Lessons for Parents, Coaches, and Players

TAGS: Post-Season Baseball Lessons for Parents, Players, parents, erik eggers, coaching athletes, coaches, youth sports, baseball

I always said that the only team I would coach would be a team of orphans and now here we are. I say this because I've found that the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. I think it's best to nip this in the bud right off the bat. The concept I'm asking all of you to grab is that this experience is all about the boys. If there is anything about it that includes you, we need to make a change of plans.

My main goals are:

  • to teach these young men how to play the game of baseball the right way
  • to be a positive impact on them as young men
  • to do all this with class

We may not win every game, but we will be the classiest coaches, players, and parents in every game we play. The boys will play with a respect for their teammates, opposition, and umpires no matter what. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals Manager

When Mike Matheny retired from baseball, he coached his kid’s team. The above quote is an excerpt from a letter he sent to the parents of his players. If you're a parent of a young athlete, I highly recommend that you Google his letter and read it in its entirety. There is a tremendous amount of value therein. In this article, I may borrow from Coach Matheny from time to time because I simply can’t improve on the manner in which he addressed some of the critical issues. However, I will do my best to stop short of pure plagiarism, as that is certainly not my intent.

My Perspective

My wife and I have been involved in youth sports, as parents, for the better part of eleven years. We’ve witnessed a lot over the years, some of which has been absolutely mind blowing (both positively and negatively). In this article, I want to share some of the negative actions with the hope that those involved in youth sports as players, parents, and coaches may introspectively examine their ways and perhaps reconsider their actions going forward. Unfortunately, based solely on my observations, most of the high crimes typically occur when kids are really young—that six- to thirteen-year-old range.

I don’t mean to come across as Mr. Innocent here. I’ve definitely made some mistakes along the way. I remember my oldest son’s first karate tournament. He was sparring in competition and I was standing outside the ring, nervously yelling, “Speed, speed...” He was about six years old at the time.

Jorge Leedham baseball Erik Eggers coaching outfield 071514

Finally, my wife grabbed my shoulder and whispered in my ear, "You’re the only one yelling."

I peered around, realized she was correct, and promptly shut up.

I recall another instance very early on in my son’s career as a baseball pitcher. He was on the mound, and in between pitches, I yelled, “Good job, Zack” or “Nice pitch, Zack.” He was probably eleven years old and the evil stare he shot in my direction iced the blood in my veins. He didn’t speak with me or my wife the entire ride home and for three hours post-game. Later that evening, he finally explained that we were not to say anything to him during the game. That was his preference. We were to say nothing—no coaching (I’ll get to that), no critique, and no encouragement. Lesson learned. In retrospect, when I witness the mistakes that others are making, I’m glad we learned our lesson early.

For the Parents

In youth sports, the parent’s paramount role is to be a silent source of encouragement. Please take the time to reread the prior sentence and consider the meaning—a silent source of encouragement.It’s never OK for a parent to coach from the stands. Never. Unfortunately, I see it all the time.

This past season, my thirteen-year-old son was playing select ball in Texas. In these select or travel leagues, experienced coaches are paid to manage and mentor the team. During the first parent’s meeting, the coaches communicated that the experience was about the players and that the parents should neither speak nor interact with their children during the game. Parent coaching from the stands was strictly prohibited. Unfortunately, in retrospect, this mandate was never enforced and this group of parents was in constant violation.

When your young player is on the mound, it’s never a good idea to yell, “Just throw strikes.” When the count is full, it’s never OK to shout, “Don’t lose him.” That does nothing to help.

I literally watched a parent yell out to his thirteen-year-old son after almost every pitch. “Come on. Follow through.” Seriously, dad? Not surprisingly, in the dugout, that same player told all his teammates that his father was an asshole. That kid is an excellent judge of character.

The same thirteen-year-old pitcher walked a batter and the father literally slapped the backstop in frustration, an adult temper tantrum. What kind of message does that send to the child? It isn't the message you want to send. Please trust me.

Jorge Leedham player parent baseball Erik Eggers 071514

A player struck out and the mom yelled, “That pitch was above your hands. You can’t swing at that.”

Really? When was the last time you faced live pitching? The father said (supposedly under his breath), “When is he going to learn?” Maybe never. That is what I wanted to say to him.

As a parent, there is one thing you should say to your child after the game—"I love watching you play.” As a parent, it’s never your place to address the umpire. If he/she addresses you directly, you may answer. Otherwise, about the only thing you should consider saying to the umpire is, “Blue, do you need some water?”

You would think this goes without saying, but I assure you that many parents aren't getting this message. If the umpire misses a call, it’s your coach’s responsibility to address the situation, not yours. If you're a parent and find your spouse arguing with an umpire, please grab him by the hair, caveman style, and pull him away from the field of play or toward the concession stand.

Our pitcher picked off the runner at first. Immediately, the opposing coach called a time-out and challenged the play with the umpire. By the way, that's the opposing coach’s job. He is supposed to challenge the call. Immediately, the mother sitting to my left shouted, “Oh, stop it. That wasn’t a balk.”

She actually yelled this to the opposing coach. To the coach! STFU!

Seriously, both of the aforementioned are never OK. It's bad form, and it teaches your children that there isn't any need to respect authority.

For the Coaches

I’m definitely old school in many ways, especially when it comes to training and coaching. Training should be challenging, and coaches should be hard on the athletes, pushing them to get the most out of them. There isn't anything like having great coaches. They can be life changing and inspirational. Unfortunately, not all coaches are good, which is to say that some may be technically sound, but when it comes to motivating and managing a team (and looking for the best for your child), some of these individuals are lacking.

At worst, some coaches can damage a child. I remember when I was in my early twenties. A few of my friends were relieved of their football coaching duties because they were too verbally rough on the players. Essentially, on occasion, they addressed the players using harsh language—and I’m talking harsh. That was their faux pas.

I remember when I originally heard the story, I thought it was pretty funny. But that was twenty years ago and my perspective has changed quite diametrically in those twenty years. Humiliating children is not OK.

Jorge Leedham umpire baseball Erik Eggers 071514

For the record, as hypocritical as this will sound given the context of the rest of this piece, I’m not against the occasional “you guys suck” speech. Sometimes athletes, even young athletes, need a harsh wake-up call to grab their attention. The keyword in the aforementioned is occasional.

The "you suck" speech following each and every loss is misplaced and inappropriate. Candidly, in youth sports, sometimes the other team was just better. You were out manned and out gunned. It isn't a high crime to lose to a team that’s better than you as long as you played your best and left it all on the field.

Incidentally, for the sake of the story, my son’s team got the harsh speech after almost every game this year. To say the least, it was a long season. The coach, true to form, ended the season with a speech letting the team know that they were “the worst team he had ever coached and he was glad to be done with them.” Heartwarming, I know.

OK, so after all this coaching tough-talk bravado, you have to manage the team like a drill sergeant, right? This is where my opinion may depart from the masses. I believe you do. As a coach, you need to lay down the law early and be prepared to punish those who deviate from the well-communicated policies. Enforcing the rules is critical.

Allowing players to throw equipment after things didn’t go their way at the plate or on the field (or otherwise expressing frustration) is unacceptable, and you’re doing the players a disservice if you allow it. I feel a zero tolerance policy needs to be in place and enforced in this regard. The same holds true when a player displays displeasure with an umpire. It’s never OK. That's the coach’s responsibility.

Also, as the coach, you're responsible for correctly disciplining the team. This is one of the issues that vexes me the most. Why do some coaches continue to reward players who demonstrate a lack of hustle and effort—young players who pout, kick dirt on the mound, slap gloves on their legs, and throw their hands on their head in frustration during a live play after making an error? These behaviors should be unacceptable.

Enforcing the rules set for the parents is the coach’s responsibility as well. Coaches, I feel for you. I know this is a challenging task, but some of these young athletes need your protection from entitled parents. Certain parental behavior can't be tolerated, and I’ve alluded to much of this earlier in the article (e.g., parents coaching their children after every pitch, parents expressing their own frustration by banging on the backstop or the dugout screen, and parents constantly speaking to their child [regarding game performance] while they're on deck or in the dugout).

Don’t cheat to win: This should be self-explanatory. Again, I'm not talking about pushing the envelope a little bit (interpret that as you will). I’m talking about down-right cheating to win—pitching a player for more innings than tournament rules allow because you’ve discerned that you can get away with it. Some of the rules are in place for player protection. What type of example does that set for our youth?

Jorge Leedham baseball team coach Erik Eggers 071514

For the Players

My younger son recently cautioned another player about throwing his bat and helmet following a strike out. The offending player responded, “Shut up! If you don’t get mad, you don’t care.”

It’s OK to get frustrated or even angry (at times) as a player, but the player must always display self-control on the field. Always!

For the players, it’s simple:

  • Be dedicated, committed, and focused on the task at hand.
  • Hold yourself responsible and accountable for your actions on and off the field.
  • Conduct yourself with class and display a positive attitude.
  • Always hustle and always give your best effort on each and every play.
  • Remember that grades matter. Work equally hard on the field and in the classroom (if not harder in the classroom).

Post-Game Wrap

I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with coaches over the last several years. I'm now working with my older son on his efforts to become a college recruit. I recently read something that I found extremely interesting, yet as with most of the content in this article, it should go without saying.

As a player, you should always strive to leave a positive impression on the opposing coach. It speaks of class, and you never know whom the opposing coach has relationships with. So after the game, be sure to smile and shake hands.

Please don’t misinterpret this piece as an exercise in coach bashing because based on my own experience, the good coaches, those who care about the athletes and their development, far outnumber the sub-par. They dedicate a staggering amount of their own time to their craft and to help develop our children.

Circling back to the Mike Matheny excerpt at the outset, the youth sport experience should be all about the boys. If, as a parent, there is anything about it that includes you, you really should consider making a change of plans.

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