Enjoyment and safety come first in the game


Q: It's Little League baseball season again, and I let my enthusiastic 8-year-old sign up; but I couldn't help wondering if it was the right thing to do. He wanted to join because his friends play, but I'm not really sure team sports at such an early age are a good thing. What do you think?

A: Your son's eagerness to do what his friends are doing is perfectly normal, but we respect your thoughtfulness about his activities. Our general recommendation would be to let your son try baseball while carefully monitoring his experience.

We would urge you to be certain that your son's coaches emphasize participation more than winning, that children are praised for effortand are not criticized or made to feel bad for "mistakes" and that every effort is made to prevent injury.

Safety equipment (e.g., batting helmets and breakaway bases) should be used all the time -- during practices as well as games. First aid and a phone should be readily available, and play HTC should end immediately and the children taken to a safe area (like the cars) whenever lightning appears. While Little League rules are attentive to all of these issues, compliance depends on individual coaches. You need to observe how your son's coach behaves.

Many children enjoy sports like baseball, which combine opportunities for individual achievement with cooperation. If your son looks forward to practice and play with enthusiasm, you can assume he is enjoying himself. If you support him with your presence without pushing him, you will be able to help him interpret his experience. You can also make sure that team sports are balanced in his life by other interests. Be certain to monitor your own reactions, too. Some parents become so caught up that they begin to push.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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