Now that many of our public schools are back in session, I'm sure we'll be hearing more about budget problems and the philosophy of "addition by subtraction." Time and time again, we hear from educators and education journalists that we should spend more money on core curriculum and that sports and the arts are non-essential activities that can afford to be eliminated should funds not be invested effectively. And there will be people like me who will be the first to immediately refute these ignorant points of view for not thinking about how critical these activities are to a child's social and emotional development - their "non-cognitive skills" so to speak.
Let me start out first by saying that I don't think everything is copasetic with youth sports. We focus too early on winning and losing, all star teams, and not enough time on having fun, learning the game, and most importantly, sportsmanship. Too many coaches have their priorities backwards and are psychological bullies on the field. Negative reinforcement is the worst thing you can do to a youth athlete. I should know. I lost my son to the sport that gave me much success in life, baseball, because of a terrible coach. Instead of fielding more teams, we need to field less teams that have well trained coaches.
I don't watch the Little League World Series. I haven't watched it in years. Why? Because it pains me to see 12 year olds throwing curve balls, splitters, and other junk that puts too much torque on their underdeveloped arms. By the time these young pitchers reach their late teens or early 20s, many of them will experience serious arm issues and perhaps even Tommy John Surgery. It's wrong - plain wrong. When I was twelve, I went to a prestigious baseball camp in New Jersey and learned how to throw a "safe" slider by a former major league pitcher who eventually became the head coach of a Division I Baseball Program. I never learned how to throw a "real" curve ball. I used this pitch my entire career.
But as I was watching sports highlights last night, I saw for a brief moment that there is still good in youth sports. Despite the over-exposure these youth face with the increased telecasts of the Little League Regionals as well as the Little League World Series, we sometimes see a coach whose priorities are right where they should be. We see a coach who understands that there is agony in a tough defeat, but that it's important to put it all in perspective for these impressionable young minds. We see a coach who realizes that it is his responsibility to be a coach first - not to get caught up in the moment and live vicariously through his players. Yes, there are some coaches who understand that sports build non-cognitive skills in our youth - things like teamwork, persistence, and sportsmanship. Youth sports are essential to a child's development, and if we spent a little bit of time training our coaches to be like Rhode Island Little League Coach Dave Belisle, we'd all realize that youth sports, like music and the arts, builds social and emotional skills. These youth will remember this coach for the rest of their lives, and while they may be heartbroken at first, they will eventually look back with pride. Why? Because Coach Belisle taught his players, as well as youth coaches and players around the world, that a good coach is like a good school teacher - they shape your character and prepare you to not only excel in sports, but more importantly, excel in life.
Watch the 3 minute speech and judge for yourself. We could all learn from this honorable man, who didn't memorize a speech. He simply spoke from the heart, and at least for this occasion, I was glad that there were cameras to capture the moment for the world to see.