As my eight-year-old son's baseball season was finally drawing to a close, it got me thinking more than a little about learning.
It's remarkable how far the team progressed this year. Yet as I watch them play, I can't help but feel that something's missing. They just don't seem to have a passion for the game like we did growing up. It seems all about uniforms, and trophies, and over-competitive parents.
When I was a kid, we played pickup baseball all summer long. We'd ride our bikes to the park, choose up sides and play 'till dinner. It was nothing fancy. Rocks for bases. Grass-stained baseballs that we played with until the covers ripped off. Broken bats salvaged with a few nails and a lot of friction tape. If you didn't have enough kids for a full game, you played "call your field" with the batter having to hit to one side of the diamond or the other. But chances were pretty good we'd have enough kids to cover the whole field.
A few of us played organized ball, but this was a whole lot more fun. And just for the fun of it we learned to hit, and throw, and catch.
That's not how kids learn to play ball today. It's structured from the start, with leagues, and coaches, and full uniforms starting with T-ball for five-year-olds. They don't play pickup at all anymore, and it is this difference that bothers me. I want to think that we played for the love of the game where kids today play just because their parents have set the machine in motion. The kids are missing out.
But I've probably got it all wrong. The kids only play structured ball because that's the only ball they've ever known. Blame or credit us parents for that. As for the skill levels, while it's hard to compare, I'll bet that my son is doing things now that I couldn't do until I was much older because he's learning the proper fundamentals right from the start. The good habits he's learning will help him go further too.
And then there's the love of the game. While it's easy to romanticize one's own youth, I can't see that the pleasure my son Michael takes in the game is any less than my own. He was just as happy, maybe more, when he hit his first home run. He'll play catch every night if I will. So let us not judge too harshly those ways that differ from our own experience. Times change. If we take care to present the lessons worth learning, then learn they will. And they just may do it better than we ever did.