From the first Little League Baseball World Series in 1947, tens of thousands of children have competed to win the national tournament. Many of those children and their parents came to the stadium with dreams that success on the little league diamond would be a sure step to playing in the big leagues. But in the entire history of the Little League World Series, only 56 kids ever made it to a major league baseball team. And that ratio makes sense because early sports acumen doesn’t translate into mature skills. If anything, the Little League World Series should prove to parents that early sports success should be enjoyed on its own merits, without pressure, for pure and simple fun.
The lesson gleaned from the vanishingly small percentage of high-level Little League players who’ve gone pro is an important one for modern parents. After all the kid’s sports industrial complex continue to expand, with American parents spending $5 billion every year on youth sports. Travel costs, equipment, and additional training can cost a family thousands of dollars a year, and many parents admit to spending the money on kids sports before saving for retirement.
All of this money isn’t spent simply so kids can have a good time. According to a 2015 survey conducted by National Public Radio, 26-percent of parents hoped their kid would go on to play professional sports. Baseball, because of the requirements of team rosters and the farm systems is the sport that offers the best chance for kids to go pro. But even in baseball, only one percent of those who played as children will find themselves in the big show.
It makes sense that parents might hope. There are increasingly fewer paths to economic success in America. Sinking money and effort into children’s sports can often feel like a way to overcome the ever-widening gap between the highest and lowest earners in the United States.
What’s lost in all that spending and striving is fun. Parents and children become so invested in the sports they hope will pay off that they forget the simple thrill of hitting, running and catching. They forget that the athletic feats that play out on the Little League World Series stage are thrilling in their own right. The play of the little athletes has tremendous, and not because they are building a highlights reel at 12-years-old. The value comes from the simple joy of making a double play or striking out a side. The value comes in the camaraderie of the team and the fact that the kids on the diamond are discovering the magic of what their bodies are capable of.
Little League baseball is a game. It’s not an investment, despite the fact that parents treat it like one. As a game, it’s meant to be played for the thrill and magic of the contest. So as the world watches the kids take to the field to play ball, I hope we can take time to watch the game and enjoy it on its own merits. We are not watching the future giants of baseball. We are watching something much more profound and important: childhood in the full flower of boisterous, unbridled fun.