Systems of Nothingness
January in New England makes it hard to visualize the muddy turf of a baseball field after a spring thaw. But, after speaking with a group of parents recently, spring training for children's baseball starts as early as December up here with batting practice and other weekly regiments.
Teaching children the proper sporting techniques in the pre-season should promote skill development, lead to engagement, belongingness, and self-esteem—all skills and attitudes they'll one day teach others, in the spirit of Abraham Maslow, right?
I couldn't help but wonder what type of system these parents and I were standing in. So I stepped back and analyzed the evidence I had of the output. My analysis took me back to a conversation I had with my wife, Shannon, a few weeks ago about children's baseball.
We were sitting on our couch, some light jazz was playing in the background, when we talked about our friend's son who injured his arm after throwing too many pitches. We also talked about how some of our friends had seen their childrens' grades slip because of their heavy involvement in training.
A shift from scholarship to sports never seems to happen very well for many students who make sports their central focus. The fact that so many parents and children were allowing this love of sports to pull them into this "system of over-training" is worthy of reflection, I thought.
My wife was a scholar-athlete in middle school and, later, high school, where she lettered in three sports and earned recognition for maintaining a balanced existence during what is typically an unbalanced time in the life of a teenager.
I, on the other hand, turned my “sports switch” off for a bit and focused on scholarship during my high school years, which resulted in excursions and trips thanks to my programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Though I was “sporty” (and from time-to-time still can be), I was struck recently as to how our current society supports economic structures such as “baseball clubs” that generate a heap of revenue with large fees and, perhaps, sparking behaviors and expectations that are not so well deserved. Not all kiddos, after all, are stars.
I know some clubs are good, but so many seem to support overplaying or over-the-top practicing, pushing children and teens to the limit. These organization don’t make money if you—as a client—stop attending, so the systems within these popular community baseball hubs promote constant looping and no one seems to leave. In a world where competition is so central to being, what has happened to just belonging... as a child? I purport that many of these systems that generate patterns of behavior, like “over-sporting,” can possibly confound a child’s identity. To simplify the matter, our society and its systems may be systems of nothingness when we consider the adverse effects.
I am a sporty guy, I repeat, but when the pre-mature training regimens include winter agility training at age 10, I can’t help but shake my head, chuckle, and exhale as I think, Gosh, tell me it isn’t so.
You see, where I come from, systems promote "something," like order, self-managing, and perhaps even work ethic. Today, helicoptering parents and the over-stimulation of their children’s sporting interests—whether it's baseball, soccer, or any other sport—is not going to help create capable children.
Our communities yearn for learners, not more equipment-laden kiddos scurrying off to semi-professional looking practices as they turn 10. We need systems of something-ness.
Next time a colleague, friend, or family member brags about their five-, eight-, or 10-year-old super-sportster, don’t be negative. Instead, simply and nicely acknowledge their child’s apparent contribution to the community from the sporting perspective, then ask them in that same nice tone, "How has sports training crossed over to promote work ethic and learning at school and home?"
Chances are fairly high that the "pause" you'll get from them is the systemic intervention your parent-friend needs to make the connection or clearly see a gap worth noting.
Let’s all start contributing and participating in a systems of something-ness with our children.