“Why baseball is the hardest sport for kids to learn”

I have umpired baseball at all age levels, as well as soccer, some basketball and went out for football in high school.  Of all those sports, I’m convinced that the most difficult by far for kids to play is — baseball.

Adding to the difficulty, many adults who are football fans have a disdain for baseball.  When the NFL players went on strike in 1982, I wrote a free-lance article for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which I interviewed union members (steelworkers).  “Do you support the NFL players’ union?” I asked.

ALL of them said, Yes — but some volunteered the additional opinion that they would NOT support the baseball players’ union!  They thought baseball players had it too easy.

Thus, I think it’s safe to say that many dads of kids who go out for baseball like football better — and do not take the time to LEARN how to teach baseball, though they THINK they already know the game.  They DON’T.  I can prove it.  Just come to a game and listen to the advice they give the kids.

Baseball requires precision.  One finger out of place in throwing a baseball can send the ball in weird directions.  In football, a quarterback can play with a BROKEN finger!

Football players can play with a broken wrist.  Baseball players can’t play with a sore pinky finger.  They can’t swing a bat — they can’t throw a ball accurately.

Baseball requires precise, even delicate skills.  Many youth coaches have no clue as to how precise the skills of the game are, and thus they give the most general — and nonsensical — advice when a kid is having trouble throwing strikes.  “Take a breath.”  “Walk around the mound — relax.”  And — my all-time favorite — “Throw strikes.”

Throwing a baseball from a distance of 50-60 feet at a target only 18 inches wide requires precise skill.  It’s far more difficult than the typical practice of throwing a football through a car tire hanging from a rope — the hole in a car tire is a lot wider than 18 inches.  Many dads are clueless as to how to help kids throw a baseball with any accuracy.

Fielding a sharply hit grounder is one of the hardest things a kid must do in sport.  It is not natural to stay put when a projectile is hopping towards you faster than a cheetah.  When I umpire, I watch so many kids either do the bull-fighter’s “o-lay”, or just stand up and let the ball skip through their legs.

It takes skill to know how to corral a sharply hit grounder (as well as courage).  But most coaches just yell at the youths for missing the ball (with no credit for their good sense of getting out of the way of a dangerous projectile).  It’s the same with hitting.  I see kids coming to home plate with facial expressions frozen with fear — some kids arrive at the plate in tears — they are so afraid of getting hit by the ball.

I’ve never seen kids that afraid when playing football!

Baseball requires immense courage along with delicate skills.

The sport also demands one of the most difficult things for kids to do — pay attention!  Whenever I’m umpiring a game in which the pitcher can’t get the ball over the plate — one batter after another is being walked — even as I broaden the strike zone more & more — I glance at the poor, lonely outfielders, standing out there in the “outer space” of green grass.  The kids look as glum as if standing in line for detention.  Suddenly a ball IS hit in their direction — they have to snap to alertness.

Being at that height of alertness on EVERY pitch — is enormously difficult for a youngster.

The physical demands of baseball work AGAINST the physical nature of kids — it requires dexterous hands (which young kids don’t have), it requires intense focus (which many young  don’t have), it requires courage unlike any other activity (standing your ground when a projectile is hurtling towards you faster than anything you’ve ever seen in your life).

Our national pastime IS the most difficult sport for youths to learn.  I think the difficulty contributes to the disinterest that many inner-city, minority kids have about the game, preferring basketball for its faster pace and easier accessibility (you only need two kids and a hoop to play basketball) and football for its popularity.  There is no comparison in any high school between how much attention a football team gets even during a losing season — the band, the crowds, the cheerleaders, the support of parents, the heavily staffed coaching crew, the budget allotted by the school board — compared to a baseball team, even a championship baseball team.

Thus, baseball is a distant third in the thinking of many kids who go out for sports.  They would never WALK onto a football field the way they WALK onto the baseball field.

Respecting the sport is most difficult, because baseball is thought by many adults to be an easier game than basketball and football.  It isn’t.  And for parents to make the effort to learn the complexities of teaching the game — it’s a distant interest in the mind of many kids’ parents.  They THINK they know the game.  They don’t.  Thus, the way for adults to help kids to learn the game — and to respect all that it takes to play baseball — and to enjoy success at this most difficult sport — is sorely lacking.





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