The politics of Little LeaguePublished 11:42am Thursday, July 17, 2014
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I have been a softball player for as long as I can remember. The first team I was on was called McDonald’s. They called me “Big Mac,” because I was one of the few girls who knew how to swing a bat.
I remember riding my bike from my house to the little field down the street arriving 30 minutes early for each practice, hoping someone else would be there to toss the ball with me. Softball was not a means of making friends, even though that happened more often than not; it was not about just doing my best; it was about being the best. I blame this overzealous competitive nature on having two older sisters.
Most of the time, I cared more about winning than the coaches did, who were more interested in everyone getting a chance to play.
I may have been competitive, but I always remembered to shake hands with the other team at the end of the game. Even if I got mad during the game, it was left on the field each night. It’s what my parents and my coaches taught.
When I first began at The Daily Leader, I had to fill in for our sports editor at one of the Little League baseball tournaments. Seeing the field and smelling the fresh cut grass made me itch to my glove back on. It was exhilarating but also depressing. I haven’t been able to play a real softball game in several years.
Watching them play versus actually playing was an eye-opening experience. Yes, I have watched my Ole Miss Rebels dominate the field several times, but I had not seen a kids’ game since I stopped playing.
The parents and coaches were passionate about watching their 10-year-olds play. They cheered for their kid and all their teammates. Most of them knew the name, age and position of every player. In the spirit of competition, every parent and coach knew that their team was the better team. In moderation, this can be encouraging to their boys, but sometimes it gets a little out of hand.
During one of the games I saw, the umpire made a couple of questionable calls; which is part of the game in my book. After all, umpires are just humans, and I know it is blasphemous to say, but it is also just Little League. (This is not to say that it isn’t important to everyone involved; I’ve been there; I understand. But in the grand scheme of things it is just Little League.) Instead of discussing the contested call like you might expect two grown men to do, things quickly went downhill.
The problem came when a coach got in the face of one of the umpires and began screaming about the call. His passion got the better of him, which happens. I started watching the reactions of the boys while their coach was losing his temper. They began screaming about the play; mimicking the actions of their coaches who, in their minds, can do no wrong. The other team started yelling back, defending themselves and the questionable call. It was a chaotic mess.
After the game, one of the losing coaches came up to me and said to make sure to print that the opposing team only won because the umpires helped them. I was struck by the comment. He wanted me to take away the victory from the other team of 10-year-olds by saying the game was not played fairly. Unfortunately, he relayed that same message to his team.
From what I have observed, all those little boys grow up to be men someday; some of them even politicians who may lead entire political parties. The mantra I learned when I was young, “Win gratefully, and lose graciously,” can get lost somewhere along the way.
There are ways to play the game and ways to be passionate about what you are doing, but things begin to slide with that first over reaction, which leads to a counter reaction. There is a difference in contesting a call and hurling an insult. Those dozen 10-year-old boys who had their leader lose his cool have learned an unfortunate lesson about how to engage in a dispute.
In the adult world that I have recently been thrown into, I can see who was once one of those little boys, especially ones who get into politics or some leadership positions. It is a cyclical characteristic. Some of those boys may even end up coaching their sons and so on and so forth, perpetuating an endless cycle of poor sportsmanship. The belligerent tone of a leader is magnified by the size of their group.
When I wrote the story about the Little League teams, I did not mention the coach’s comments. The game ended, a team won and life moves on, but I probably will not be returning to a game any time soon.
Katie Williamson is a news reporter for The Daily Leader. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.