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Little League World Series Begs Question: Should Parents Stay Home?

If author Daniel Pink had his way, the stands at the Little League World Series, which begins this weekend in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, would be half-empty. Who’d be missing? The players’ parents.

It’s easy to debate the merits of Little League‘s championship concept and the amount of media coverage that turns 11-year-olds into celebrities. The entire tournament structure also highlights the extreme commitment of families in terms of time, finances, and lung power that many believe might be better spent.

Pink was recently featured on the PBS NewsHour. Although he makes no direct connection to the Little League World Series, Pink’s conclusion is that even typical parents devote far too much time watching their children participate in organized sports, much to the detriment of their prodigy.

“America has a problem with youth sports,” he begins, “and the problem has a name—two names, actually: ‘Mom and Dad.’ ”

Pink isn’t specifically going after the over-zealous, over-the-top parent who coaches his child four seasons of the year, alternately officiates and berates umpires, or screams uncontrollably from the sidelines. It’s not about the parent that takes a month off from work to watch a child participate in tournaments across the country. His indictment is about the typical parent who simply attends the vast majority of games and practices—and he includes himself in this category.

“The deeper concern,” he says, is with “the good [parents], the nice ones . . . who come to games and cheer for the players and shout, ‘It’s OK,’ when our sons and daughters strike out. We’re part of the problem, too, and it’s time for us to get out of the way.”

His suggestion—tongue-in-cheek as it might be at the extreme—is to prevent parents from watching. Send them off to play their own games instead of sipping coffee in the stands.

“Let’s ban parents—all parents, not just the whackos—from attending their kids’ games,” Pink says. “Let’s step off the sidelines and climb down from the bleachers and make kids’ sports a parent-free zone.”

Pink’s contention is that children spend too much time looking to the sidelines for parental approval and focus too little on mastering the game and their obligation to teammates.

Contrary to Pink’s view, I contend that parents should be praised for their involvement—for committing the time it takes to drive to and from events and enjoy their children’s best efforts on the field or court.

Oh, how I wish my parents had the time to attend the majority of my games or the expertise to amplify a coach’s message. Moreover, how I wish they had a chance to share my successes, understand my frustrations, and have the opportunity to discuss them.

This debate is more than simply about parents showing up for games. It’s about not missing an opportunity to interact with a child who is engaged in an activity that is likely to be fun or important (perhaps both) to that child. Team sports should be an opportunity for positive give-and-take and education.

It’s not only the actual time spent on the field that matters. It’s that quality parental time that’s spent in the car or at the dinner table dissecting events that were witnessed and shared firsthand. It’s the discussions about winning and losing, safety, and sportsmanship that should take precedence as part of the educational experience.

As I see it, America has many problems, but none are named “Mom and Dad Who Participate in Moderation.” So, I implore you to enjoy the Little League World Series for what it is and continue to support your children in their athletic endeavors the best you know how.

Do you agree with Daniel Pink or with me?  Add your voice in the comments below.


Featured Image – Benson Kua / CC by 2.0

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Seth Livingstone

Seth Livingstone is a veteran writer and editor who has spent much of his career in sports journalism covering multiple Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series, and Daytona 500s. He covered the Boston Red Sox throughout the 1980s and 1990s before joining USA Today and Baseball Weekly in 1999. He maintains his membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America and is a Hall of Fame voter. Seth holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and has also worked as a substitute teacher (all grades and subjects). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and has two grown children.

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