Lately there have been lots of posts about player/coach/parent conflicts. Questions about lack of fairness in playing time, kids and parents who feel entitled to special treatment, parents who worry that the coach has “written their player off,” and so on, and so on….
Lots of times when we read these posts, it’s easy to generalize and make assumptions. I’m just as guilty as anyone.
If the story comes from the coach, we may assume that the player needs an attitude adjustment. And that the parents need a reality check.
Hearing the same account from Mom and Dad, we could easily paint the coach as unreasonable. A “daddy-baller” who’s only in it for the trophies.
We assume that most of these conflicts wouldn’t occur if the player would just work a little harder or if the coach was more understanding.
But sometimes it’s not that simple.
I share the true story below for the player and parents who’ve been sticking it out for way too long, afraid that if they move to a new team, they’ll be labeled as quitters or unstable “team jumpers.” And for the coach who feels like he’s done everything in his power, used every tool in his arsenal to reach a kid and they’re still just not clicking.
(The names below have been changed. I made the mistake of letting my son choose aliases for himself, his friend, his brother and their coaches. If you learn only one thing from this post, it’s don’t let your kid pick out fictitious names for the people in your stories.)
I’m sitting at my son Tarantino’s high school baseball game, watching a group of competent young men easily handling the competition. Jedediah is the first baseman. Though only a freshman, he’s clearly a leader among his peers. Animated and confident, Jedediah makes one great defensive play after another. At the plate, he’s a free-swinging lefty, who, more often than not, finds a gap in right center. In the dugout, his smiling, gregarious nature keeps everyone’s spirits high.
To a stranger, Jedediah might seem like one of those kids whom everything comes easily to. A mixture of natural talent and can-do attitude. A coach’s darling!
But that wasn’t always the case.
Just a year ago, Jedediah and my son were on a travel team together. The Boa Constrictors. It was a different environment with different players and a different coach. Since there were a couple other first basemen, Jedediah was relegated to right field and occasional pitcher. On the mound, he had a strong arm and was crafty with his off-speed stuff, but struggled to maintain composure when things weren’t going his way. Defensively and at bat, Jedediah’s body language revealed a kid who was constantly second guessing himself, whose solid skills and athleticism were sabotaged by his lack of confidence.
Toward the end of the season, it was especially painful watching Jedediah trudge dejectedly back to the dugout after yet another strike out. Or hand the ball back to his coach and step off the mound, his countenance a mixture of failure and relief.
After games, Tarantino would say “Jedediah just needs to trust himself. He knows what to do!” But, as we can all attest, that’s easier said than done.
Their coach, a well-loved former college pitcher, who’d managed successful teams for years, did his best to give each kid plenty of chances to develop their strengths. But after two seasons under Coach Bart’s direction, Jedediah wasn’t making progress. His parents paid for individual lessons and often asked what he needed to work on. They just wanted him to be happy and successful. And he said that he was, in spite of his challenges.
As you might’ve guessed by now, Jedediah’s struggles were not of the mechanical variety. Whoever said that baseball is 90% mental needn’t look farther than this lad to prove his point.
You’re probably thinking, “This is typical stuff! Kids grow. They get stronger, more mature and less awkward with age. It’s common to see players do a radical turnaround within a year.”
But wait! There’s more. So keep reading.
During the same time that our main character was circling the drain on his travel team, rec league season started. This, of course, led to a third team for Jedediah and Tarantino. The Yard Dogs, managed by perpetually happy-go-lucky, Coach Eagerston, had a cast of different players and uniforms that featured canines instead of snakes.
This is where the crazy thing happened. The boys’ first rec league game was on a Tuesday. This particular Tuesday was just two days after Jedediah had suffered a particularly painful weekend with the Boa Constrictors. Sitting in the bleachers that evening, I expected to see the same self-loathing, second guessing Jedediah I’d known all year. But he wasn’t the same kid at all!!!! His whole demeanor was different.
Stepping out to lead off for the Yard Dogs was a strong, smiling, confident batter! A kid with his head held high, ready to take care of business and get the hit parade started. I had to double check the name on the back of his uniform to make sure I was indeed watching Jedediah. This miraculous about-face continued on the mound, where he casually dominated the competition and had a great time doing it. Game after game during rec season, the struggling, forlorn travel team Jedediah was nowhere to be found.
Yes, I know some of you are probably thinking. “But it’s REC BALL. Geez! You can’t compare rec ball to travel ball. It’s EASY to look like a stud in rec ball!”
Quit being so argumentative and keep reading, okay?
Since travel season was on hiatus for a few months, we got used to the super star rec league Jedediah.
“I bet Jedediah will have a much easier time on the Constrictors when fall season rolls around. He sure has come a long way,” noted Tarantino after one of their last rec league games.
But we’d never get to find out. Because, in working to strengthen the Constrictors for fall, Coach Bart made some changes to his lineup. Changes that didn’t include Jedediah.
When the new team roster was announced, Tarantino was upset. I was upset. My husband and younger son Mace Windu were upset. Our families had become close. We were angry at Coach Bart for cutting a loyal teammate just for the goal of winning more trophies. He hadn’t seen Jedediah lately and all the progress he’d made.
But I think deep down Bart knew that it wasn’t working out, that the two of them just somehow lacked chemistry. And sometimes coaches have to make those hard decisions.
I heard one parent speculate that Bart had to cut him from the team because Jedediah was just “uncoachable.”
How could he say that!!!
I wanted to invite him to a Yard Dogs game to see how great the kid was doing.
But that’s where perspective comes in. The dad who made that judgment had only seen the travel team Jedediah. From that viewpoint, maybe he did seem uncoachable.
A few weeks later, Jedediah joined a different travel team that went on to defeat the Boa Constrictors a couple times with impressive contributions from our main character.
This leads us back to where the story began, the middle of the high school baseball season. The struggling, unconfident Jedediah hasn’t been seen or heard from in a very long time.
In a few weeks, rec season starts up again. I’m looking forward to more Yard Dog action and great memories made under the lights at Rockwood Park.
Here are some questions to see if you’ve been paying attention.
- What position did Jedediah play for the Boa Constrictors?
- Who should you not allow to choose fictitious names for your blog post characters?
- Why do you think Jedediah isn’t a catcher?
- What did Coach Bart do in college?
- Even though it was hurtful that Jedediah got cut from the Constrictors, do you think it was for the best? Why or why not? (The answer is “yes.” If you put “no,” you got it wrong and will, therefore, have eight points taken off your grade.)
- If a player performs poorly for a few months on one team, does that mean he should burn all his baseball equipment and take up crocheting? (Answer wisely. You don’t want to lose another eight points.