Youth baseball season is coming to a close across most of the Charlotte region, and this marked the last season my family will participate in T-ball. My youngest son has aged out, which means we’re moving on from baseball’s entry level.
But having watched a combined four seasons between two kids, including one season as a coach, I’ve observed these five universal truths about T-ball.
1. Young kids have limited interest in baseball.
T-ball is for learning about baseball, learning about teamwork and for kids to decide whether they enjoy sports. Though you might find one kid who’s really into baseball and comes prepared with batting gloves, stirrups and even eye black, most kids have no idea what’s going on. They absentmindedly play in the dirt, spin in place, sing, dance, pick dandelions, pick their nose, wave to mom and dad, and do 100 other things that aren’t baseball. Only occasionally do they seem interested in the game. But so what? Watching this unfold is more entertaining than if they were playing hardcore baseball. The coach’s plea to get “baseball ready” usually has limited effect. This is how one sequence played out with my 6-year-old:
[Ball rolls near him]
Us: “Get the ball, Luke! Get the ball!
Luke: [Looks up, ignores ball] “Is the game almost over?”
Also, this was the scene literally one second before a ball was put in play.
2. Kids take directions literally.
If a coach tells a kid where to stand in the field, the kid will usually stand in that spot. And only in that spot. Without moving. No matter what. Seriously, they don’t move. My son’s coach would draw a circle in the dirt and say, “Stand here, Luke.” So Luke would stand there. If a ball was hit toward him, unless it was right at him, he would just let it roll by — because otherwise he’d have to leave the circle, and that would mean not following directions. And kids are told to always follow directions. The converse can also be true: If you don’t tell the kids where to play, expect every player to go after every ball every time.
3. Parents are actually OK.
The stereotype of the over-zealous parent doesn’t hold up, at least not at a T-ball game. I’ve found that 99 percent of parents are fine. They often cheer for both teams and make the kids feel like all-stars. But there’s sometimes one parent or coach — sometimes the same person — who takes things way too seriously. They’ll yell — though not in a mean way, just in an aggressive way that says, “THIS GAME MEANS EVERYTHING!” — and get visibly frustrated when a player doesn’t field a ball cleanly or makes a bad throw (all the throws are bad, by the way). I want to ask them this: What has gone so wrong in your life to make this game such a big deal?
4. Post-game snacks could be better.
The post-game snack is the best part of the game for many kids. This has been true for decades. But the quality of the snacks is lacking. It’s pretty common for the kids to be handed a Gatorade and bag of potato chips or cookies. Call me crazy, but 5-year-olds who stand still for most of the game don’t need Gatorade. And with most games ending within an hour of lunchtime, cookies and chips don’t seem like the right call, either. I realize that the snack is meant to be a treat, but today’s obesity stats tell us that kids already don’t eat well in general. This isn’t helping. On a related note, people won’t hesitate to eat a cheeseburger at 9:30 a.m. If a concession stand is open, people will eat.
5. Kids know no prejudices.
This is probably the biggest life lesson we can learn from kids. When they play, they don’t see color, ethnicity or even gender. They’re all just kids, playing together and having fun. There’s no “You’re black” or “You’re white” or “You’re a girl.” Kids only see other kids. They see equals. They all get along. They’re all happy. See, it’s not hard. This seems to confirm the idea that prejudices are taught.
In some ways, T-ball represents baseball at its purest level. It’s about having fun. There’s no pressure. They usually don’t keep score. It’s all about the kids.
If you have kids in T-ball, enjoy it. Let them enjoy it. Don’t buy into the idea that they need to learn about competition — how to win and lose — at such an early age. Try to see it as they do: Playing outside for an hour or so, just having fun with new friends.