Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Frustrated by Sports Figures? Maybe It's the Principle of the Thing

If you have watched professional sports at all lately, there is little doubt that you have been frustrated. If you are a baseball fan and your team has been good enough to make the playoffs, you see your team up against the cream of the crop and all the sudden, weaknesses that might have been overlooked during the season, are being exploited. The season can end in short fashion for a playoff team.

We admire our athletes, we can't help but admire them. But being a fan can be frustrating not just when our teams don't play well, but it can also bother us when our heroes don't live up to their billing: when $4 Million a year isn't enough and our hero leaves town for greener pastures; when a star drives home intoxicated and is arrested; or when someone we admire has his "dirty laundry" aired in public over a marital dispute.

Sports and Our Kids

One question that comes up often, given the human failings of athletes is: How do we use sports as a positive force for kids--not just so they grow up stronger and better athletes, but so they grow up as better people?

It probably does no good to tell kids to avoid hero worship. It's just natural and it's going to happen. It's hard to be enthusiastic about someone to kids and then say, oh by the way, your hero may turn out to screw up so don't put that player on a pedestal. Maybe another approach is to go ahead and let our heroes serve as role models, but tell kids that we are all, including our heroes, trying to live by principles or ideals and we need to keep our eye on those as much as our role models. Everyone falls short of ideals, but these principles are what we must strive to reach.

In some circumstances, we are failing to teach principles to kids. And that's really a mistake on parents, teachers, coaches and administrators. We need to make sure that our kids understand the principles behind play and then they can apply them in sports and life. This is really getting to the heart of our little company called Sporting Chance Press.

Baseball Principles

We like to point out to people that baseball, perhaps more than any other sport can be instructive and a valuable teacher of not just the game, but character and life lessons. Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball principles are part and parcel of most teaching/coaching programs (despite annoying parents at games). We like to point out that Joe McCarthy penned 10 Commandments of Baseball back in 1921 -- these timeless principles are taught in most baseball programs today, but few people know their origin. We published a book that illustrates the principles in an affectionate and interesting way called The 10 Commandments of Baseball by J. D. Thorne. This popular-easy-to read book examines the principles that have told ballplayers to run them out, never quit, don't make excuses, respect authority, swing the bat, etc. Good things to consider in baseball and life.

We have also watched with great interest that bullying is getting national attention now in our schools. This month, is officially Bullying Prevention month. Another book we published called Public Bonehead, Private Hero examines the career and life of Fred Merkle. Merkle serves as an example of a wonderful intelligent athlete who became the number one scapegoat in sports history for his play during one game and had to live with the nickname "Bonehead" for his entire life. Merkle's story is one that coaches, teachers and parents should know so they can talk to kids intelligently about how bullying has been around for a long time and how it can cause damage to its victims and their families. Merkle was bullied by the press that held all the media cards back in 1908 when the Merkle game happened. Merkle remains one of the most written about athletes even in modern times.

Young girls can be bullied, even when they are good athletes. In our middle grade novel called Maddie Takes the Ice, Maddie, a young figure skater, has a difficult time coping with the pressure of competition when she is maligned by a fellow skater and then a "friend" as she heads into regionals.

Keeping principles of behavior and play in mind will help our kids understand that ultimately sports can teach much about life--and that our heroes may have a lot to learn as well.

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