Thursday, May 30, 2013

Paying Our Dues

I got into it yesterday with my son's Little League coach. Not the regular coach, who was out of town; this was the assistant coach. I noticed he was playing all the younger kids (including my son) in the outfield every inning. The head coach's practice has been to switch the kids from infield to outfield each inning, his reasoning being that not much happens in the outfield in a league for 9 and 10-year-olds and it's only fair that they all get a chance to make some plays and learn some skills.

Apparently, not all coaches agree.

When I asked the assistant coach about it, he became irate, telling me the kids needed to "pay their dues" before they got a chance to play in the infield. He also told me it was because of parents like me that he hates coaching.

Personally, I think it's because he hates children that he hates coaching.

Because the absurdity of his "pay their dues" statement is so patent, I can only think he intensely dislikes the kids he's supposed to be nurturing.

"Paying your dues" is an expression from the business world, the working world, the professional world--the ADULT world.  It has nothing to do with children. Most of the kids in a league for 9 and 10-year-olds will never play beyond Little League; in fact, many of them won't even graduate to the league for 11 and 12-year-olds. They'll lose interest, move on to other sports, or simply be unable to keep up with the competition at the older levels. I played in recreational leagues until I was fifteen, which was pretty good--but then, I was pretty good. I had some friends who played on the high school team. I knew no one who played professionally. The odds against that are so steep--tens of millions of Little Leaguers, only a few thousand players in the majors--it's not even worth thinking about.

Little League is--or should be--about having fun, developing fundamental skills, getting kids to love and respect the game, learning teamwork, and all those things. It should not be about preparing players for professional careers. If a kid whose playing career is likely to last no more than two or three years has to "pay his dues" before getting his shot, when is he ever going to get that shot? How, for that matter, is he ever going to develop the skills he'd need in order to get it?

I wish I'd been able to say all these things to my son's coach. The situation being what it was, I did little more than sputter incoherently when he dropped his "pay their dues" bombshell on me. But I do believe it's because of people like him that so many kids find youth sports a source of anxiety and an occasion for tears, rather than a source of joy and an occasion for achievement.

But okay, this blog isn't about youth sports. It's mostly about writing. So what does this have to do with that?

I do believe writers have to pay their dues. Professional writers, that is. Many of us labor in obscurity for years before we make it big; most of us never make it big at all. And if we do make it big, it's because we worked our butts off, honed our craft, developed our abilities as self-promoters, cultivated a fan base, and so on and so forth. You think John Green came out of nowhere? You think Suzanne Collins did? You think even J. K. Rowling did? Maybe she didn't do a ton of writing before she penned her breakthrough novel, but she did a ton of living, and that's just as good, probably even better.

Rowling paid her dues.

As writers, we all need to pay our dues. We shouldn't expect overnight success. We need to be tough and prepared for disappointment, even for failure. We need to recognize that not all of us will make it to the Show.

But that's us. We're adults. We're professionals. We shouldn't let our own difficulties shape how we treat our kids.

Let's pay our dues. But let's let our kids play the game.


  1. I can definitely dig this. Well said.

  2. Thanks, Michel. I only wish I'd been able to say it at the time (though I doubt it would have had the intended result).

  3. Totally agree, thank god my boys are on teams with like minded parents and the coaches are actually folks I like--as an aside though, my older son's soccer coach is kind of old school but since my son goes to an alternative school with lot's of self esteem building I actually like the hardass coach tactics (I somehow survived a dance teacher holding a cigarette under my leg so I would lift it higher) --but he's 13--my 9yo plays baseball and gets to play all positions--I have experienced some extremely unreasonable parents though, so maybe have a chat with the coach so you both don't think eachother are such douches:)

  4. Good advice, Darya. I was actually thinking about talking to the guy so we can try to come to some mutual understanding, if possible. And I think it's important, as you say, to distinguish between little kids (most of whom are just playing for fun) and older kids (some of whom are playing very competitively).

  5. For what it's worth, I did have an email conversation with the coach, and we're cool--still not seeing eye to eye philosophically, but agreeing to disagree.

  6. OMG! There are RULES for that!!!! The kids are supposed to be rotated fairly, and #14 is NOT supposed to be playing first base five innings in a row! (Sorry. Now I'm talking about my son's last game.)

  7. So I guess this is a problem lots of places. What to do? Confrontation didn't work for me; maybe approaching the league commissioner? Or volunteering to coach (something I've considered doing, but I thought it would be beneficial for my son to have experience getting instruction from other coaches). You'd think something like this would be simple--but apparently nothing is.