Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Fond memories of youth sports in the 70s and 80s

The photo above is not, it should be noted, one in which I or anyone I know appears. My little league softball/baseball career had just about ended by 1983.

But the one thing I share with the young men in this picture is the experience of having played dozens (maybe hundreds) of games wearing jeans. Not baseball pants, just good old Toughskins from Sears.

And, I should add, we were brilliant.

Or at least we thought we were. I played on some pretty good teams over the years and could hit the ball a fair distance, which is a good thing considering I had such a weak arm for an outfielder.

Here's what I remember about youth sports in the late 70s and early 80s:
  • We were always coached by dads, many of whom smoked during practices and games.
  • We wore those jeans but did have sweet matching t-shirts and hats.
  • If you weren't a good hitter, no one on the other other team had any qualms about yelling out that fact when you came to the plate ("Move in, move in! He can't hit it out of the infield!") I'm not saying this is necessarily good, but it's pretty how much how it was.
  • We got ice cream after games, but only if we won.
And I remember having fun. The whole thing really was a lot of fun.

I'm not saying it's radically different now, though I don't see the kids wearing jeans while they're playing. I spent more than a decade coaching and organizing youth soccer, T-ball, and baseball leagues, and the one thing kids of the 2000s shared with us Gen Xers is that they were just out there looking for a good time.

So that was always my philosophy as a dad-coach. Yes, I was going to make you work to get better, and yes, we were going to try to win. But if you're 9 years old and you're not out there having fun, then some adult (in this case me) has failed pretty badly.

You can go on your Old Person Rants about keeping score and participation trophies and all of that, but I'm not too inclined to listen. All I know is it's possible for young athletes to improve while still enjoying themselves. And if you're not doing both, you're not going to get much from the experience.

Of course, I still say sweating your way through a doubleheader in a pair of jeans in 85-degree weather builds character, but maybe that's just me.

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