'No cut' travel team won't cut it for teens

The Baltimore Sun

DEAR CAL -- My town is voting on a "no cut" rule for travel ball, meaning everyone who wanted to play would be able to. Do you believe this is a valid rule, or has the town gone too far?

Susan Matt, Berkley, Mass.

DEAR SUSAN -- Without understanding the age group, I'll take a shot in the dark. At some point, competitive sports progresses to the point that it is based on merit, meaning that the best players get more of an opportunity to play.

Early on, when kids are still in the learning and developmental stages, it makes sense to give everybody a fair chance to participate. At some point, I'm not sure exactly when, but I'm guessing that it's around ages 12, 13 and 14, it becomes more about who is most deserving to play.

As you get older, the competitive situations that develop within the framework of these teams teaches kids important lessons that ultimately will help them in business as well as sports. So, at some point, playing time and positions on teams do become merit-based.

There are many arguments about when this occurs, but to me it seems like it should take place when the game gets more serious around the ages of 13 or 14.

DEAR CAL -- Coaching Little League, I find it is difficult to control the emotions of the players after a poor performance. Children are throwing equipment, crying, etc. What would you suggest is the best way to deal with this?

Jim Teller, Chesterfield, Mich.

DEAR JIM -- This certainly is a common issue across youth leagues when it comes to teaching baseball. The kids are developing in a physical sense, learning how to catch, throw, hit and those sorts of things. They also are developing mentally.

Dealing with failure and frustration is difficult for all of us, but especially for young kids. Most parents seem to react in a very negative sense. They are embarrassed by the behavior of their kids, but most times it's not as bad as it looks. We certainly have the responsibility to tell kids that type of behavior is not acceptable, but don't go overboard trying to discipline them.

When it comes to dealing with this issue, I like to go back to a story of how my parents handled me. As a kid, when things didn't go my way I had a tendency to throw fits and to get upset.

Over time they managed to convince me that this emotion was a power source inside of my body, and that instead of doing negative things like throwing equipment or crying I should try to do more positive things with that energy and derive the benefits.

They suggested that I use that power source to do push-ups until I couldn't do any more to build strength, or that I go on a long run to use the energy to help improve my conditioning. Better yet, they recommended that I go practice whenever I felt that way to use the energy to get better and better.

Certainly the process is a lot easier said than done. Make sure that the kids understand their behavior is not acceptable, especially when throwing equipment threatens the safety of the other players. Be sure to keep in mind that frustration is an emotion we all experience, and do your best to try to help them turn that into a positive.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askripken@baltimoresun.com.

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