Thursday, August 28, 2008

Banning Good Player Sends Wrong Message to Kids

By now I'm sure that most people have heard about Jericho Scott, the 9-year old baseball player from New Haven, Connecticut that has been prevented from pitching because he is too good. (For information, including some video, please take a look at ESPN's article.) The decision by the league is wrong in so many ways that it is almost unfathomable. I wanted to discuss a few of my thoughts on the subject.

First, it is important to note that there has not been any allegation that Jericho has hurt anybody. He hasn't beaned another player. Instead, the allegation appears to simply be that he throws too hard and, thus, the other kids will be afraid and/or the other kids won't have success when they bat against Jericho. To both of those concerns, I say, tough.

I remember playing baseball as a 9-year old (the first year that kids pitched in our league). I pitched. Badly. I hit other players. Oops. But I wasn't banned. Other kids pitched well. They threw hard. But neither I nor anyone else on my team complained because the other pitcher was too good. No, we got into the batter's box and tried. When one of us got a hit off one of the good pitchers, we were excited. That was what sports was all about. And I remember the first time that I saw a curveball. It scared the %$^&@# out of me. But again, I didn't cry foul.

Think what message the league has sent to Jericho. They've told him that skill, whether obtained by practice or genetics, is to be punished rather than rewarded. And they've told him that feelings are more important than good sportsmanship. Just imagine if this was the local spelling bee instead of baseball. Can you imagine a kid being banned from the spelling bee because he (or she) spent too much time practicing or knew too many words? That situation isn't really any different than that facing Jericho Scott. (And don't tell me that the situation is different because a kid might get hurt. First, remember that nobody has alleged that Jericho has hit anybody [which speaks to his control and skill]. Second, any thrown pitch has a chance to hurt a kid. Third, and most importantly, batted balls [not to mention thrown bats] also have a great chance to hurt kids. No, this is not about safety at all; it's about protecting the egos of other kids who might strike out against Jericho and it's about protecting the egos of the parents who might be forced to watch their child strike out.)

My 8-year-old son plays soccer. I've seen some kids kick the ball pretty hard, especially at goal. But I can't imagine trying to get one of those kids (or his team) thrown out of the league for kicking too hard. Nor could I envision the league penalizing a player who could dribble too well. My 8-year-old daughter is a competitive cheerleader. I can't imagine her team walking off the mat because another team had a girl who could tumble or fly better than her team.

As long as you are playing within the rules of the sport, then skill should be rewarded, not feared. And that is a troubling part of the message being sent to the kids on the other teams. Rather than tell those kids that they need to suck it up and try their best, they are told to quit. Rather than tell those kids to try to hit off Jericho and use it as a learning experience and opportunity to get better, they are told that adults will remove obstacles to their success. (It is also worth noting that, with 8 teams in the league, each batter will face Jericho very infrequently...) I wonder: Will those parents try to get school teachers to give easier spelling tests? Will they demand that the fastest runners not be allowed to compete in relay races and the tallest kids not be allowed to play basketball? I thought that sports was supposed to be about learning to develop your own potential, not a race to the lowest common denominator. Gee, I know. Let's keep the best pitchers out of the game. We can also bench the best hitters. The fastest kids shouldn't have a chance to outrun anybody and the kids who can catch or throw well should also be pushed aside. Is that really the world that we want for our children?

Some have suggested that the simple answer is for Jericho to "play up" (that is, play in the league for older kids). That solution is fine if Jericho wants to play up. But just as a child who does well in school shouldn't be forced to skip a grade, Jericho shouldn't be forced to play up if he doesn't want to. It is also worth noting that there are two real problems with having Jericho play up (not to mention the bad message that forcing him to play up sends to the other kids in the "younger" league). First, Jericho is a 9-year-old kid. Is he emotionally mature enough to play with older kids? Just because he can throw the ball hard doesn't mean that he should be sharing a bench with a 13-year-old (while Jericho is discussing Ben 10 or Star Wars or whatever he likes, the other kids on the bench might be discussing girls or drugs or something that would be wholly inappropriate for a 9-year-old). Secondly, while Jericho may be a great pitcher, we don't know what his other skills are like. For all we know, his batting and throwing skills or his knowledge and understanding of the game may be no better than average for his age group. Forcing him to play up could actually impede his ability to develop these other skills at an age appropriate pace.

One more point that I'd like to make. I mentioned this story to my 8-year-old son. I told him that Jericho was a very good pitcher who threw very hard and that the other kids couldn't hit his pitches and some might be scared. And I told him that the league kicked Jericho out. My son's response: "That's not fair." When I asked why it wasn't fair, my son said that Jericho should be allowed to play and, most importantly, he recognized that sometimes other kids would be better. I asked him how he would feel if there was a player so good that he couldn't get a hit. My son's reply? "That's how the game works." Too bad adults aren't always as wise as kids.


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At Thursday, August 28, 2008 1:56:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more thing they fail to consider is that these things tend to sort themselves out naturally. If they wisely reverse their decision and allow Jericho to continue playing, I wager he'll get bored with it; when you're in a sport and there's no competition, it's not much fun to keep playing. (Mind you, I come from the perspective of having no competition at the bottom rung.)


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