Background facts:

My son is almost five.
This is his first season playing t-ball.
I am an assistant coach on the team, first time too.
I'm not really athletic, but am a baseball fan.
I know all of the rules and basic techniques, at least to teach t-ball.
I'm a middle school teacher, but feel comfortable handling five year olds.
Sometimes we practice/play at home with wiffle balls. He has fun.

At actual t-ball games:

Doesn't try to hit the ball very hard.
Just goes through the motions.
Has a dopey smile on his face while doing so.
Doesn't really focus on anything going on around him.
Fools around when playing field. (to be fair, most kids do too)
His level of effort/care/concern is usually the worst out of both teams.
Whenever the ball is hit to him, he shows no hustle.

His thoughts, as best as I can relate to a five year old:

He has fun being on a team.
He loves wearing a uniform and playing with the fancy baseball equipment.
He has fun with his team in the dugout when someone else is hitting.
He like running the bases.

My concerns:

He might be enjoying the extra attention for not trying hard when hitting.
Obviously everyone wants their kids to do well. It's fine if he isn't that good, but for me,
I get upset when he doesn't even try.
I worry when I get too mad he won't have fun and it will ruin it for him.
I worry if I don't do anything about it he will continue to embarrass himself, for both of our sakes.

I understand the bottom line is for him to have fun, and enjoy the physical and social benefits of playing a team sport.
I want him to try his best.
I want him to want to try his best.
I want him to experience all of the benefits of working hard at something.
How do I help motivate him?


6 Answers 6


I think you are overthinking this. Relax and allow yourself to have fun. If you would tell another player to hit hard, say the exact same thing to your own child. If you are not bothered by the ability level of someone else's kid -- take your cues from that. As a coach, you are not the parent -- so treat him as you do the others. Be willing to finish the session/season and not return for the next one. (I do not suggest just quitting. You make a commitment and keep it and then move on to something else.)

I'd also try to find other activities that he likes better.

If it is the team part that concerns you, T-Ball is not the only sport for this age group. Triathlon -- bike/swim/run... (not sure of the order), hiking, bowling, sailing, skating/hockey, basketball, and so on.

If it the group activities -- options to make friends that you are looking to encourage -- music lessons, art -- sculpting, there are Lego clubs and Boy Scouts, train enthusiasts...

I'd say half the battle in motivation is to find an activity that he really likes and that you honestly appreciate. Make your praise real. Ask his thoughts and opinions and do not correct his reasoning. To re-direct an incorrect assumption, you say what you think but without telling him he is wrong. As a teacher, you know how to do that.

I think that if he truly enjoys an activity or sport, he will naturally try harder and work at it. If he knows you are watching and perhaps thinking he is not doing his best -- he may just try to live up to your low expectations. Let him show you what he can do without judgement. He is his own person and may not feel the same way about things as you do. You cannot make him like something and trying to only makes it worse. He is your child, but not your property. He will excel at some things that you never thought about trying. He might be useless at your favourite sport. That's life.

  • 2
    Boy Scouts are usually a nice choice. They have a lot of varied activities, so if something doesn't chime in with the kid he or she will have another options to pursue while still being part of the group and enjoying several social benefits. If you're going for scouts, however, make sure you are enrolling your kid on a reputable, responsible group (as you should do with any activity, to be fair).
    – T. Sar
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:03

When I first read the title of this post, my immediate thought was "You can't. T-ball is boring!"

When studying early childhood education, there is an emphasis on understanding the attention span of the children you are teaching, and ensuring that your lesson plans consider that attention span. For kindergarteners, it is often said that you can't plan a lesson that lasts longer than about 5 minutes, without building in some sort of change--whether it be the opportunity for the children to stand up and sit back down, or do some sort of movement, or perform some activity individually, etc.

If you think about the nature of T-ball, it is set up completely opposite to this concept. You basically have one kid active at a time, with all of the other children on both teams completely passive. And in my experience, it is not unusual for each child's "at bat" to last at least five minutes.

When you think about the game this way, the question that comes to my mind is "Why are any 5-year-olds succeeding at T-ball in the first place?"

I think a better choice for small ones is a game that allows them to be moving all the time--soccer seemed to work well for both of my kids.

Even with a game like soccer though, working too hard to get the children to understand things like hustle, or the benefits of hard work, or anything like that is asking them to get something that they may still not be able to understand developmentally. This understanding of development is inherent in the reason for short lesson plans--the brain of the average child at this age is simply unable to remain focused on a single concept for longer than about 5-6 minutes. I found that understanding early childhood development was invaluable for reduced frustration as my kids were growing up (and continues to be so, even though they are now 19 and 20).

Cooperative play is a developmental skill that children are still just learning about at age 5. You can find lots of information about it on-line, but most will echo this website which states "Cooperative play is where play finally becomes organized into groups and teamwork is seen...Cooperative play begins in the late preschool period, between the ages of 4 and 6. It is uncommon to see children reach this stage until these later years, as it requires an evolved set of organizational skills and a higher degree of social maturity."

Keep in mind, too, that these ages shown are averages--individual kids hit each stage at their own pace, and the timing has nothing whatsoever to do with their intelligence or their future success in life. Your son may be a little bit slower to hit this developmental stage than the other kids on his T-ball team--or maybe he is just more fierce than they are about not doing something that makes no sense to him.

I found sports in general to be a fun way to track the developmental changes in my children. When my kids were playing soccer at 4 or 5, all of the kids would be bunched around the ball, chasing it wherever it was on the field. The only exception would be the goalie, and most of the time s/he was examining bugs in the grass, or chasing a butterfly, or something. If I try and imagine what my kids enjoyed about the game at that age, I think it was probably something along the lines of "Wow, I am a good runner. I am glad I can run as fast as all of these other people. Oh, cool, I kicked a ball and didn't fall."

As your kids get older, you will see the team begin to spread out on the field. Sure, they are getting better at the sport, but they also have a much better grasp on the concept of cooperation--because developmentally their brains are now ready to process information in this way.

Anyway, this a very long-winded way to say--nothing is likely to drive a parent nuts more quickly than trying to get your child to understand a concept that his/her brain simply can not understand yet. Consider yourself lucky that your kid enjoys the time he spends in the dugout (I spent years with both of my kids arguing that they had to stay in the dugout until the game was finished, and couldn't leave and go get a popsicle). If you are really lucky, you will get to have the experience that one family had during my kid's T-ball years--their child hit the ball, and then while rounding the bases, the kid stopped and gave a hug to every single person sitting on the first bench of the bleachers--no matter whether they were a parent from our team or from the opposing team. That kid knew how to make sports fun!

  • If no one has welcomed you yet, please let me do so. Hi and welcome! Nice answers. :) Commented May 16, 2017 at 21:30

Alternative view point: Organized sports are probably not a great fit for 5 year olds. Lots of structure, rules and the concepts of score keeping and winning don't come easy at this age. To express his own childhood frustrations, "Calvin & Hobbes" author Bill Watterson has developed the exact opposite "Calvinball" (see http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Calvinball, http://calvinandhobbes.wikia.com/wiki/Calvinball)

Organized sports for small kids seems to be primarily a US phenomenon. Most other countries are happy to just let the kids run around, screaming their heads off and invent their own games more like "Calvinball"


I know this is an old post, but since most of the answers are really just critical of the OP, and from people who apparently have not been in that situation, I’ll try to add me 2 cents. Yes, 5 is still a young age, and a lot, if not most of these kids don’t care about t-ball. Getting them to want to try when they already don’t want to is going to be next to impossible. But what do you do when they knowingly do the least amount possible, swing the bat as slow as they can, purposefully let the ball go past them to delay the game, and do all of this knowing they’re getting extra attention because of it. I would certainly not let them think that sort of behavior is acceptable. I wouldn’t get mad or yell. That won’t help. If they really don’t want to play, make them sit on the bench. If they were the one who wanted to play t-ball at the beginning, and changed their mind, I would make them finish out the season, but until they are going to act in an acceptable manner, they can sit off to the side. Let’s not pretend 5 year olds don’t know right from wrong. They do.


My first thought: He is five. You are making this way too competitive, at least it would have been for five year old me.

He likes the fun, but he does not like the fact that "all these people expect me to hit very hard". Maybe he would like to be in a different sport, also a team one, more running, less hitting. If it is a sport of his own choice, it is also his own motivation to be good at it.

And a trainer who is not also his dad. (which could lead to difficult team dynamics for him). As his trainer, you are (to some extend) expected to be upset when he does not do his best. As his parent, you are (to some extend) expected to be supportive in a totally different way. As a trainer, your personal connection to the sport itself is bigger than it would be for a parent. But he needs you as a parent, with your emotional connection to him being more important than the sport.

And in the end: he is five. He has lots of time to learn to take live seriously. Right now, the world is there to have fun.

  • 2
    Another thing to have in mind - some people do sports just for fun. My SO loves to play tennis. She and her usual game partner aren't that good on it and they play more for the fun and for the exercise than anything else. Same goes for me and soccer/rugby/hearthstone. Getting better is important, but some just want to play for leisure, not for the competitive aspect of it. "Casual Play" is a thing!
    – T. Sar
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:07

I don't see a specific question here so this is my feedback:

there are huge differences in a person's behavior when they are doing something by their own choice as opposed to doing it on someone else's behalf. The way this post reads:

You want him to play on this team.

You are embarrassed by his "performance".

You get upset when he doesn't "try".

You want him to work towards a goal that you care about, and do it in a manner that you approve of.

The way this post reads, this is all about you and what you want.

My suggestion is that see a counselor about this as this is a very unhealthy dynamic, especially for your child.

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