A Q & A with Dr. Gilmour
Built on the founding principles of character, courage and loyalty, and through the many life lessons learned on the diamond, Little League can proudly say it develops major league people. For 75 years, Little League Baseball and Softball has provided a wholesome, healthy activity for children, using the ball field as a classroom to instill teamwork, sportsmanship and fair-play. Macaroni Kid is proud to have Davie Jane Gilmour, Ph. D., Chair of the Little League International Board of Directors and President of Pennsylvania College of Technology on our team to answer Publisher Mom questions on parenting and developing major league people on and off the field.
MK: What's the perfect age to start my child in organized sports?
Dr. Gilmour: A lot depends on the maturity of the child, but typically, four or five years of age is a great time for children to start organized sports, as that is when children begin to really interact with one another and start to understand the concept of a team.
MK: How do you handle a child that is frustrated by a loss [of a game]?
Dr. Gilmour: The handling of a loss starts before a game begins. It is really important for parents to review concepts of winning and losing with their kids well in advance of competition. A conversation with your child could be: This is a game and we’re going to have fun, and yes we’re keeping score and someone will score better. But win or not win, the most important thing is to have fun and know that you did your best and tried your hardest. This kind of conversation will help take away the focus on winning and losing and help establish a broader sense of the game and what it means to be part of a team.
MK: How do you help kids prioritize academics versus sports?
Dr. Gilmour: In addition to Chair of the Little League Board, I am a college president so I will always support academics as the #1 priority for all children. Homework should be done before practice as studying has to come first. You can help your child understand this by equating the two -- just like you want to practice baseball so you can do your very best in a game, you have to practice schoolwork so you can do your very best at school.
MK: What if sports become too demanding?
Dr. Gilmour: The key is to understand who is putting the demands on the child. Is it the coach? The parents? Peers? If it is coming from you as the parent, then you need to take a step back and look at what is best for your kid. If it is the coach, the parents need to get together and address it collectively. If it is peer driven, I suggest engaging the coach and making him/her aware of the situation.
MK: How much exercise do kids need?
Dr. Gilmour: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a great guide on how much physical activity young children should have. Overall, children should have at least one hour of exercise a day that includes a combination of aerobic activity, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening.
MK: What's the best type of kids physical activity?
Dr. Gilmour: Clearly aerobic activity is best for all of us. But for kids, it is good to do all sorts of physical activity. Little League gives kids a fun outlet for exercising – stretching, push ups, running, and more. Coaches are realizing that kids can’t just get on the field…they need to warm up prior to practice or games.
MK: How do you teach your kids the rules of sportsmanship?
Dr. Gilmour: I think it starts with conversations with coaches and parents about fair play, right and wrong, and the whole concept that we are here to do more than win or lose. It is important to have a very frank conversation with kids where you can say that you should treat other players the way you’d like to be treated. I’m proud of the sportsmanship our players demonstrate, which is so evident at the Little League World Series but also at ballparks across the country every weekend. For some more terrific tips and tools, coaches and parents can visit the Little League website at www.littleleague.com.
MK: Should I go to all my children's games?
Dr. Gilmour: Parents need to be involved in their children’s activities but due to work schedules and other children, sometimes it is impossible to attend every practice and every game. I suggest setting up realistic expectations with your family. It is important that your child knows that he/she is supported and to try to set up a schedule where you can go to practices or games whenever possible and at other times, perhaps an aunt, uncle, older sibling or grandparent can attend…this gets the whole family involved and can take the pressure off of one parent to do it all.
MK: How do you encourage children to continue playing when it doesn't come easily?
Dr. Gilmour: This is when you divide the game into skills…did you get a base hit today? Did you field all of the balls that came your way? How did you do in comparison to how you did the last game? So the encouragement comes by dividing up certain skills and tasks in into measurable opportunities.
MK: How do you enforce safety ahead of winning?
Dr. Gilmour: The bottom line is that you can’t win if you can’t play safely. There is no question that safety must come first, which includes everything from following the rules to having the right equipment. I am most proud of the emphasis we at Little League have put on safety – ranging from pitch counts to innovations in equipment, which has been paramount to our success since our founding 75 years ago.
MK: Do you have any specifics on proper hydration (how much, how often, are sports drinks ok, etc.)?
Dr. Gilmour: One of the least known facts is that it is most important to hydrate with water before you play (the recommendation for children is 16 ounces of water – that’s two big glasses!). Sports drinks are good to drink during a game as they will replace electrolytes during play. And another little known fact is that hydration is equally as important after play. For further advice, I recommend parents visit the Little League website and type in “hydration” for some great information.
MK: How do you handle bullying?
Dr. Gilmour: You don’t handle bullying…you don’t tolerate it. In Little League, we have a zero tolerance policy. I think one of the best ways to mitigate bullying is to actively engage parents, and to get parents to actively engage with their kids to understand what’s going on during practice. I suggest to parents that they have conversations in the car on the way home…not just after games, but after practice too. And it’s important to note that bullying can best be shut down by the kids themselves, so we need to teach our athletes to have zero tolerance when they see it happening.
MK: How important is winning versus effort?
Dr. Gilmour: You have to put forth a good effort in order to win, and if a child has tried as hard as possible and done her/his very best, then that is what is most important. We have to teach our children to accept that there are winners and losers but something I try with my grandson is to emphasize effort over the loss. So instead of saying “My team lost today,” we turn that around to say “I didn’t win, but I tried my hardest.”
MK: How do you help your child set goals?
Dr. Gilmour: I believe in asking children what they would like to accomplish, and then helping them set measurable goals, near and long term. You can do this by analyzing the game and their interests. So an example of a goal may be to hit the ball and not strike out. Or to say, I’m not going to be perfect, but I will be better than yesterday.
MK: What are the major benefits of sports participation?
Dr. Gilmour: Participation in an organized sport offers so many benefits to children including physical fitness, teamwork, cooperation, success, and leadership. Participation in Little League offers the further benefit of a community atmosphere – somewhat of a rarity today, where neighbors mingle with neighbors and all of the kids know each other. It’s also an incredibly effective way for kids to start molding themselves. I often credit my field hockey coach with giving me my first leadership opportunities.
MK: How do you help your child get the most out of sports?
Dr. Gilmour: I encourage parents to help balance the fun with the whole concept of the game and winning. And as I said earlier, it’s important to break down the game into smaller, measurable goals and outcomes. This will help your child get the most out of the experience.
Little League is a sponsor of Macaroni Kid.