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Youth sports foster competitive attitude, coach says

Ask a Hastings baseball fan to name the best players in town, and many would be able to rattle off a long list. After all, Hastings is home to a number of top-performing athletes. In a few years, however, the names rolling off fans' tongues will be different. In a few years they'll be talking about a new group of athletes - the ones who, this year, are just getting used to playing on a full-sized field.

Wayne Erickson is the assistant general manager of the Hastings Hawks, and he's also the coach for the 14AA youth baseball team.

"These kids are out there playing their hearts out," Erickson said.

His isn't the only youth team. The 14AA team is part of the Hastings Youth Athletic Association, which has multiple softball, baseball and soccer teams, and there are other youth sport teams not associated with HYAA.

The youth sports program isn't just about training the next generation of local sports heroes. It's also about fostering a competitive attitude that will stick with them their whole lives, Erickson said.

"Sports and kids - it teaches them a value that they can't get anywhere else," Erickson said. "And it carries on."

He's living proof of how much sports can stick with a person. He played baseball from age 10 to age 49, founded two little league programs, coached players from age 10 to adults, and more.

"Sports have been very good to me," he said, smiling.

His experience was good enough that he wanted to share it with the next generations.

Sports, he said, teaches a set of life skills that kids can't get anywhere else.

"Just to see the kids learn ... is really quite astounding," Erickson said.

One thing Erickson is adamant about is keeping negative criticism out of the ballgame.

"Cheering really helps (kids) grow," he said, and there's nothing more harmful than parents or fans that yell at the umpires or anyone else on the field, he added.

They might be playing on a lower level, but youth athletes are just as competitive as their older counterparts.

"They want to win just like anyone else," Erickson said. "In their own minds they're playing like Yankees or Twins."

Their attitude - their enthusiasm for what they're doing - is what will determine which players will excel. Once they have that, they can start working on the skills they need to play the game.

"It starts out at attitude," Erickson said.

About nine of the 12 athletes on Erickson's team will make it to the high school varsity team, Erickson thinks.

"Hastings has some real good talent coming up, and one day they'll be wearing blue and gold," Erickson said.