hitter, or stealing second base. He laughed, I smiled. We moved on.

The first, second and third place teams in the league got a trophy, and everyone else just sulked. Fourth place was the winner of the losers – game over. There was one season, not three seasons in one year.

Now, let us fast forward to our “new” approach to kids and sports (as well as many other extracurricular activities)…

Our generation has COMPLETElY  lost its marbles. Little League has become more of a grooming for “going pro” – I seriously believe that parents today have turned little Jimmy or Sally into a ‘pet project,’ somehow filling a void that THEY need to fill, and the kid comes along for the ride.

Sure, there are some great athletes, dancers, performers in the mix – but something went wrong between 1972 and 2012.

Let’s just focus on baseball as a case study…

Little League has been replaced with new terminology – House Leagues, Travel A, and Travel B. Once-a-week practices have been replaced with weeklong activities like: professional-in-home training, for-hire-coaching, and specialty lessons.  A cap and mitt have been replaced with miniaturized pro-grade equipment that fills multiple pro-grade equipment bags.

Growing up, I had a cup, last year’s Skokie Indians cap, a mitt and hand-me-down cleats. Today, the kids all look like mini-me versions of Albert Pujols.

So what’s the rub here?

Parents today are playing a whole new version of “Keeping up with the Joneses” – and it is pure insanity. They have built a system that has taken the American pastime and turned it into a family affair. The parents are so enmeshed in the activity that it becomes the center of the household routine. The game is actually the shortest part of the affair. There is all the hype of the next game, the planning and extra training to help little Jimmy excel, the post-game celebration (win or lose) and worst yet, the lingering obsessive banter that seeps into the rest of the day… and sometimes the rest of the week.

During the actual game, it is a whole circus in its own right. Fathers on the sideline talking strategy like they are seasoned professional scouts or managers, mothers criticizing the coaching decisions (usually when their kid is NOT in the game – God Forbid!), and an occasional grandparent annoyed at everything that is wrong. Angst, tension, and outright lunacy.

Here are some actual quotes I have heard in the past few weeks:

“My son is a natural 2-hole hitter, why do they have him batting in the 6-hole is beyond me.”

“Coach, please don’t mess with Bobby’s stance we have worked on this with his batting instructor.”

“Did you see the movement on that last pitch?” (mind you, a 10 year old hurling the ball).

“Joseph! The next time you miss your cutoff man, I am grounding you for a week!”

Recently, a group of our best friends went out for dinner on the night of a game day (when isn’t there a game day). From cocktails through the main course, the entire conversation was about the game. I shit you not, the moms were bragging, the dads compared stats and critiqued the umpiring and those who weren’t in the “club” were spectators at dinner. Finally one non-baseball dad pipes up – “I have an idea… why don’t we all go on a big trip together (everyone’s eyes widened up)… maybe a 10-day cruise (eyebrows now furrowed, that might conflict with the baseball schedule) … and best yet, LET’S STOP TALKING ABOUT OUR KIDS FOR ONE DAMN MINUTE!”

Well, that struck a nerve – everyone looked at this poor guy, like he just broke some baseball cult law and they quickly went back to talking about next week’s schedule.


Listen, I get it, we want what is best for our kids – we want them to fit in, we want them to feel good about themselves and learn how to work within group dynamics.  Maybe, just maybe the next Mickey Mantle is buried out here in the ‘burbs dying to get a shot, but let’s let that happen on its own!  Let’s not turn our kids into projects or projections of what we want for ourselves.

Whatever happened to “just go out there and have fun” or “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” – are those age old sayings gone for good?

Ask yourself this question: “How many times have I watched Dance Moms or Toddlers & Tiaras and judged those parents for the obviousness of whose need is really being fulfilled?”

The first time I saw a 5 year old being spray-tanned, made up professionally and putting in false teeth (aka “flippers”), I stood in front of my TV set with my mouth wide open wondering what the heck went wrong in that household.  Watching those kids travel to competitions, staying in motels, grinding it out week after week in hopes of taking home a trophy… is it that different than the travel sports? They all seem like a cult to me.

As an outsider looking in, one might say – “Yeah, you’re just sour grapes because your kid can’t play” to which I say, “No, my kid chose not to play all on his own.”

LB:  Got anything to add from the sidelines? GIRLilla Warfare not only welcomes your viewpoint, we WAIT for it …

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