The crack of the bat says it all--baseball and softball seasons are in full swing. And who doesn't dream of hitting the winning run in the bottom of the ninth? With the stands full of tense parents and a win-at-any-cost coach on the sidelines, kids can let the fear of making a mistake keep them from developing skills and enjoying the game. But for kids to have a chance to learn the essence of team play, good sportsmanship, and a love of the game, an informal all-family pick-up game might be just the right ticket.
When one of our charter families from New York State reported having so much fun at a pick-up game, we decided to take their idea and go with it.
Gather a pail of baseballs, mitts for everyone in the family and a bat or two, perhaps even some peanuts, Cracker Jacks or other baseball snacks. Invite your neighbors or some friends, and head to a nearby baseball field. One mother tried her own backyard but found that it held too many distractions for her youngsters.
You don't have to be an all-star-- general knowledge and the desire to try new things are all you need to make this a grand-slam memory. You can do a little preparation and rev up enthusiasm for the game by checking out www.juniorbaseball.com. A Connecticut family visited the Web site for their local baseball team before gathering the gloves.
To keep the focus on fun, once you're at the field, allow everyone to bat and to have a chance to play in many positions. If you don't have enough players for two teams, try Two-a-Cat. You start with two batters and everyone else plays defense. Use as many infielders and outfielders as you like--it all depends on how many people are playing. When a batter makes an out, the catcher becomes the next batter and everyone else moves up a position, pitcher to catcher, first baseman to pitcher, second to first, and so on. The newly retired batter goes to the last position in the outfield (but he'll move up fast). You can rig up a memorable pitcher-batter duel by placing Mom two positions behind or ahead of Dad.
The Hannan family invited some close friends to join them. Because their children were all under 5, they used a Tee Setter for more opportunities to hit the ball, minus the fear of being hit by a wild pitch. They also used foam bats and balls. This came in handy as during one of the plays, one dad accidentally hit the other dad with the ball. No one was hurt, and the diversion that followed allowed a few players to steal home!
Whatever version you play, give the kids the opportunity to play different positions. But what's more important is that they see the adults actively participating in their sport. Nobody needs to feel not good enough to play. After all, even Mom is out there dropping the ball, and Dad might strike out. Don't forget that good-natured chatter is part of the game.
Playing together sets the stage for learning and fun. The Hannans felt the experience provided ample opportunity for positive reinforcement, making everyone a big winner. Sammy Sosa doesn't have it this good! Give it a try!
TAKE IT FROM ME
"The kids see their parents involved in a real way and they see that laughter and frustration are shared as a family learns together." --New York Mom