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The effects of the Little League program on immature youngsters who are unable to endure the stresses of competition and the pangs of defeat have long been deplored. Now comes a man with credentials in sport and psychiatry with suggestions as to how the problem can be alleviated.
He is Dr. Thomas Johnson, San Diego child psychiatrist and onetime Little League player, manager and umpire. Dr. Johnson thinks well of the benefits to be derived from Little League baseball, and his ideas, previously expressed to a Little League convention, have now been put in pamphlet form for distribution to League presidents.
For one thing, Dr. Johnson says, when a boy comes home in tears after committing errors and helping thereby to lose a game, the best thing to say to him may be nothing at all.
"There are parents who react with anger and that's destructive," he says. "But saying 'There's always next year,' or 'It's just a ball game' might be of little value, too, to someone who's just lost. It's like saying, when a child's dog dies, 'We'll get you another dog.' That's superficial and almost cruel. When your own dog dies there is no other dog. In the same way, a child needs to have his loss taken seriously. Minimizing of pain is not helpful."
What the parent should do, he explains, is first of all to listen and "find out what level of sadness the child feels.
"Having someone who understands is so helpful. Time will take care of the rest."
And Little League competition is useful, he adds, because children can benefit from reasonable pressure.
"You need obstacles to overcome. The motivation for much of early learning in infancy is frustration.
"Adults can help children handle the pressure of competition in two principal ways, by example and by keeping success and failure in perspective," Johnson says.
"Our children always observe us in moments of disappointment—the way we react when we find out we owe $60 more on our income tax, when the car repair bill is higher than we thought, when our bowling team doesn't win," he notes. "The example we set is No. 1.