Kids’ Sporting Equipment: Expenditure or Investment?
Parents want the kids to do well and will go to great extent to support them in their endeavors, and we're no exception. Follow their progress closely? Check. Provide emotional support and constructive criticism? Check. Go to as many of their events/games/practices as possible? Check. Participate in fundraisers? Check. Purchase all of the best equipment and gear? Che...let's wait a minute here. Where is the line to be drawn on supporting the kids in a society in which the average family income is dropping steadily and food-stamp usage is rising? Is there a dollar threshold on the status of good, supportive and loving parent? Am I obligated to purchase the most expensive equipment?
This is a scenario with which I've wrestled for years as the three kids - Eldest, Middle and Youngest - have grown and found their way through the myriad of activities that come with multiple children. Although they've been cumulatively involved with volleyball, soccer and basketball through the years, none of these have the equipment requirements of the single remaining sport of the PracticalDad clan - baseball. The others have fallen by the wayside as the elder kids aged or found other significant outlets such as music...although that's not cheap either. The issue came clearly into focus last week when we realized that Youngest desperately needed a baseball bat. Our habit with the kids as they grew was to outfit their needs at a secondhand sporting goods store whenever possible since they'd outgrow everything in a relatively short time. This included Youngest's first baseball bat, a 30" aluminum bat by DeMarini. But after a recent game, a coach from the opposing team - in this league, he's been coached by everybody through the years - stopped him to offer some comments on his stance and recommended a particular batting drill to help him learn to not open up when he swung the bat. We dutifully went to the local school diamond and over the course of almost two hours, performed the drill again for almost two hundred at-bats; in the course of this, I watched him work at the plate and realized that given his size, the 30" bat didn't allow him to fully cover the plate. When we discussed it, he commented now I understand why I keep pulling strikes on the outside of the plate.
So the boy needed a new bat and I kicked myself for not realizing that he'd need a new bat since the 30" bat was purchased when he was at least a half foot shorter. Kids not only grow at different rates, but the same kid can grow unevenly so that feet and hands are disproportionate to the rest of the body. I believe in serendipity; over the previous several weeks, I'd been privy to multiple conversations with fathers and coaches and the discussion turned to batting and by extension, bats. The lessons from these conversations were:
- A bat actually has a lifespan, regardless of whether it's aluminum or wood, and it's discernible via the sound of the ball being hit;
- Bat size matters since the length and weight affect the swing of the batter, particularly regarding where he stands in the box and the speed with which he swings the bat - and it's the speed at which the bat is swung that matters in the force with which a ball is hit;
- A batter can do well with a particular bat but poorly with another since the more one bats, the more the bat becomes an extension of the batter, as though it were part of his own body;
- What's allowable for bat specifications changes from one level of play to another and how long you expect the kid to play at a particular level will help ascertain whether the bat should be bought new or used;
- Just because a bat states that it's Little-League Approved doesn't mean that it is since the Little League's list of allowable bats changes and what's allowable one year can change to another.
The result was several hours of online reading on bat standards and guidelines on the suggested size for a boy's height and weight with the realization that not only was his present bat too short by two inches, but he was growing at a rate that would move him even further, to a 33" bat. We decided to go with a new bat and went to the only local sporting goods store that carried a reasonable variety of bats but this far into the season, the selection was picked through and there was only one 32" bat - and no 33" bats - available. Youngest went to a deserted part of the store for multiple practice swings and when he brought the bat back, I looked at the pricetag and gasped oh crap! at the sticker. What made the purchase digestible was the knowledge that the boy has at least another season at this level before moving onto the adult bats used at the next level so that the cost was spread over a longer period of time.
So what did I learn from the experience?
- Pay close attention to the child's size and ask whether or not he or she needs to upsize the present equipment, not including the ubiquitous cleats.
- If there is a size upgrade, are there additional levels to the equipment by age and/or size and if so, how long can I expect the kid to be in that level?
- Is it a piece of equipment that makes a discernible difference in the child's performance for the sport, or is one just like another so that they're essentially all the same?
Youngest has already used the new bat although it's too early to tell whether it's going to make a difference. He is the youngest player on his team although there's only one teammate taller than him and his new bat is significantly larger than the rest of the team's bats. What was fascinating at the game was to watch his teammates use the bat instead of their smaller bats, swinging it in batting practice and taking it to the plate. Perhaps that's where I can make the cost of the bat more digestible, understanding that the investment in it will now be spread over a far greater number of plate appearances since this was clearly an investment instead of an expenditure.
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