I don’t get it. Well, I get these two big news events that have come out of this summer’s Little League World Series. Chances are, you’ve seem them too. It would have been hard to escape them.
Mo’ne Davis – Pitcher Extraordinaire
It’s a great story. She’s not just played baseball either. She plays basketball too and wants to play in the WNBA one day.
Dave Belisle – Mr. Positive Coach
It was a lovely speech he gave to his team. Definitely an example of the things you’d want to hear coaches saying to players after they lost a tough game.
On Twitter – where I discovered both of these stories – there are some really big name accounts (people with a thousand or more followers who’s whole modus operandi would revolve around positive youth sport and appropriate long-term development) featuring these two stories as amazing examples of positive youth sport and appropriate long-term development.
And that’s what I just don’t get. What I can’t get out of my mind – what ruins these nice stories for me – is that they come out of the Little League World Series. Am I the only one that looks at this event and sees anti-LTAD written all over it? How can these big Twitter names that I religiously follow for their valuable content on positive youth sport development not acknowledge that?
I guess it’s just me.
So I tried to find info that would put my unsettled mind to rest and show me that the Little League World Series is a developmentally appropriate event.
I looked for some sort of mission-vision-values statement. I wanted to know what the overall purpose of the Little League World Series was. I’d hoped to find something about how this event is set up entirely to provide healthy long-term development for 13-year-old baseball players. I couldn’t find one. I found a mission statement for Little League baseball but not for their World Series. What I did find on one of the World Series’s affiliated websites (Little League, Big Legacy) was this:
“In 1947, Mr. Stotz and the first local Little League Board of Directors, decided to organize a tournament for all Little League programs (there were 17) and called it the National Little League Tournament, later to be known as the Little League Baseball® World Series.”
So a bunch of adults got together and figured it would be a good idea to imitate with kids what professional adult baseball players do. Hmmm. That’s not a great start.
Then I found this Fox Sports news report quoting the following:
“Mo’ne Davis’ mother compares her daughter to LeBron James and Kobe Bryant”
The reporter in the piece sides with Mo’ne’s mother saying that that’s how any mom who’s daughter has made the cover of Sports Illustrated should respond. Yikes (to Mo’ne’s mom). Double yikes (to the reporter).
Oh right, and there’s the fact that Mo’ne Davis made the cover of Sports Illustrated. There’s still a SI Kids, right? Isn’t that the cover she should be on? I wonder how many Mo’ne Davis’ are out there that we don’t know about? Should we know about them? Does the Little League World Series deserve credit for making us aware of her? Is that what makes this event valuable? What happens to this girl when her time under the spotlight ends (and by all accounts it has ended with the elimination of her team from the tournament)? Will anyone be saying her name in one month’s time let alone one year’s time?
And the Little League World Series also seems to have pro-style press conferences complete with Gatorade (boy’s, you’d better make sure next time you get the labels facing TOWARDS the cameras. Have your agents not taught you anything?). According to my crack investigative team, less than 1% of players who played in the LLWS go on to play pro baseball (or pro sport in general). 67 years of the event, 16 teams per year, about 12 players per team and out of that about 60 have gone on as pro ball players and an undetermined amount have gone on to play in other pro sports – mainly hockey.
However, as one journalist writes:
“This year’s 2014 Little League World Series could, according to one hopeful actor’s inspiring dream, potentially develop into a real life American story; the kind that inspires hope and encourages men and women to dream.”
The reference was to African-American players in the tournament and how they could positively impact other African-Americans around the USA. And I love an inspiring story for its power to make us dream as much as the next guy (and reduced pitch counts and rest days for pitchers and anything else that might be done to make the LLWS a player-centred sporting experience and not an adult-driven one).
Yet I can’t help but ask what has happened to imagination? Have you ever seen the documentary called Two Ball Games? It was created by the University of Cornell in 1976 and compares structured little league to unstructured sandlot baseball. Almost 40 years later there is an eerie familiarity with the things that go on today in an organized environment versus a free play environment. Here is the documentary uploaded by Yolanda Medina onto Youtube:
My favourite moment comes at 9:20. Kid power in action! And the comment made by one of the kids at 16:33 trying to understand what the adults were arguing about is brilliant. Everything is summed up very nicely through the scenes that transpire with the emotional reaction of one player in particular starting at the 20:00 mark.
I wonder if those kids playing the pick-up game of ball on that neighbourhood patch of grass ever had any trouble dreaming? I don’t think so. I certainly didn’t and that’s pretty close to my era. They didn’t need then, nor do I think they need now, adults organizing pro-style sporting events in order to help fuel their imagination about “possibilities”.
The problem is, I really don’t think it’s about enabling the future. I think events like the Little League World Series are the way adults see themselves helping kids to deal with the big and cruel real world that they’ll one day have to face. You know, the one where they’ll never ever amount to anything as dreamy as a pro baseball player because that’s just not how life works. If all kids dream of greatness but will really never have the opportunity to fulfill that greatness, then events like the Little League World Series give them a taste of that dream before they have to grow up and face the truths of adulthood.
It’s just another way for the organizers and parents involved to justify the fact that their trying to relive their own childhoods and unrequited dreams through the joystick control they have over kids like the ones in the Little League World Series.
I say this because of a coaching experience from a few years ago. The event was a summer Olympics-style provincial games. I was coaching the male and female soccer program (12-year-olds) representing one of the regions of the province in this event and an issue had come up around the uniforms. They didn’t have as much cresting on them as they should have to identify who they were and where they were from, according to the parents. And after all, as one parent did say, this probably was to be the biggest sporting event/experience that these kids would ever participate in so let’s make sure they remember it.
We increased the cresting and then went to the event that, according to the parents, could be the single biggest thing these 12-year-olds would ever do in their lives.
Next post Saturday, August 30th.