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Ken’s Column: Youth Recreational Sports: Athletics in its purest form

This past Saturday, I went to the Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department’s opening day for youth baseball to take pictures for our spring sports preview. While I was there, however, I experienced much more than just action shots.

Watching kids ages 5-12 playing baseball and tee ball (6u kids play tee ball) brought me back to my days as a child playing baseball and, for the most part, slow-pitch softball.

Those were wonderful memories. As a nine year old, I remember getting up early on a Saturday morning and putting on my uniform, even though my game wasn’t until much later that afternoon. I imagine that these kids playing on Saturday had the same exact feeling when they woke up early that morning.

As I watched the five and six-year-olds playing tee ball, my mind brought me back to those days as well. I can remember playing tee ball on the ball fields of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker, GA, a suburb of Atlanta. I don’t remember getting all worked up over winning and losing. I just remember going from first to second base. I thought it was cool to go from one base to another. I probably did what every tee ball player has done: run to third base after hitting the ball. What is refreshing, in a way, about kids playing at this age, is that they are just happy to be outside playing. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that the competitive nature of the game has hit them yet. I’m not sure they care about winning and losing or know the difference. I don’t recall getting upset about losing a tee ball game. As I watched those kids playing, it was fun to watch the kids enjoying themselves as they tried to hit the ball and run to the “right base.”

As I watched the kids from ages 7-12 playing in the other games, they definitely understood winning and losing, but they were out there to mainly have fun as well. It brought back a lot of memories for me. I played very little baseball growing up. I did play the “Coach Pitch” baseball when I was nine years old and played one year of fast-pitch baseball when I was 10. However, at that level, the ball was just too fast for me to see, so from then on, I stuck with slow-pitch softball.

I can remember playing softball from age 10 all the way into my high school years at the ball fields of First Baptist Church of Lilburn, GA. Those were wonderful times, particularly as a young boy.

I’ll spare you the rest of my life story as far as athletics is concerned. The main point I’m trying to make is that youth recreational sports, particularly from ages 5-12, is and always should be focused on kids learning the game and having fun. That was my experience and I am glad to see that the kids playing in the SCPRD recreation baseball program are having that same experience. This is in part to SCPRD Director Tim Estes and the volunteer coaches who are determined to make the experience an enjoyable one for these kids. It’s an experience they will never forget.

At the recreation level, while players, coaches and parents still want to win, it is not as important to win as it is in high school sports. There are no “bench warmers” at this level. Everyone gets a chance to play no matter what his or her skill level is. There is not as much pressure to win.

To me, this is sport at its purest form. Kids are playing the game for the love of it. They don’t care about college scholarships or how major league clubs can see them. They are playing the sport for fun. These kids will see the truly competitive side of sports soon enough. While they are still children, may they be allowed to enjoy playing the game for the love of it.

 

Ken Gustafson is the sports editor for the Americus Times-Recorder. To contact him, call 229-924-2751 or email him at ken.gustafson@americustimesrecorder.com.