Youth Team Sports: An Adventure in Parental Frustration

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My son has been looking forward to baseball season and joining a team all year. But I am filled with trepidation. Maybe other parents are too — maybe there’s something more we can do?

Sign Up

Part of the reason (but not all, certainly) we decided to homeschool this semester was that my son wanted to play baseball. I knew from other parents that practices were more than one night a week and could run late in the evening. Games, too, could make for long nights. Homeschooling would allow our son — who was already struggling academically — to play ball, get plenty of rest, and still devote quality time and energy to his education.

My first problem was that there was no “sign up on (date).” Every information channel (other parents, school gym teacher, the gym that hosts the sign ups, the website for online sign ups) informed me only to “watch for it.”

“Maybe sometime in February.”

“Don’t wait too long to sign up.”

Really?

Summer camp signups open April 1. School registration is also due April 1. Fall soccer sign ups close September 1. Martial arts classes can be joined anytime, but are generally considered month to month. Same with music and technology classes. What gives baseball this magic pass to be elusive with basic information?

But one day in late January the website didn’t say “coming soon,” and I was able to sign up. I paid the fees ($100!), and I thought the next screen would give me confirmation, a list of dates, a list of equipment, notice of when to expect to hear from the coach — something. Any of the above so I could plan and budget for the necessary expenses. I’d hate to spend a whole lot of money buying the wrong things.

Instead, nothing. I received an email from my bank that an online payment I had made had cleared, but not even a confirmation screen from the sign up portal. For me, this was not a good sign.

The entire month of February…

Nothing happened.

No phone calls, no updates. I knew it. This fly-by-night operation had taken my money and run. My son had his homeschool classes, I wrote a few articles, we showed our house and eventually found a buyer, and we found a new place to live. All without a word from the baseball people who had my son’s information, my emergency contact information, and my money. Must be nice for them. I asked other parents when to expect to hear something, and got the reply “Spring.”

Spring? Really?

Spring Semester? Spring Break? Before Spring Break? After Spring Break? Six weeks after Groundhog Day? After Farmer Fitzgibbon starts plowing his field? “Spring” is not a concrete date concept for me, and I prefer to deal in concrete facts — dates I can mark on a calendar or on my phone.

March

Important Dates in March:

March 1 — we moved.
March 2 — another big snow- and ice- storm
March 4-7 — we finished moving and cleaning out the house we were selling.
March 7 — we closed on the house we sold.

March 11 — we get a call from the coach. The call came in at 8:58pm. (In this area, as in many places of the American South, it is unusual and bordering on impolite to call someone one doesn’t know after 9pm. This guy was cutting it close.) The coach sounded like a teenager. He did not sound like one of my son’s friends’ dads. He does not sound old enough to have kids my son’s age. (I did have the wherewithal to ask and confirm that he had no kids.) He told me that the first practice was Thursday (the 13th), that practice would be Tuesdays and Thursdays. He told me where practice would be, and asked if I had any questions.

I had tons of questions for my son’s coach. I just couldn’t think of them. I mentioned a schedule conflict (see next section). I had written down a list of questions in January when I signed up, but mislaid them among the many stacks of papers that had moved from house A to house B in the 10 days prior to the call. And when talking to a teenager (which I amended to college undergrad after the first practice), I was in no way reassured that my son’s dream sports activity was going to end well.

First Practice: Class Conflict

My son had one other outside the house activity this semester — a computer programming class. Just one night a week. Thursday afternoon, for 90 minutes.

Baseball practice also met for 90 minutes, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, starting one half hour later than the computer class. The class and ball practice were at least 15 minutes from each other by car, depending on traffic.

I told the coach about the conflict. He didn’t seem too concerned. “Well, he can just come when he can.”

I’ve heard that before. It means that while my child can put something else ahead of team practice, he can also spend games as a bench warmer. I’ve seen coaches do that to kids. As if kids can control their parents’ schedules, their siblings, or their siblings’ activities. I’ve already got the potential stigma for homeschooling. I don’t need to be “that” parent, too, bullying the coach or trying to get exceptions made for my kid. My son does need to learn to pick and choose activities. We work very hard to keep him from being over-scheduled and overwhelmed. However, we did not want baseball to be his only activity. We don’t even know if he’ll really like it — and when we signed up for the computer class in January, we didn’t even know when baseball would start or what days it would occupy.

The coach did not suggest changing teams to one that met on different days. (I should have asked, but like I said, I was caught completely off guard by the call, and then all I could think about was the immediate conflict.) Surely this problem had come up before with coaches waiting until the week of first practice to call players and inform them. And there isn’t a list of other coaches to call and ask to be traded.

We e-mailed the computer class director so she’d know why my son was absent (and we got a personal reply a few hours later wishing us luck). That made me feel even worse: I really hate canceling a good class with good customer service to pursue a questionable class with bad customer service.

However, I thought if I did not try to do both, I would be less stressed about interrupting both, being late, leaving early, and so on. We pay for the computer class monthly; had I known by the 5th that baseball would start the next week, I would have cancelled the computer class until after baseball season. One week’s prior notice would have saved me money and reduced my stress. But maybe I’m just being overly sensitive. It isn’t like I didn’t know baseball was coming — I just didn’t know when.

First Practice: Preparations

I can exhibit many characteristics of Type A personality, and I don’t know everything. Maybe the coaches wait until they see their teams to hand out handouts with all the information I knew I needed to ask but couldn’t remember in the heat of the moment. Maybe players got traded after the first week and so things were in flux until all necessary changes had been made. So all I had to do was get through the first practice. Then someone would be able to tell me all I needed to know — set me on the right path. I just needed to be patient — not a strong suit of mine.

I sent a message to some knowledgeable baseball parents inquiring as to whether my son could play the first practice in tennis shoes — and was told emphatically NO! He needed cleats and he needed ball pants, too. The latter was no big deal. I had bought some at a consignment sale back in October. As long as they fit, we were in business. Right?

But of course the pants bought in October didn’t fit in March. Welcome to growing kids.

I was out of time. I didn’t have a weekend to scour garage sales for used equipment. I had two days. Did my signup fee include a uniform, as I suspected? Nope. It covers a T-shirt. It cost twice as much to sign up for baseball as it had to sign up for indoor soccer a few years ago, and for all I knew, the only benefit my son would receive was a lousy t-shirt.

First Practice: Equipment Failure

So the pants didn’t fit, and my son still needed cleats. He had a new bat, ball, and glove — though some leagues play with metal bats and others with wood and we’re lucky our league (so far) says it doesn’t matter.

When I played baseball as a kid, though admittedly, never on a team, we were fine so long as we had a ball and something to hit it with, and could agree upon the bases: any branch on the bush was first, but you could not break the branch to take the base with you; second was the cherry tree — the one on the left; third was any part of the cement patio. Home should have been obvious — it was where we started batting from — but as the catcher (when we had one) moved to tag other bases out, we lost home a lot.

In contrast, my son was playing on a no-try-outs, no cuts league on actual baseball diamonds. I expected they’d all get team shirts from some corporate sponsor (or as part of our sign up fee) and beyond that, what does a kid really need to play a little ball?

It turns out he needed:

      cleats
      pants (white) — I bought grey. Obviously this coach doesn’t do laundry.
      belt (team color) — to hold up the pants.
      cup and compression shorts (oh, I’m not old enough to have a kid who needs these!)
      socks (team color) — I bought white socks (how cliche) because they would go with any color. I suppose he can still wear them to practice(s).
      helmet (team color) — they had some “community” helmets, but a parent warned me about head lice… Ugh! Been there, don’t want to repeat that!
              gloves (for batting)

Even with some items on sale, we spent $100 on equipment before the first practice, only to find out we had the wrong color pants and socks and needed a belt and a helmet. Tough on the budget, but not terrible if my son was an aspiring ball player. Or a terrible player who nonetheless enjoyed sucking at baseball. However, not knowing if my son will still be interested in baseball after a few practices, it was (and will still be) a lot of money to spend.

First practice: Where Were the Other Parents?

We’re a few minutes late, but not the last ones. By the end of practice, nine players were on the field. Without a list, I don’t know if there are other players, or if each team has exactly nine so everyone gets a chance to play and all positions are filled exactly. The latter would work out great so long as everyone showed up, but there are conflicts, or people get sick, go to birthday parties, become injured and unable to play. And without knowing dates and times for games in advance of them — do some people simply stop their lives for their child’s team sport?

Two women were sitting on the bleachers when I approached. One was a mom, like me. And like me, her son was playing league baseball for the first time. The other was “just the ride” — filling in because the parents couldn’t be there for some reason. I engaged both of them in light banter, but neither offered a name other than the first name of the player they brought, so I didn’t either.

Two fathers came mid-practice. They did not appear to know each other. They watched the practice for about fifteen minutes, engaged each other about work — one was in sales, apparently, the other, construction. After some signal that I apparently missed, they both got up and left, and weren’t seen again until the end of practice.

When the assistant coach (the coach’s adult male relative, by looks and later confirmed by the assistant) had told the players their team name and the next practice date and time, parents started to come out of the woodwork. At the coach’s request, they gave T-shirt sizes to the coach and left. No introductions were offered. No sheet of information was given. Another parent asked the coach about the team color (a specific kind of blue) and various uniform and equipment needs, and I wrote these things down on my clipboard. The fact that I wasn’t planning to keep this information in my head seemed to bother the coaches. Did they think they were sharing secrets that I did not need to know?

I asked the coach if there was a list of everything needed. He looked at me like I had two heads. I told him “hey, we’re new at this. I just want to make sure I have everything my son needs.” He told me I’d be “alright.” Whatever that means.

I asked if we’d get a list of players’ names, a team directory, or anything like that. You know, in the event the parents wanted to get together to give the coach something nice at the end of the season. Or if game time meant parents brought snacks and drinks on a rotating schedule. Phone trees were part of any group activity that I was part of growing up. Now we have text and email and Facebook and all sorts of ways to communicate to help each other and be part of a community. But Coach said, “I don’t think the league would like that. I mean, what if you and another parent got mad at each other and started sending bad texts and then sued the league for giving each other your numbers or something. Doesn’t that make sense to you?”

“No.” I said.

Sadly, it did. A little. It does — that same little. But my son was supposed to be on a team with kids from his (albeit his old brick and mortar) school. I was supposed to know some other parents because our kids were on the same team. I was counting on it. Or maybe they’d have enough homeschoolers to comprise a team, so more parents would be on equal footing with me — more eager to make introductions and share information. Instead, my son (from what I overheard or could tell) is the only 5th grader playing on a team of 6th and 7th graders. They attend the same middle school he will attend next year, but the 6th graders will be in a different section of the school and the 7th graders will move on to junior high. Their paths may never cross meaningfully off the field. They don’t have phones to exchange numbers with each other.

      How is my child supposed to invite a new friend over?
      How do I get to know any of the other parents I might sit beside during practices and games (without coming across as pushy)?
             How will I know whether I am sitting next to a teammate’s parent or a parent of the opposing team?

Parting Thoughts

So I still don’t understand how teams were chosen, if any thought was given to it at all. Why couldn’t parents choose when practice days or times were, since apparently teams were picked by drawing names from a hat? (I have since learned that another boy in the league has practice on different nights from my son. Another has practice on the same nights, but at a later time. Either would have allowed my son to keep attending his computer class without missing baseball.) Should I ask for my son to be traded? And how would I go about that?

I don’t understand how parents continue to pay for a league with so little organization and planning.
But I’ve talked to parents in three different states so far — they all tell me to relax and just “go with it.” I realize that baseball is America’s National Pastime (I don’t get it, but whatever), but is that an excuse for little leagues to make money hand over fist just so that parents can involve their children in a team sport? And why make it so complicated that to do the sport, everything else must be on hold? Do I just need to “chill”? What can I do to get through this season (or until my son tires of it) and how can I better prepare myself for next time? Because you know there’s always a next time…

For Further Reading

I am not opposed to team sports or baseball. You might enjoy:
Jackie Robinson

I just think parents can get a raw deal and we should help each other and support each other. You might enjoy:
Girls on their team
No Oneths Place
Time Management Help
Helping Kids Make the Medicine Go Down
Landmines
Chicken Soup

You can write articles for Wikinut, too, by clicking on this sentence.

(I am trying a different method of copying and pasting this article in its entirety instead of only providing the link. I hope it makes for easier viewing. Please let me know. If it does, then I will progress to moving all my articles over. I would rather have everything I write stored on a site I can control than one belonging to someone else.)

Update:

I found an email for the chair/head coach/director and sent an email. (I had written more, but it was deleted or I don’t see it now. Grrr!)

Update #2

Everyone —
So I e-mailed the head coach or chair or whatever, finding the email on a page that did not exist before sign ups. And he called me back. Said there is no switching of teams. Said they used to, but it created a big mess. And I offered that if parents had been able to state availability at sign up then there would be no need to switch. He said that he understood, but I got the feeling that his tone was more placating without actually giving anything away. Since we’ve already paid for baseball and the other class, he will attend baseball on Tuesdays and the computer class on Thursdays through the end of this month. Then we will suspend the computer class through April and possibly May (if he’s still wanting to play ball, which goes through June). June will start summer camps, which may give us more opportunities.
But this was a difficult decision. I really wanted to yank my son out of baseball and demand my money back. The lack of consideration for what is best for the child in this situation is just staggering.
I learned some more information about how many players are involved in my son’s age bracket which tells me more about revenue being made. I was also told how many fewer players are in the league this year compared to previous. It’s a loss of thousands of dollars. If dollars are walking, one would think customer service would improve. Perhaps when the business model becomes unsustainable…

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2 responses to “Youth Team Sports: An Adventure in Parental Frustration

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