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Dumbed Down Sports: The Poor Player Subsidy September 21, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Baseball, Coaching, Football, Fun, Learning, Parenting/Children, Sports.

This afternoon, a friend and I were talking about “Fall Ball” in a local recreation league. She was complaining that an obscure rule (no infield plays made by outfielders) made this league very frustrating for her son, who plays in several other leagues. Due to scheduling issues (she’s a single parent), it’s not practical for him to participate in the more competitive leagues.


This reminded me of when my sons played YMCA Basketball (where the players were required to stand on “X” markers placed on the floor), and other youth leagues where the already confusing rules of adult game become even more complex when the adults try to “help” younger players learn the game by coming up with countless variations of the rules.

Who Benefits?
Who are we helping when we take an already complicated game and make it even more so? John Madden once observed that the joy of playing sports as a kid is generally destroyed when adults get involved. How is it helping a child learn a game if they are taught one set of rules when they are 6 years-old, another set when they are 9, and yet another set when they are 12?

Here’s an experiment: Take 18 kids, ages 9 to 12. Give them 18 gloves, a half-dozen bats, and a half-dozen baseballs. Put them on a field with bases and lines. What set of rules do you think they will use? I would wager that they will want to play by major league rules. They may “localize” these to fit if there’s something special about the field (“second base is Billy’s book bag, and anything past that tree is a homer”), but they are not going to make rules like, “no lead-offs,” or “all the batters must bat around until everyone gets a chance, regardless of how many outs,” or the converse of “no more than once through the batting order, regardless of how many outs.”

Who Loses?
What benefit does this create for any of the players? Well, it clearly provides rules-based assistance for the child that isn’t able to learn the rules or isn’t competitive with the other players. Is that beneficial for them in the long term? What have we done beneficial, other than postpone them discovering the disparity between their ability and other players? Isn’t recognizing that disparity one of the things that motivates all of us to improve?

Instead of helping the less-skilled player, such leagues actually hinder them by masking their inability. True, there may be some short-term self-esteem increase, but it comes at a high price: We deceive the child to improve his or her self-esteem.

Perhaps there are some places where youth-specific rules changes make sense. If so, I would say only to the extent that they keep adults from “loading up a team.” In short, I’m beginning to think that, outside of monitoring for unsafe behavior (football without helmets/pads, soccer without shin guards, and so on) the less we adults are involved in the game… the better.


1. Grace, T - September 27, 2006

re-member when kids just Played period? when it was a matter of who lived on our street or in your neughborhood and who could “come out to play”
re-member when play dates didn’t exist? People who kept date books were secretaries or folks who read the 7 secrets of success…If we want little league and all it’s branches to be less controlled by adults, maybe we should first start with allowing free time and letting kids just play once again…Maybe we can value everyone, including women who choose to stay at home so much that they don’t need to validate themselves by controlling and micro managing every breath produced by the the contents of the industry formerly known as home.

2. Tim - September 27, 2006

Exactly! – Tim

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