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JULY 21, 1997

Opinion

Little League Is For Kids

  This year's Little League All-Star season is under way, and many of the adults involved are as determined as ever to win baseball games at the expense of children. Is winning really really worth the cost?
  
   Most All-Star teams consist of 14 children who have been practicing enthusiastically on a daily basis. These youngsters have committed their summer to baseball because they enjoy the sport, they are eager to work hard and, above all, they want to play the game.
  
   Once the practice season is over and the "real" games begin, many coaches (some due to parental pressure) allow only the "best" (or their favorite) players to fully participate. The remaining children are kept on the benches and must watch the games from the sidelines. These youngsters are occasionally allowed on the field to play briefly during the final innings if the score is lopsided, the winner has been determined, and their efforts won't matter.
  
   Excuses for this vary from coach to coach, but the common are, "Everyone else does it. We have to do this in order to win. With 14 kids, we can't be fair. That's baseball and kids have to learn to accept it." And, "We told them this could happen." Does warning children that we may intentionally hurt them justify the action?
  
   Under these circumstances, many youngsters decide that baseball is no longer fun. Their enthusiasm decreases along with their skills, and their self-confidence is damaged. Although many coaches verbally tell the children that they are all good ball players, the kids know that they are being given lip service, and they believe the coaches' underlying and more powerful message that says, "You're just not good enough."
  
   Unfortunately, to many adults, the well-being of children is not nearly as important as winning ball games. We must remember, however, that winning coaches and parents are not those whose accomplishments are reflected by high numbers on the scoreboard. Adults who are true winners are those who focus on more important issues -- such as respect for children, integrity, teamwork and fair play. Furthermore, when all of the kids on a team are treated with equal respect, their cooperation and skills increase, and more games are won as a result.
  
   I urge the coaches and parents of teams still alive in the All-Star tournaments to balance the issues of winning and children. For you, there is still enough time remaining in the season to ensure that each and every child on your team will be able to reflect back on his or her (not your) 1997 All-Star season and say, "I had a great time that year. Our team won (or lost), but I was actively involved in a sport I enjoyed , and I improved my skills. I learned that I should always do my best and try to win- but not by hurting someone else. I had good coaches who understood my young feelings, and I am grateful to them for providing a positive experience for me."
  
   Little League was developed for children. Maybe we should grow up now and let the kids play- all of them.
  
   Susan J. Nilson
   Shoreline, WA