My baseball-crazy eight-year-old boy is playing Fall Ball—a pared-down, more instructional, less competitive supplement to the summer leagues that tend to be all about championships and all-star nominations and too-intense parents. In Fall Ball, there are no playoffs and most of the teams don’t bother keeping score. My son’s enjoying it, and so am I. He likes it because he’s getting to pitch and steal bases for the first time. I like it because, as one of the assistant coaches, I don’t come home from games twitching with anxiety from dealing with screaming parents and crying children. I appreciate the laidback vibe.
At my son’s first Fall Ball practice, his coach gave the kids a little speech. He told them to let him know if they wanted to try playing a new position, and not to worry if they messed up. We’re here to learn, he said. Now’s the time to try things because there’s no pressure. And I was wondering: Why don’t we tell kids that in the summer, too? If instructional and pressure-free and noncompetitive is the right philosophy for Fall Ball, why not for summer leagues, too?
Maybe the answer is that kids—even more than pain-in-the-ass parents and crazy coaches—are competitive. Even though we don’t keeps score in our Fall Ball games, just about any kid on our team could tell you the score at any given moment of a game. For that matter, they know the score, and trash-talk freely about it, even when we’re playing a little intrasquad game in practice. I understand the impulse. When I play a game—pickup basketball with the old men, Scrabble with my wife—I want to win. A bad round of Wii golf can depress me for hours. And it's not that I think a little competition is going to kill anyone. So why is there still a part of me that wants to knock down all the scoreboards at the peewee baseball fields?