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Sports Psychology

Socialization of Children through Travel Ball
By
John F. Fidanza III, Psy.D., M.P.
Licensed Clinical/Medical Psychologist


Over the past several years with the growth and popularity of travel baseball, one has also seen increased criticism on how travel ball negatively impacts young boys. Many critics have espoused that there are “too many games; too much wear and tear on the body; parents are distorting their son’s ability and setting them up for a fall later in life”. These are some of the remarks made by parents and professionals who believe that excessive involvement in a sport is harmful to the growth of today’s youth and feel parents of players are disillusioned by the potential negative impact of travel baseball. Rarely, do we read the benefits that are associated with families and young boys socializing in a competitive and familiar environment on a daily basis. The opportunity for boys to bond with their teammates and coaches to achieve a common goal is in essence “community” and life at its best.

What is lacking in many children and families today is what is abundant in athletics – a passionate pursuit toward achievement. Find me a young person with passion in their life and you will see hope and excitement in their eyes. This can be observed on baseball diamonds across the country among players, coaches and families throughout the course of the season.

Players and families learn that discipline and sacrifices made in one area are the elements of gain in another.  The stories of personal sacrifices by athletes to reach a goal are well documented but families make sacrifices too and then eventually reap the fruit.  Families have to plan their vacations, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and coordinate personal schedules around the weekly baseball calendar.  As a result, they enjoy the kinship found in the travel ball community. Relationships are fostered and sustained through the emotional closeness developed while socializing with other parents, players and coaches that can last a lifetime.

The benefits of travel ball can extend far beyond the playing field.  Children who are introduced to travel ball are reared in an environment of fierce competition, yet along the way they soon realize the “fringe benefits”; seeing other parts of the country and identifying with different cultures; maturing as they develop independence when they travel or live with another family; learning quickly how to make new friends and appreciate old ones.  And don’t forget the simple pleasures of traveling with friends and family like hanging out and swimming at the hotel, playing cards, going out to eat and to movies.  All of this and more provides a young child a peek at an exciting lifestyle.

It should not surprise any of us that these children wish to continue to experience these opportunities into adolescence and young adulthood. Travel ball parents sometimes get a “bad rap”, but these families should be commended on their dedication to provide their children with a healthy, supportive and loving environment. Sounds like a great way to show children instead of telling them that life can offer many rewards if you just work hard and enjoy your craft.

John F. Fidanza III, Psy.D., M.P.
8141 New LaGrange Road
Louisville, KY 40222
(502) 423-722
drjfidanza@bellsouth.net

 

Dos and Don’ts for Travel Ball Parents:  “Agony of Defeat”

By

John F. Fidanza III, Psy.D., M.P.

Licensed Clinical/Medical Psychologist

Your son isn’t staying in front of the ball? Can’t wait long to hit the curve ball? He becomes visibly more anxious when a “nasty” hard throwing pitcher is on the mound? Many sports psychologists and educators believe that parents may the blame when a player is unable to reach his potential on the playing field.

In my years of coaching and working with athletes, I have witnessed many well intentioned parents who want the best for their sons, yet have fallen prey to living vicariously through their child’s baseball career.  I myself have lost perspective over the years, trying to balance between teaching my sons “not to make the same mistakes I made”, and having to admit that “if I had one more chance at making it, this time I going to do it right”.  However, many of us lose sight of the fact that it’s not about us anymore.  Our children deserve the opportunity to succeed and fail on their own without the pressure of having their parents incessantly remind them of “what you’re doing wrong” every step of the way.  One of the most important things we can do for our children is to help them develop a passion for the game and at the same time the frustration tolerance skills to self-correct when they make a mistake.

But be careful the pendulum doesn’t swing to far the other way.  Parents will often spend countless hours on positive reinforcement (encouragement) and trying to figure out pleasant euphemisms to re-frame failure.  The last thing many parents want is to have their child “bask in the darkness of failure”, and as a result we often try to re-direct our children from their mental and physical errors on the field. Focusing on the positive or telling our children “don’t worry it’s just a game”, can be just as damaging to our children’s psyche as recounting to them all mistakes they made during the game. The importance of exposing our children to the possibility of failure and sorrow in a competitive situation can provide them with an outstanding opportunity to develop one of the most important attributes necessary for success – Mental Toughness!

Failure and disappointment offers the opportunity to teach our children the courage to move forward by developing the inner resources available in all of us.  While it may seem almost unbearable to resist criticism or conversely “sugar coating” when our child fails at a task, it is important for us parents to realize that our children view the world through the eyes of people they love and admire.  By remaining both overly critical (even constructively) and overly sympathetic (minimizing the error), we can set in motion a pattern of conflict avoidance, blaming others and/or alienation from painful emotions and people.

So what does a parent do in these situations?  One alternative is to remain neutral, put your arm around them to reassure them you still care regardless of their success on or off the field, and “be available” without trying to “fix it”.  Later, find an appropriate time (right after the game usually is not best) to ask open ended questions about the game without insisting on an answer.  Listen with empathy.  The conversation needs to be at the pace of the child and your tone of voice needs to be quiet but confident.  The opportunity to “talk through it” will start the healing process.  It will instill an internal motivation to move past the failure and the courage to face fear under emotionally painful circumstances.

Never have the words “I want to be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart”, an old Tony Bennett song, seem so meaningful when our child is standing alone after “striking out with the game on the line” or committing a game changing error.  Failure is inevitable.  So use the opportunity to bond with your child, to help rearrange the broken pieces of their heart into a new and stronger vision for their path to success.  We need to develop self-confidence in our children.  Teaching them how to create a corrective plan of action is a healthy strategy to gain confidence (do not linger on the past but rather use it as a spring board into an action plan).

It is healthy to communicate to our children that failure and disappointment is inherent in the game (if a major leaguer fails only two out of three times at the plate, he is an all-star).  The game of baseball is extremely unforgiving, and the road to success is typically paved with many broken hearts.  It is important to remain focused on the realities of the game while encouraging your child that they have the “power” to increase their successes with proper preparation and rehearsal of correct mechanics and fundamentals.

The skill to handle failure and overcome it can last a lifetime while their baseball career may only last until high school graduation!


 

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