Friday, November 22, 2013

Youth Sports - A Key Part of the Village

When I was ten years old and living in a small town in southwest Missouri, I joined the Little League baseball team coached by my best friend’s father. Three of my friends played on that team, and when we weren’t at regular practices, we played baseball in an open field next to my best friend’s house.

It was the happiest time of my life. I was “in the moment” hour after hour, day after day. All I wanted to do was catch, throw and hit a baseball. My pals would pitch to me and I would try to hit the ball harder, higher and further than before.

I don’t remember the details of every practice and game, but I remember the thrill of hitting a home run. There were no fences on the playing field where we competed, so a home run was always an “inside-the-park” home run, where the runner had to hit it the ball far enough so that he could speed around the bases before the throw reached home plate. I led the league that year with six home runs and was selected for the all-star team.

I also remember the time I was thrown out at third base. I felt as if I had let myself and my team down. As I walked toward my coach and teammates, I was so disappointed my eyes filled with tears. My coach put his arm around me and said, “I love it that you tried for the extra base. You always give it your all.”

My father was in the service, and a year later he was reassigned, and I left my buddies behind. I wouldn’t see them again until they were grown men.

There was no youth baseball program on the installation where we lived. But my father was a big sports fan, and he took me to see organized soldier baseball and basketball games.

I discovered an outdoor community basketball court and began to spend hours practicing a variety of shots. I had a pretty good outside shot and had plenty of enthusiasm, so I played on the middle school basketball team. But by the time I was a freshman in high school, my father was reassigned to Germany, and we moved away again. At my new school, I discovered I was too small to compete on the high school team.

So I fell in love with golf. Whenever the ground was clear of snow, I was on the course, often playing 36 holes a day. As senior, I was captain of the golf team. Later, at West Point I was required to take a physical fitness course and compete in intramural sports every semester. My favorite sports were wrestling and soccer.

So unlike many of my friends and colleagues, I was never a varsity athlete. But sports definitely ingrained life habits that helped prepare me for the challenges I would later face in life.

Once at a dinner party I told a woman that participation in team sports can help young people grow stronger for success in life.

She laughed at me and said that was a preposterous notion. Apparently, she didn't have the same opportunities that I had while growing up. She had achieved plenty of success without athletics, thank you very much.

She was wrong, of course, but I understood her point of view.

Thanks to Title IX, young women now have abundant opportunities to participate in competitive team sports. In the Texas town where I live now, the local high school tennis team recently won its seventh straight state championship. Can you imagine how all that work, competition and ultimate success has impacted the lives of these young student-athletes?

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2013. Building Personal Strength .

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