Where Is Win-Lose?

I grew up playing traditional American sports. As a kid, baseball, football and basketball filled much of my leisure time.

I grew up playing traditional American sports. As a kid, baseball, football and basketball filled much of my leisure time. For me, it was the neighborhood pick-up games that were the most fun.

In baseball for example, semi-elected captains (usually the two oldest kids or at least the kid whose yard was Yankee stadium de jour) chose teams. That selection process served as a sociology object lesson. That's because the true test of your skill level in those games was measured by how soon you were picked.

It was a direct kind of market-driven picking order that ultimately created a team where the best players played the best positions. Even if the captain didn't like you personally, he wanted to win. If you had the skills, you had a job. Universally, the last pick played right field.

But the process was dynamic. One or two good games could directly impact where you placed in the next selection. A last-pick right fielder had a chance to be redeemed to a higher pick position like second base. That was competition.

Somewhere along the way, it became insensitive to pick one kid over another. Thoughtful grown-ups, well intentioned, considered our old selection process unfair. In effect, they were saying that it was better to put a good player in right field than run the risk of offending a kid with poorer baseball skills. I escaped this imposition during my childhood.

However, the sports my children play are different. It's not the games that have changed, it's the organization of them. There are scheduled practices and fund raising activities. Many of the teams even travel to play in tournaments—some very far away. So organized and time consuming are the leagues and teams, that it's rare for any of the kids to just play a pick-up game.

Something I have noticed with my kid's organized teams, as well as with many of their opponents, is a disturbing trend to slough off responsibility for what happens in the game. No one should blast a six-year-old for booting a ground ball, but excusing the error because the field is too rough isn't right either. Too often I hear parents telling little Johnny or Jenny that they struck out because the umpire couldn't see. These are not the lessons we want our kids to take into the world. Sports is about learning how to handle winning and losing. If we level the playing field too much and make losing too painless, we can end up with a bunch of right fielders who, rather than compete, blame everyone but themselves for never getting to turn two.