I’ve been around youth baseball for quite a while now. I’ve seen a lot and much of it really bothers me. There have been parents that were asked to leave the field because they were yelling at umpires for bad calls. I’ve witnessed coaches humiliating kids for missing a pop fly. I’ve also seen that good ol’ dad coming over to the mouth of the dugout, peaking in and asking his kid “How did you strike out?” Well… I have a confession to make; around 4 years ago… I was kind of that like that dad… not to that extreme, but close.
I’m not perfect. Yes, it’s true. I’ve had my moments, but I started to realize that yapping and acting like “that guy” doesn’t do a thing but tick off the people around me and shut down my kid.
I read a great article about how Jeff Banister, the Texas Rangers manager dealt with his own kid when it came to youth baseball. I am happy to now be in good company. His style made sense. His words speak volumes…
“When you are on the field as an athlete, especially as a young athlete, the people you do not want to disappoint the most are your parents,” he says. And when a child hears a parent’s voice, especially one telling them what “they’ve done incorrectly or need to do more of, it adds to the tension and the anxiety. When you’re there and you’re cheering and you’re clapping and lending support, their feeling is so much greater. They’re going to compete harder. They’re going to focus. … When they hear the clapping they know they did something good.”
Kids have enough stresses in the game of baseball. Who am I to judge swinging or NOT swinging at that last pitch? I shouldn’t be. I should be enjoying my son playing the sport he loves the most. And so, one day I decided that my oldest son had heard enough from me, and so, I shut up. I stopped coaching him, I started rooting for him, and I started seeing that with no vulture on his back every single game, the kid was performing the way he always wanted to. He was smacking hits, working walks, getting on base and actually playing the game successfully! It was not only refreshing, it was gratifying.
For years, this kid was glossed over for others, and I’m not gonna lie, I always felt bad about that. But not anymore. Now we were on a different level. I let his coach do the talking. I let his talent do the work, and if my kid wanted to talk to me, he would.
“What did you think?”
“Was that a curve I swung at?”
“Did you see my hook slide?”
It was then, and only then that I gave him my thoughts. After all, I was a fan now, not a father or coach, and it was and is the best feeling in the world to see him performing and contributing in some way every game. I as a father was finally at peace with that.
The irony is I have always believed in the nurturing and growth for all players in Little League. But I never realized I wasn’t doing it with my own son. I foolishly left my father hat on when I spoke to him about the game. Instead, I should have been his motivator, and not part of the problem. These days, rooting for my kid and not criticizing him after every pitch and inning on the mound is rewarding. Before I realized it, I was being “that guy”. Trust me… no one wants to be “that guy!”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is one of the top experts when it comes to treating Little Leaguers correctly if you want the most out of them as athletes. He wrote a piece on his website called Are you really helping them by Yelling?
I took a portion of it to place here on the pages of Travel Ball Parents. That’s because I believe every single one of us need to read this passage:
“It had been a while since I was at a youth game, and when I showed up, I couldn’t believe what was going on. There were moms and dads screaming at Johnny Jr. to “get his elbow up” and to “stop swinging at the high ones.” The coach on third base was telling him that his “elbow was too high” and the first base coach was telling him the old “keep your eye on the ball.” Poor kid didn’t know which end of the bat to grab by the end of it all. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for all of them, because they were all trying to do their best, but failing miserably.”
That’s me and you and all of us at our kid’s game. The yelling, the complaining, the criticism, the stress we put on our kids is enormous… and for what? Do we honestly believe that our boy is going pro? Do we honestly believe that hitting a lob from a below average Rec ball pitcher is gonna put him in a spot to one day soon bat 4th in the Yankees lineup? Keep it real for a second. We all love our kids, I get that. We all want them to be incredible in everything they do, and believe me, I know you glow when someone in town let’s you know that little Johnny “made a great play Saturday, you should be proud.” But sport social-climbing and perfection are exactly what’s steering the youth baseball ship toward the iceberg. We are part of the problem. We need to relax a second!
My philosophy these days has changed for the better. If you want to offer help to your child… teach. Teach him everything about the game you can, be it after work or in between errands. But when it comes to game time… hand him over to the coach. In fact, get the lawn chair, find a nice plush spot of green grass away from the shouters and go root for your son. Root. Root hard! Don’t yell about “hands through the zone on a swing” and “get a secondary lead on this pitcher”. WATCH HIM PLAY!
9 times out of 10… not hearing anything but clapping and cheering just boosted that kid into a new category. He’s got a fan now… not a father… and subliminally, he wants to make you happy. And he’ll try, he’ll try HARD because in the back of his mind, he knows he’s not gonna have a visitor at the dugout if he fails. And trust me… if he fails, hey… no problem. You’re in deep left field saying nothing.
But I guarantee this; after his 3 run double, your kid will be looking over at you, and he’ll be smiling. Why? No pressure. Performance steered right. There’s a glow on that kid’s face now. There’s confidence. There’s a moment where you and he look at each other and you realize something pretty significant; your kid’s playing ball, free of the stress and free to utilize everything he has learned to test it out in actual game play.
Youth baseball has gotten brutally stressful. You and I are part of the problem. And so, I leave you with the great Mike Matheny again… and some food for thought…
“For the 99% who are just playing for fun, please let them have fun. If you think that yelling (even encouraging words) and mechanical instructions are helping your child, the odds are that you are making it more difficult, and more stressful for them. They have the rest of their lives to learn about pressure and stress. Let them have fun. You will be amazed how much more enjoyable the game will be for you, when you take the pressure off yourself to be worlds best hitting instructor, and to just be a spectator, and fan of your child doing something that they love.”
Remember something; these are kids. And let’s not forget; years ago when we were kids too and we had a dream to one day play in the Major leagues. For 99% of us, that dream never happened. But now there’s a whole new crop of kids with that same dream. Who are we to stifle it with criticism and pressure?
Let the kids play. Let’s start rooting!