We are not athletic people. I never played on any sports teams as a kid, and was always picked last in PE class or on the playground. I came in last whenever there were races. I danced ballet for over a decade, but I don't count that as athletics (not in any way implying that it isn't difficult or strenuous, both of which it is). BigDaddyFish didn't play on sports teams either, though he does report a number of rather vicious pickup football games. So we were surprised when Little Man asked to play baseball last spring, but we are supportive of our kids' efforts, so we signed him up.
He played his first season of any sport at all last spring, and while he did have his moment of heroics, nobody would mistake this kid as an allstar or anything. He's small for his age, skinny, and bookish - he's more at home taking apart a toaster or computer or cell phone to see how they work or reading a book or playing chess than he is on the ball field, but he says he loves baseball, so he went to camp this summer and he wanted to play again this fall.
I suppose I should pause here for a few words about the league we play in, specifically about the two divisions we are on the cusp of playing in. Right now, Little Man plays 8U, which in our league means it's coach pitch - the coach (or another qualified parent) for the team pitches to his own team. We don't keep track of balls and strikes - each kid gets 6 pitches, and it's considered a strikeout only if he or she doesn't get a hit in that time. Each half-inning goes to 5 runs or three outs, whichever comes first, so that the kids get a chance to actually practice their skills and not run up the score. The next league is 10U, which switches to kid pitch, and, well, it's a whole 'nother ball of wax. Those kids are in 4th or 5th grade and some of them pitch 50mph. Most of them have been playing a long time, some since they were 3 years old. They take their games VERY seriously.
In Little Man's case, I knew he'd have to be moving up soon, but I had hoped that since he has a later birthday, is only in 3rd grade this year, and really hadn't played much at all, that he could stay 8U for the fall season and then move up to 10U in the spring. That would keep him with many of his friends and at the very least keep the grades straightened out. Our league told us they changed the date to November, so I was happy that he'd get to stay 8U for another season. So I was shocked at registration when it put him into 10U.
I emailed the commissioner of the league to clarify their policy, and told him that Little Man wasn't turning 9 until halfway through the season (he turned 9 in September), he was only in 3rd grade, not 4th, and that he'd only had one season of baseball before. The commissioner and I went back and forth, but the upshot was that they were making Little Man play 10U. He told me that the only way that Little Man could play 8U was with a doctor's note, but I couldn't figure out what the doctor's note would be for, because if the child wasn't physically able to play ball, he wouldn't be playing ball.
I broke it to Little Man gently, but he was hysterical for several days. Even he knows that he wasn't ready to move up to 10U yet. He needs to mature. He needs to learn that it's okay to move to catch the ball, that his feet aren't glued to the ground. He needs to learn to get his glove in the dirt in front of the ball to stop it. He needs to learn to throw somewhere other than into the ground. He needs to spend a little more time following the game of baseball, knowing how many outs there are, where the plays are, so that he doesn't have to stop in the middle of a play to think where to throw the ball, or whether or not to hold it up and stop play. But eventually he adjusted to the idea that he'd be playing 10U.
He went to one practice, and he got out there and did the best he could, but it was obvious he couldn't compete with these kids, and they didn't even have the kids pitching at him for batting practice. We talked about it, and I told him he needed to do the best he could and we'd talk to the coach to identify what skills we should work with him on at home.
The coach called me after the first practice and said "I'm afraid for your son." Not a phone call you want or expect, but I responded "Me, too." He told me Little Man had told him that he was afraid of the ball, of getting hit. I explained the whole situation with his age and lack of experience, and told him what I had wanted in the first place was 8U. He suggested that he make some phone calls, and to make a long story very short, called me back and told me that not only could Little Man play 8U this season without a note, if we felt he still wasn't ready to move up in the spring, all we'd need is a doctor's note saying that because of his size he needs to stay down in 8U and he could do it then, too. I was grateful for both the explanation and for his involvement.
So Little Man played 8U this fall. The team didn't win a single game. The coach was an experienced coach, but accustomed to coaching older leagues, and I don't think he understood how much he'd have to be teaching game basics and how important it is to have the kids practice with whoever is going to be pitching. That's important for the kids, because they need to get used to how the parent pitches, but it's also important for the pitchers, because it's hard to pitch to someone two feet shorter than you are when you actually want them to hit the ball. Little Man has enjoyed it, so all's well that ends well.
Except now he's saying he's not playing in the spring. He says it's because he "just doesn't want to," but I know it's because he's afraid of 10U. And if he doesn't want to play he doesn't want to play, but I want it to come from a place of "I don't like baseball, it's not fun, and I'd rather do something else" and not from a place of fear. I don't know whether or not to push him to play 10U, or to play 8U with a doctor's note (which I have no doubt we'll be able to get). Maybe he'd be ready to move up next fall. Maybe he'll mature a lot between now and February when we need to register him for spring and the answer will be clear. Maybe we can find another sport he wants to try. Maybe he'll just devote all his time to cub scouts and chess club and his school work. But I don't want to teach him that the way to deal with a challenge is to give up. He can do this. He can overcome his fear. I just need to convince him of that.