Whether or not you love baseball and softball, your Little Leaguers® should. Falling in love with the game itself is the single greatest early predictor of future participation, bringing with it all the health and social-emotional benefits Little League® offers.
The best-case scenario is your children consistently wanting you to play catch or throw batting practice, making sure your TV is tuned into a game, and asking you to take them to high school, college or professional games. Other good signs: a baseball card collection, sleeping with their mitts, and even baseball-themed video games.
You can encourage all of this through your own behavior. If you grew up with love of the game, you may be the one leading much of the above. Crack out that old shoe-box full of cards and engage with your kids about what the sport meant to you when you were their age! And, yes, get out onto the field (be sure to stretch first!) to play catch or throw BP. If you have them, show your children your Little League photos and share your experiences with them.
If that’s not you, your child can lead. He or she just needs to know you are open and interested in their passion for baseball or softball. That can be extremely fun and rewarding, plus you get to learn and grow – and set the example for your child about how to learn and grow – while also giving yourself the chance to be bitten by the baseball or softball bug. Be present, go to games, be excited about your child’s Little League accomplishments and experiences.
Regardless of who leads the “falling in love” process, such engagement opens the door for terrific conversations about the life lessons your children that are at the root of the Little League experience, such as hard work, sportsmanship, overcoming adversity, and fair play. It also creates an environment that welcomes siblings, cousins, neighbors, etc., so that sport can serve as the glue in an expanding community that supports your child’s passion.
While this is happening, parents ideally seize teachable moments. That may mean pointing out examples of good or bad sportsmanship in live or televised games you watch together. It may mean praising your player when he or she gets past a skill-development obstacle, praising not just for the improved skill, but for the character trait of determination and commitment that was required. Praising for the character trait reinforces the value of that trait so that your kids can apply that same trait to school work and other endeavors.
Starting now, and hopefully lasting for many more years from now, sharing a love of the game with your Little Leaguer® may mean you share an even more loving overall relationship!