Celebrating The Capabilities Of Early Adolescence

By Adam McLane

YouthWorkers Lessons From The Little League World Series


It’s the bottom of the 5th inning, the score is tied at 4, and with one swing of the bat Japan takes an insurmountable lead against the American team from Chula Vista to become champions.
It is, of course, the Little League World Series. For a few weeks each summer cable sports is dominated by 12-13 year olds fighting for their chance to be world champions.


It’s a fascinating cultural phenomenon. For a few weeks each summer millions of people sit in front of the television to watch 7th graders compete. Why do we do that? And what can we learn from watching them that’ll help us engage with the 7th graders in our own lives?


  1. Early adolescents are physically capable. Of course, not all early adolescents are as capable as the boys in the Little League World Series. But the LLWS is a great reminder of the strength and fine motor skills that early adolescence brings. Even though the players are sometimes vastly different sizes they can still throw the ball 70 miles per hour, hit a homerun 230 feet, or pick off a runner at home plate from left field. Don’t underestimate what the middle schoolers in your life can do physically.
  2. Early adolescents are mentally capable beyond cultural expectations. When I talk to youth workers who don’t really like being around middle schoolers they have a tendency to underestimate what middle schoolers can handle. These young men play smart baseball! Emotionally, when you watch the boys play in the LLWS you are seeing them deal with pressure, joy, sadness, being a part of a team, and a whole lot more. But you can also see that it’s not quite adult-like. One of the things we all love about watching them is the raw emotions, they haven’t quite learned to filter the physical manifestations of their emotions like an adult. Don’t underestimate what the middle schoolers in your life can handle emotionally and mentally.
  3. Middle school success is no guarantee. If you follow college athletics closely you’ll know that there’s some concern about recruiting players too early. Top schools are offering scholarships to 14 year old high school freshmen. That’s just ridiculous. Not only is an early adolescent not ready to make a decision about what college might be best for them, there’s also a high likelihood that an early blossoming student might not be dominant as a 17, 18, 21 year old like they are as a 9th grader. The saddest part of the LLWS is that for some of the boys… this is the peak of their athletic careers. We should celebrate their capabilities today. But we shouldn’t expect that a little league player will make it to the big leagues!


Question: What was your favorite part of the Little League World Series?


About Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a Partner at The Youth Cartel and co-author of A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media . A daily blogger and idea guy, Adam considers himself a purveyor, connoisseur, trader, and collector of ideas. Kristen and Adam have been married 15 years and live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their rowdy children, Megan, Paul, and Jackson.