NEW YORK -- Les Edgerton - a dad, a coach, a self-proclaimed Little League survivor - says it's time to give children's sports back to children.
Tournaments, sponsorships, ego-sensitive coaches and parents watching their star offspring have taken over baseball, Edgerton says.
Just look about all the attention and media coverage the Little League World Series gets, he says with obvious astonishment.
Same goes for soccer, football and any other sport that can offer a lucrative deal to top players, he adds, which largely has meant an end to pickup games in local parks because children are too busy with practices and drills.
Even youngsters who plan ahead and register for sports have very little time for genuine fun on the field.
"Most kids in Little League get to play 14 or 15 games (during the season) and then the All-Star teams are picked. By June, there is nothing for most kids to do. Maybe a longer season, without worrying about tournaments and TV, would allow the majority of kids to enjoy the experience of baseball and Little League."
Edgerton, with his 14-year-old son, Blackhawk Middle School star pitcher Mike Edgerton, has written "Surviving Little League: For Players, Parents and Coaches" (Taylor Trade).
"There's too much coaching of young kids and not enough teaching," says Edgerton, of Fort Wayne, Ind. "Let kids have fun and make mistakes. Make it an environment that they can try new things."
Mike Edgerton adds, "It'll stick more if you learn something by yourself than if you go to a baseball camp and have it drilled into you."
The first step in returning the game to its rightful owners, according to Les Edgerton, is for parents to ask themselves about their own goals and intentions when they first sign their children up to play a sport.
The answer should be more about the youngsters than the parents. For example, parents who hope their child will have fun and learn good sportsmanship are on the right track, but parents who are hoping a scholarship will relieve some of their college financial burden are not, he explains.
Also, he says, make sure you and your child share the same dreams.
At one point, Mike Edgerton found himself resisting practicing, probably because he dad kept reminding him to do it.
"I started to feel like we were so focused on work whenever we'd go out to play that we weren't having fun out there," Mike Edgerton recalls in a telephone interview.
So, he spoke up and he and his dad now have an understanding that they each are involved in Little League because they love the game and they each can decide for themselves when they want to quit.
"Now I'd be able to tell him (his father) if I didn't like it anymore or if I didn't want to play. It's very helpful to know that. I'm not forced to do baseball; I want to do baseball," Mike Edgerton says.
Les Edgerton urges parents to use their passion for sports to benefit their children and to teach a lesson in democracy.
Right now, it's the few vocal - and usually pushy - parents that are running things, deciding on schedules, positions played and even uniforms, Les Edgerton says. He'd like to see other parents use their voices to lobby leagues to open the fields to the public when scheduled games aren't being played and to encourage good efforts instead of only cheering good performances.
They even could push for a less restrictive dress code so children could feel comfortable in their uniforms, he says.
"I say we let kids wear their hats backward. Some parents seem to think that this will lead to anarchy on the streets, but it won't. Ken Griffey (Jr.) started the backward hat, and he looks like he really enjoyed the game."
One rule, though, that Edgerton would support is to prohibit parents from coaching their own children. "It would eliminate a ton of problems," he says, noting the coach's child usually ends up in the best position --or the worst.
"It also eliminates a lot of potential coaches because parents often volunteer so they can be with their kid, not because they love baseball," he says. "But losing these coaches might not be a bad thing, either."
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