Meadville Tribune

February 20, 2014

Little League teaches fundamentals of very important life lessons

By Tracy Ferry
Meadville Tribune

— “What is it with kids these days?” Has every single generation before us said that exact same thing about their own kids? I’m wondering because I find myself saying that very thing now.

I’m originally from Meadville, Class of 1988. After graduating from high school, I went to the University of Texas and then worked in Washington, D.C., for almost 20 years. After a series of mini-meltdowns due to my two-hour commute each way, I finally persuaded my husband to sell everything, pick up and move “back home.” My folks had stayed in the area and we found a place to hang our hats in the wonderful town of Hadley. Once we were settled in, we started putting our young ones into the local athletic programs.

My oldest is now 11 years old, and we are in our third season of the local Little League baseball program. Last year, I was an assistant coach for the 9- and 10-year-old boys. We went on to play fall ball with the Greenville Little League and had an amazing time playing great baseball.

When I watched them make their first double play, I was hooked. This year, I’m the president of the Commodore Perry Little League. Over the course of my professional career, I’ve held many titles. President of the Little League is a title that I never thought I would hold and can say without hesitation, that so far, it’s my absolute favorite. I’m truly honored to have the opportunity to be league president for Commodore Perry. Why?

Think back on your lives. Think back to those wonder years. You know the years, the ones where you didn’t have to worry about bills, diseases, cars breaking down, heat going out, etc. When your biggest concern was what might be for dinner or if the bus driver was going to make you sit in the front seat for the rest of your life. Life was simple, and you had your heroes.

Who were your heroes? Mine were my coaches. I remember so many things that my coaches said to me during those formative years. They said things like, “Quitters never win and winners never quit!” “Push through the pain!” or my personal favorite: “You’d be able to run a heck of a lot faster if you dropped 20 pounds, Tracy.” (All were true). At any rate, it stuck. Later in life, when the chips fell where they did, I heard the familiar voices of my coaches time and time again. “Never, never, ever give up.” And so I didn’t.

It’s the 75th anniversary of the Little League organization, which was founded in 1939 in Williamsport, and we’re starting with a solid foundation here at Commodore Perry Little League. We all know that we have incredible kids. It just seems like something has happened. They’d rather stay at home and play video games than get on the field.

So, what is it with kids these days? Our kids are mini-adults, human beings pre-programmed to search out and travel the path of least resistance. They are opportunists with creative, sharp minds, tons of energy and a need for structure that goes well beyond what any grown man or woman (also seeking out the path of least resistance) is prepared to face on a daily basis. Our kids want to play video games, surf YouTube or spend hours texting friends. And to be honest, we actually do appreciate the slices of peace and quiet in an otherwise chaotic house. And that is good ... for a bit.

We have to make sure that we give them the opportunity to spend some more time with more people that are destined to become their heroes. Spring is coming and with spring comes Little League. I may be biased, but I believe that playing Little League can teach us some of the fundamentals of some very important life lessons. Lessons like: hard work pays off; you get what you give; life throws you curveballs; yesterday’s game doesn’t matter as much as today’s practice; sometimes you have to take one for the team and the ever popular three strikes and you’re out.

Why do our collective house apes want to play video games for hours versus getting on the field for practice? EASY! They have a chance at the epic win: the opportunity to be rewarded for their perseverance, save the world, kill the zombies, win the race and keep the bird alive!

As much as I hate to admit it, there are some pretty great things to learn from video games. I, for one, feel much more confident in our family’s ability to survive a zombie apocalypse with my 11-year-old around. But, on the down side, they’re not embracing the true spirit of friendly competition, they’re not getting any exercise and they are not getting to know any of the individuals who could eventually become the encouraging or inspirational voices in their heads later in life.

What can you do as a parent to make sure they develop habits that will encourage them to work hard, to come to grips with the fact that if you want something you have to earn it? Parenting is the hardest (and most important) job that we will ever have. No pressure, right? You know that already, but how can you teach them everything that they need to learn when there are so many signals coming at them from all directions?

Rule No. 1: It takes a village. Let them play their video games for a bit, and then get them to practice. Make them get off the couch. If your children are between 4 and 16 years old, register them for your local Little League.

Regardless of where you live, Little League registration is happening all around you. Sign them up with your local league. Let our coaches and outstanding community volunteers join the army of teachers and extended family members that help you teach your kids work ethic, perseverance, discipline and, if we’re lucky, the fundamentals, theory and mechanics of baseball/softball. Who knows, they may even learn to love the game we play on these ball fields.

Truthfully, I find myself inspired by YOUR kids and am obligated to pay it forward. Every kid should have the opportunity to be inspired. Every boy and girl needs more heroes. Every child in our county deserves positive local role models. Every kid needs to learn the life lessons that this all-American, simple, amazing game has teach them. It is for these reasons, and many, many more that every kid should play Little League.

Tracy Ferry, the president of the Commodore Perry Little League, resides in Hadley.