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Dugout Doings:  'Make it fun'
Dr. Jack Llewellyn
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Dugout Doings: 'Make it fun'

Courtney Moreno arrived early and read as she awaited Dr. Jack Llewellyn's presentation in the NYO gym on Sunday.  Her son, Ricky, is 5 and played Small Ball last spring. 'Some days, he mostly enjoyed playing in the dirt,' Courtney recalls. But when mom and dad asked Ricky if he wanted to play in the fall, then again this spring, he responded enthusiastically. 'We try to be encouraging, to remain positive and we want for him to have fun.'
With those few words, Courtney Moreno could have delivered Jack Llewellyn's speech for him. But Dr. Jack's hour-long talk to NYO coaches and parents contained the color and perspective gained when you've lived 72 years and spent most of them as an athlete, a coach or a counselor to the elite (and not-so-elite) of sport.  On this occasion, part of NYO's Positive Coaching program, he focused on youngsters, their parents and the men and women who coach them.
(To read more, please click the headline)

As he paced the hardwood floor of the gym, Llewellyn told his audience, 'I'm disappointed more parents aren't here. The people who need programs like this the most, don't come.' Yet, he was undeterred. He told the tale of a 14-year-old baseball player whose parents had hired five different coaches to work with him ('turning the double-play, hitting, footwork, base running and --- if he ever decides to try pitching ---pitching). I feel so sorry for the kid,' he added.
Instead, he advised, 'Have fun. Teach 'em (how to play the game). Of 400 five-year-olds, 92% don't know if (their team) won or lost a game. (To them), a baseball uniform is like a Halloween costume. Make it fun!'
The wit and wisdom of Jack Llewellyn is like a buffet line. You don't quite know where to start or how much to pile on your plate. Here is a sampling of his remarks:
'They (children) need to learn to win and lose.' He recounted the story of former Braves star Jeff Francouer with whom he worked. 'He was an all-state football and baseball player, one of the best ever in Georgia.' But a 5 -for-55 batting slump early in his career got Francouer down. Acccording to Llewellyn, Francouer told him he was looking for the 'tools' to recover. 'But there were no tools,' Dr. Jack said, 'for a young man who never had to recover from adversity.' Eventually, they found the tools.
Parents, more than their children, put too high a premium on winning, Llewellyn said, launching into yet another story. When parents learned that a sports psychologist who worked with the Atlanta Braves was going to coach their 5-year-olds, they said, 'We're gonna win it all this year.  So, (at the first practice), I told the kids to run out onto the field and to sit down. (Wherever they sat), that's where they played.' He also told the story of his young grandson who, last year, disappeared while playing the outfield. It turned out the child was hiding behind a canvas windscreen attached to the fence 'because that's what superheroes do.'
We do a disservice to children who grow early by assuming they're destined for athletic stardom, according to Dr. Jack. 'We don't have a clue whether they're psychologically ready for competition.'
He holds all-star and so-called travel-team programs for youngsters in low regard. 'They're scams,' he said. 'If parents have a dollar in their pocket, they'll pay it. Quit parenting with your wallet.' If a child doesn't enjoy or isn't ready to play sports, he adds, 'let 'em quit (until they're ready). Seventy-five percent of boys and, increasingly, girls drop out of organized sports by age 13, he said, adding, 'We start too early.'
He holds cell phones and social media in even lower regard. He described a 15-year-old with whom he was meeting who never made eye contact over a one-hour dinner. The boy was too busy with his cell phone. At the end of the hour, Llewellyn told the boy's parents he would not work with him. In his view, the boy was rude and the parents were to blame. According to Llewellyn, more children than ever are socially awkward because they do not learn how to communicate, face-to-face. 'We don't talk anymore. We don't communicate.'
He saved his strongest and most-encouraging words for coaches who spend so much time with kids. 'How many parents spend two hours a day with children?' he asked. "You may have more influence than parents.'
Llewellyn said NYO, unlike other youth sports programs, 'has the right emphasis on recreation.' He talked of his multiple sclerosis that can make the simple act of walking difficult some days. He talked about his prostate cancer and other health challenges. But he spoke with fervor of those who have lifted him up.
'Life is about touching somebody's life every day,' he told the coaches and parents. 'If you can go home knowing you've touched some kid's life, you've had a wonderful day.'
(Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, looks back on 25-plus years with NYO and knows how far we've come --- and how far we have to go)
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