The coach is key for kids' summer sports

Sunshine, gardens, and competitive sports. It's that time of year again. The children may decide to join baseball or swim team, but it is the mothers and fathers who have to enroll them, see that they get back and forth, and rearrange family life around meets or games. And it really can be the best part of summer.

Parents usually try to be enthusiastic without getting too carried away. It's hard to do. Last summer, my son Josh's baseball team came to the last game with nine losses, no wins. The fathers had been quietly supportive and careful not to show any disappointment.

When the team won the last game, however, the players were stunned to see fathers leaping over the fence and running onto the field, yelling and hugging each other and each child in turn. These were the same men who had said all year it "doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game."

Competitive sports teach life values. How much better to strike out at age 8 , than to strike out on a job you really wanted but weren't aggressive enough to go after.

This does not mean putting a shy child who hasn't developed his or her ability on the championship team or a child with exceptional ability with beginners. Find the team where the child is most comfortable -- where it's no crime to miss a fly ball or fail to swim the length of the pool.

It's a good idea at a minimum -- and never to yell out directions during an event. It's confusing to have the coach give one set of instructions and the parents another. It also puts too much emphasis on pleasing people rather than learning to love the sport.

If you have a child with natural ability, choose the instructor with special care. Watch how the instructor works with other children and be careful not to pick one who uses the child for personal fulfillment or gratification.

Last summer at the community pool, my son Zach learned to swim so quickly that his instructor envisioned a potential Olympic medalist and pushed him too hard. Now Zach is uncomfortable in the water. He feels it is a pressure situation to swim and he must always be striving.

Josh, on the other hand, learned to swim slowly and gradually. He loves the water and wins race after race.

Competitive sports aren't for every child. There are summer classes in music , art, dance, and crafts. I recall some summers when I was very competitive in swimming and others when all I did was read from June to September.

Children are changeable. The same daughter who spends this summer pitching for the Green Team, may be next summer's scholarship art student.

So cheer for the Green Team while you may!

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