All-Star Teams Turn Fun Into Frenzy

So here's the scenario, and let's use baseball as an example for all kids' sports: This spring youth league baseball season will begin with all kinds of fanfare and excitement. Kids will receive their uniforms, the season schedule will be handed out and the announcement of opening day ceremonies makes it all seem like motherhood, apple pie and the Fourth of July. It's great! I've been there; having had seven kids play youth sports, and I know the feeling. A couple months roll by in the regular season and everyone's having fun. After all, this is kids' baseball!

And then REALITY sets in. It's time for ALL-STARS!

Now the emotions go from what was once fun to this frightful anticipation of whether your kid will make the all-star team. Forget about the fun. This is serious business!

While all-star teams in youth sports occur at virtually every age group, beginning with 6-year-olds, let me use the 6-8 year-old Tee-Ball group to show how ridiculous this system is. Remember, these are 6-year-olds who most recently learned to tie their shoes.

Usually, the first thing that happens with all-stars is that each team's coaches can pick their all-star. That's where the first battle begins. Since the parent who volunteers to spend the time being the coach, then guess who they, for the most part, tell themselves should be on the all-star team? You guessed it, it's their own kid! The parent who's coaching his or her own kid rationalizes selecting their own kid by saying to themselves, "hey, I'm spending all my free time out here volunteering to coach these kids so why can't I pick my own kid to be the all-star from this team?" It doesn't always work that way. Since the local all-star winning team can go on to the next level, then there are also all kinds of shenanigans going on. Living in Florida, I once met a district-named all-star coach who told me that he would travel the whole district he lived in to watch talented kids play. He would then name the team members himself. Of course we have all heard the story of the Chicago team from this year's past Little League Championship. Need I say more?

Having spent plenty of my early days as a league administrator for an organization with close to 15,000 kids, I can say with a lot of confidence that I've seen it all. I saw coaches pick their youngster when they were almost the worst player on the team. Parents of the other talented kids who didn't get selected would scream and holler and would get nowhere. "Billy" would be on the team regardless.

The fallacy of it all is the fact that when youth sports began way back in the late '30s, it was so kids would have something to do during their time off from school in the summer. With the advent of all-star teams, on a team with 15 players, 14 would be left with no baseball for the rest of the summer. And all-stars began in the middle of June, at just about the time kids get out of school for the summer.

Starting to get the picture?

Once the all-star games began, the idea of playing for fun went out the window. Why? Because the ultimate winners advanced to the districts and then to the regionals and then on to the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP! And with that kind of pressure, it's no wonder the most heard complaint in the world of youth sports became, "if you get rid of those damn parents, sports would be fun for kids."

I have witnessed some of the most emotional and physical abuse you could ever imagine as the result of all-star competition. I once sat next to a mother when my son made the all-star team (no, I wasn't the coach). This woman was actually shaking as her son, the pitcher, warmed up. When I asked her if she was ok she replied, "I just can't take this pressure, I have to leave."

I saw a parent come out of the stands, grab a bat, and chase the umpire around the field because he called his son out at bat. Like I say, I've seen it all.

Once, a youth league director in a town in Ohio asked me my opinion about their desire to cancel their 4th of July all-star game. He said things had gotten so out of control and that he feared for some people's safety. I replied that it seemed he already had enough reason to cancel the event. The next day I received a call from a radio station in Cleveland. The "shock jock" host of the show who had read my comments in the local paper ripped into me while calling me every unkind name you could think of. I was called un-American, a wimp and a disgrace to sports for kids in America.

And you know what? I bet I receive a whole bunch of similar comments from those reading this blog: from parents whose kids made the all-star team, that is.

Sports for kids can be the greatest life learning experience of all. But when adults get involved for some reason that all changes.