Monday, May 21, 2012

Playing Ball in Malaysia

My girl and Chris Davis at a Round Rock (Texas) Express Game, June 2011

In America, almost every parent I know spends their weekends watching their kids play sports. Weekdays are spent figuring out how to shuttle them to numerous practices. Here in Penang, we've found that it's decidedly more low key. This worked out well for us, since we're not a very competitive family sportswise. But when I was telling one of my friends in Austin about it, she looked at me and declared that it would drive her husband CRAZY.

When we arrived here in Malaysia, my oldest boy decided to start playing baseball after being inspired by his sister's appearance at a minor league game over the summer. In America, I would have been hesitant about letting him begin at such a late age. After all, some of the kids on my girl's kindergarten T-ball team in Texas were already in their second year of league play. But since everything is so laid back in Malaysia, learning baseball in 6th grade didn't seem like such a big deal.

Our condo grounds aren't the best place to practice batting, so hubby went online to find a batting cage. The closest one is in Kuala Lumpur, 4 hours away. That's a bit of a drive! So, they drilled a hole in a ball and hung it from a rope to practice instead.

The team was one of three in the intramural league at the school. Whereas my daughter's kindergarten T-ball team had weekly practices led my multiple dads, my son's Penang team only had a couple practices before the season started and a couple before playoffs. Other than that, his time commitment was simply for the one game each week during regular season. The coach was a teacher (and father of a player) assisted by a few high schoolers. No moms or dads helped out over here.

Most parents didn't come out to watch the games either. In Texas, I was accustomed to a bevy of moms, dads, sisters, and brothers for every player showing up at the games. One of my favorite memories is of the umbrella and picnic blanket tent city siblings built on the sidelines to watch a game during a rainshower. The games at our Penang school only drew a handful of folks.

Middle school games were always on a Saturday morning at the school, and the elementary school doesn't offer softball or T-ball at all. Unlike in Texas where we'd have to juggle being at various games for each kid throughout the weekend, the time we spent watching sports shrank down to less than a couple hours. The rest of the weekend was free!

Playing ball on a tropical island has its own special challenges. The coach's wife tells me that a few years ago, the kids went out of bounds to retrieve a wayward ball. There it was lying next to a python. Luckily, the python had recently fed and was in a food coma. The next season, a wild boar ran out onto the field. The players piled into the van next to the field while adults grabbed the baseball bats to chase it away.

My younger son who is in elementary school signed up for the Soccer Club during the 2nd Quarter. Unlike in America, they never formed teams but just practiced as one big group. The only time that they played another school, the kids were divided up into teams after they arrived. It was more like a organized pick-up game than the soccer leagues I was used to in Texas. This was fine for my son but I think my friend's daughter who played on a development team in Austin may have been a little let down. Once again, not many parents turned out to watch the game.

We were informed that playing against local schools would be different than what we're used to in America. The typical Malaysian "Ok-lah" attitude extends to not worrying about being on time for competitions. Or maybe the coach or some of the players won't show up. When my middle schooler attended the citywide cross country meet, he was quite surprised that hardly anyone was there at the announced start time. Most didn't start rolling in until 15 minutes later. You can bet no one is speeding to get their kid there on time.

So yes, sports are much, much more relaxed in Malaysia than in Texas. This suits us just fine because sports takes a low priority in our home.  (Although, it's not 100% absent like it was in my childhood.) It's been great to not have to eat dinner at weird hours just to accomodate practices. I definitely don't mind not driving to sports practices for all three kids. But I do miss the camaraderie that comes from being with the same team supporters week after week.


  1. I like more of a relaxed atmosphere for sports. Kids should have the feeling of success and fun. I see some parents put too much pressure on their kids to perform and so they don't get the benefit out of the sport as they should.

    1. It seems like kids here readily start an impromptu game of football (or soccer as Americans call it) on the playground. It's much less organized than in the States, but the kids still have a chance to run around. Spontaneous baseball games are harder to come across.


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