I’ve seen a lot of things in this game, but what I witnessed this past weekend took it to another level.
My son’s been playing for a club team for about a year now. He loves his team, its players and coaches very much. You know when it clicks, and for him, it’s clicked. They’ve played some pretty decent teams and the coaches on the other side for the most part have been pretty good when it comes to professionalism and respect.
This past weekend it took a nasty turn. A coach on the other team got pretty fed up, arguing a play very similar to the one that got his own player out earlier in the game. The difference however was our player stayed IN the baseline when he stole, his player did not. Whatever the case, the umpire called our guy safe and that’s when the whole thing changed.
After a few minutes of screaming at each other about getting squeeze by the ump and “favoring teams” and all of that, coach made a critical error. He blurted out that the umpire needed to “Open his f**king eyes and shut up!” I’m not kidding. There was silence from both benches. That was followed by parents asking that coach to “stop” and the umpire then pointing to the exit and asking him to leave the field. He did, but continued to voice his displeasure as he walked to his car.
But while the audience was fixated on the chaos, I was watching the kids reaction. They witnessed the whole thing. Some we’re stone faced, some smirked at the profanity. But all stood still and watched the entire incident unfold. And that got me thinking, where’s the respect?
Now I’m a coach and I’ve had my own moments with umpires but my approach is very different. For one, I always speak to the officials as a human beings and never argue balls and strikes. If a play doesn’t go our way, I will usually ask questions, but not go for the throat. Although, and I’m being honest here; if it’s a tight game and it’s a bad call, I will definitely lose my cool. Here’s the difference though; There is never profanity. Secondly, I make sure that umpire knows that while passionate about the call, I ultimately trust their overall judgement and respect their job and the game.
A player once asked me, “Coach, how come you told us to respect the umpires and not question a call, but you did?” I addressed the team that day and explained that as a coach, you protect your team in those critical moments, but in the end, the umpire is the most important person on the field, and what he says goes.
And this past weekend, the umpire was the authority, bottom line. He took control of the situation right away and that unruly coach was removed, not because he questioned a call, but because he embarrassed himself by swearing in front of 24 kids. It was obvious that coach wasn’t looking out for the players. He was showing up the umpire, and the moment that F bomb was dropped, it was evident, it wasn’t about the best interest for his kids. He was kind of just being a jerk.
I have news for you. Parents are just as bad. I was reading a great article from the Sun Sentinel about youth soccer for example. In it, there’s a quote from a referee, Lou Hecht of Delray Beach who said: “I’ve been refereeing for 25 years down here, and it has gotten progressively worse…Parents think it’s the World Cup, World Series and Super Bowl all rolled into one… It has gotten downright dangerous sometimes.”
According to the National Alliance of Youth Sports, “…fifteen percent of youth games involve some sort of verbal or physical abuse from coaches and parents, up from five percent just five years earlier. NASO reported receiving two to three calls a week reporting physical threats or acts of violence against sports officials.” That’s incredible to me. By the way, that quote was from momsteam.com.
But why? Why does it happen and why is it getting worse? The answer is simple. For kids these days, it’s gotten much more competitive, pitting kid against kid and a community that typecast players to create a pecking order of “Studs”. That makes these “studs” entitled and that’s when the whole thing goes haywire.
Here’s how it works, and this is just an outline or scenario… insert name here…
–A “sport” dad who loves the game and was once a Division 1 athlete has a 6-year-old kid. He takes him for batting lessons, spends too much money on baseball clinics and is constantly in the Farm league coaches ear about how good his son is.
–That son is now placed on that coaches Travel team and before you know it, 4 more kids on that team, all 6 and 7 years old start taking batting lessons as well. The coach is now drooling as his super team is forming. Before long, that travel coach now has 5 “studs” on his team.
–As games begin, those parents of those kids are in and around the dugout all the time… coaching first base, asking to do the book and getting in the manager’s ear whenever possible about where their kids play and why it’s their “spot”. The culture becomes all about winning and hitting and less about the kids, who, if you sneak a glimpse of them in the dugout, are playing with dirt and stealing each others hats…like kids do.
–One of the studs hits a grounder to second base, and as the throw is made to first, the umpire calls him out. Suddenly that kid has a fit on the field because he’s “always safe” and here comes his old man to argue the call because he happens to be the first base coach too.
–Before long parents are complaining and as the game continues, the manager is now taking cheap shots and mumbling under his breath in ear shot of the umpire just enough to piss him off and let him know he’s terrible at what he does.
And that my friends is a scenario of what is going on in our youth baseball culture in 2016. We’re no longer about respecting the game. We’re about winning at all costs and making our children not only machines, but entitled. It’s a bunch of crap.
Bottom line, the umpire is in charge and if you want to make your kid a stud player at 6, 7, 10 or 12 years old, you best be sure to also explain the importance of character, integrity and respect for not only the game, but for the officials as well.
When our game was over this past weekend, the families and players walked to our cars. So did the umpires. I thanked the umps for a good game and the umpire apologized to me for that unruly coaches incident.
“You don’t need to apologize to me,” I said “that coach was out of line.”
The umpire looked at me, “That’s why I asked him to leave. I don’t mind if a coach challenges a call. In fact, in some respects it’s part of the game. But as soon as he started with the profanity, and I saw all these children standing around looking, I knew enough was enough.”
Being an umpire or a referee in youth sports is a tough, tough gig. You’re always the bad guy. You have 2 teams and their entourage to deal with, and you always have to be right. Unfortunately, when you make the call, someone gets the wrong end of that call. Sometimes it’s them and sometimes it’s you. Ultimately though, I think it’s pretty important that we remember one thing; Youth baseball is exactly what it is… baseball for YOUTH.
We as parents and coaches are too far ahead of what it was meant to be. We need to settle down. In fact, Little League mission reads like this: “…promote, develop, supervise, and voluntarily assist in all lawful ways, the interest of those who will participate in Little League Baseball and Softball.”
While not all Youth baseball is Little League baseball, there’s one more word that’s equally, if not more important. Respect.
We as human beings have been taught about what respect is since we were little. Our parents taught us to respect our elders, friends and family. It’s the right thing to do. So why does that change the moment we hit the baseball field?
There’s only one solution, folks. We need to get back to basics.
Rob Monaco, Little League coach & Commissioner
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