Team sports can build character

By Glenda Price: CNJ columnist

My grandchildren have introduced me to organized team sports for kids, and it’s great fun — for everyone.

Parents who succumb to poor sportsmanship during their children’s games make the news now and then, but I can tell you most families are not like that. They are their kids’ cheerleaders, and nobody worries much about whether they win or lose as long as they did their best and had a good time.

Parents (or grandparents or aunts or uncles) drive the kids to practice after school during the week, which is fairly easy. Saturday is the day requiring love and dedication. There’s no sleeping in; everything starts about 8 o’clock. That means you’ve gotta be there — with the young athlete awake and wearing the uniform, cleats, and whatever other regalia that particular game requires.

During spring and summer, it’s tee ball for the littlest kids, coach-pitch baseball for those a bit older, and finally they get to the real deal.

Soccer seems to go on year-round. On cold winter mornings — again beginning at 8 o’clock — fields of dried grass filled with kids of all ages wearing cleats, shin guards and colorful uniforms are everywhere you look. Grandparents (like me) don’t understand the game at all. As far as I can tell they mostly run around a lot, and kick the ball now and then.

In summertime tee ball, the ball is placed on top of a metal tee, adjusted to what seems the right height for the young batter, who swings at it. Now and then a little batter really smacks a good one. When that happens everybody yells, “Run,” and after a few confused seconds he (or she) takes off for first base.

If the ball goes into the outfield, the batter probably has a home run because by then those little outfielders have lost interest. They are digging for worms, pulling up grass, checking out the stitching on their mitts, watching birds fly over or any number of other activities that (I must agree) are more interesting than standing out there paying attention, for Pete’s sake.

Sometimes when the batter gets to first base safely everybody yells for him or her to stop there. One little 5-year old girl stopped, looked the bag over, saw it was dirty, and proceeded to dust it off with her hands. Wouldn’t want to stand on a dirty base! Then she happily stood on it, not noticing her teammate had hit the ball and was running toward her. Everybody yelled, “Run,” so she did — right to home base.

Looked like a home run to me.

Recently I went to a soccer game. The coach placed one bitsy girl probably 5 years old in the goalie position. All the action was on the other end of the field, and her team made a goal.

Her coach yelled, “Are you paying attention?” She nodded, so he asked, “What happened?” She just smiled and shrugged.

She was wearing that uniform and standing on the field. Who could ask for anything more?

In a few years she might be an Olympic athlete.