Q.Baseball season is upon us and I dread it.

I like baseball -- it is one of my favorite games to watch and to play -- but my husband sweats the season as if our two sons were in the majors. He even gets upset if they complain about going to practice or to the games.

He's the coach of our 9-year-old's team and comes home discouraged every time they play, because our boy isn't "on top of his game." And when our 14-year-old plays, he critiques his performance and gets upset when he strikes out or makes an error.

"You wouldn't have those problems," he says, "if you would do what I tell you to do and if you would practice. Instead you just keep making the same mistakes."

I really don't care if the boys make mistakes -- all players do -- and half the time I don't even know if their teams are winning or losing. I only want my sons to do their very best and to enjoy the game.

My husband and I have many arguments about this and I am at my wits' end. I don't want to go through another baseball season with all this tension. It gets so heated that I consider divorcing him because of it.

Is it okay to let the boys quit their teams if they don't want to play? I wouldn't even make this suggestion if they had a passion for the game, but they seem to play because their father wants them to.

My husband says the boys should finish the season since our 14-year-old told the coach that he would come back this year. Then, he said, "we can see what happens," but I know the whole thing will start again next year.

A.It's time for you to step up to the plate.

Your sons need you to protect them from what seems very much like verbal abuse, although your husband would probably be appalled to hear it described that way.

Unfortunately, many fathers (and mothers) nag their children to excel in school or in sports -- or both -- simply to boost their own egos, but they're making a serious, consequential mistake.

Each child, like each parent, has distinct likes and dislikes, and neither has the right to tell the other what sport to enjoy, because that depends on both attitude and ability. If these are lacking, a child will never like this sport, and if he is repeatedly forced to play it, he might pull away from all sports.

Have a quiet talk with your boys and ask them to tell you honestly if they want to keep playing baseball. One -- or both -- may want to play out the season, but if they're desperate to quit now, then let them, as long as there are other players to take their places. Otherwise they would let their teammates down.

If your sons are as unhappy with baseball, and their dad, as you think, tell your husband when he's in a pleasant mood. He needs to know how bad criticism is for children, especially when it comes from a parent, and how much he upsets you when he's discouraged with or mad at the boys. If he won't listen to you, invite a few parents to a picnic after the game, so your husband will have other things to talk about, or ask the boys to a movie, without their dad, so they won't be home to hear him fuss.

You need to talk with the older boy's coach, too, and ask him to tell the parents to cheer when their children are playing well and keep quiet when they're not. If parents point out all of their children's mistakes, they will feel awful, and if parents tell them how to play the game, their suggestions might conflict with the coach's advice.

The coach should also tell the parents to attend every game they can, but they should wait to be invited by their children. By 9 or 10, a child usually wants his parents to watch him when he expects to win, not when he thinks he'll lose.

Two books could help your husband, too. "Why Johnny Hates Sports," by Fred Engh (Avery; $14.95), teaches coaches and parents how to make sports fun again. "Catch Them Being Good," by Tony DiCicco and Colleen Hacker with Charles Salzberg (Penguin; $14), tells them to give many more compliments than complaints to their players, if only to win more games.

DiCicco coaches a girls' soccer team, but his advice applies to any sport.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.