Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why being a national sports hero at 12 isn't great

From Until It Hurts:

"Sport psychologist Richard Ginsburg is one of many who is deeply troubled by the morphing of youth sports games into top-rated TV shows. The attention and pressure focused on Little Leaguers during the World Series, in particular, he says is “preposterous.” “Adolescent sports aren’t meant to be entertainment for adults,” says Ginsburg who treats youth athletes and their families at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.

The stage is too big for kids so young, he says. And the experience can be especially cruel when in front of millions a child ballplayer lets a ball dribble through his legs, thus disappointing not only teammates but the hordes of adult fans hoping to return home as world champions.

“A child that age can’t differentiate their performance from who they are as a person. If I had a son playing at that level I’d have a real concern about protecting his childhood,” he says

I was reflecting on that conversation with Dr. Ginsburg as I previewed ESPN's latest 30 for 30 documentary, Little Big Men. It's the story of the Kirkland, Washington Little Leaguers, the upset kids who toppled mighty Taiwan to win the 1982 LLWS. The focus is Cody Webster, the team's star pitcher and slugger, who has spent the past 28 years coming to terms with the experience and, judging from the film, mostly succeeding.

This is well worth watching - tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern.

The piece includes interviews with eight of the Kirkland stars, including Webster. who now coaches a travel team and, according to the ID at the end of the movie, is starting some sort of youth baseball school. This is the quote, from Webster, that sticks with me.

"I tell parents, 'Give 'em a chance. Let 'em succeed. I can guarantee if you push 'em too hard, they'll be done in a year or two. I've seen it. It's just not worth it. It's a game ... always will be."

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