Text: © 2014 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: This column originally was published in The Monahans News in 1980.
I realize that December is not an ordinary month for baseball stories; however, I had Geoffrey Chaucer refer to this story in his “Introduction” to my CD-ROM, where I had published it again. But I did not publish the Little Leaguer story in this blog prior to republishing “Chaucer’s Review” here on November 16. Obviously I should have presented it on this blog site before bringing Chaucer into the act; but what can I say other than I goofed. Anyway, that is the main reason I am pulling it out of retirement now. Of course, it is an interesting read, I still believe, with some provocative ethical and parenting issues brought to the forefront of our attention — not by me but by the little boy’s father.
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Not having any children of my own, I ordinarily don’t give a tinker’s dam about Little League baseball. And frankly, it irked me to receive as many letters as we did about Little League when, from my point of view, there are more general and significant issues over which to empty an inkwell.
However, standing off just a bit to gain another perspective, I see that the Little League issue is not about Little League at all essentially, but about self-concept. And self-concept does interest me.
I view poor self-concept as the primary cause of rape, vandalism and, yes, even Hitlerism and Kohmeiniism. If you tell somebody enough times that they are no good, they will develop being bad into an art form.
Especially is it the case with children under twelve that, compelled by their limited experience of the world into believing that all adults know what they are talking about, these children can absorb a lot of negative vibes in regard to themselves.
Now, of course, children do misbehave and they fail in some areas—or at least perform under par in some areas—but please note that an action is not a person. If Jimmy hits a home run while the bases are full, that means Jimmy hit the ball correctly. It doesn’t mean Jimmy is a great baseball player. Conversely, if Jimmy lets a slowly dropping fly-ball slip by his glove, it means he let a ball drop. It does not mean he is the worst player on the team or even a bad player.
Haim Ginott, author of Between Parent and Child and Between Parent and Teenager, emphasizes the point that the performance should be the object of praise or criticism, not the person. If you tell anybody they are a great athlete or musician, or whatever, you are not leaving them any room to absorb or respond to your comment (much less believe it).
Of course I realize that in the “real world” winning is the important thing. But I respond to that by asking: “At eight and nine years of age?” Let the children at least reach puberty before they have to cope with politics in sports.
Anyway, I really wonder who is winning when Little League is played “to win”. A father of a boy who got to play ball half of one inning complained to me the other night that nine boys plus one substitute got to do virtually all the playing this season.
This particular father is one of the ultra-macho sort. He’s the fishing and hunting enthusiast, has a good physique and he places a high premium on the image he projects to his son. I could see he was genuinely hurt by the way his boy and several of the other boys were shunted aside for the sake of “winning”. He told his son, “We’ll start our own team.” So the father didn’t win, the boy didn’t win, and the reputation of Little League didn’t win.
I suppose somebody won the game, but I didn’t care who.
— The Monahans News, August 7, 1980