By: Geoffrey T. Spaulding
During “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Brad Hamilton advised Jeff Spicoli and his buds “Learn it. Know it. Live it.” when it came to heeding the rule of “No shirt. No shoes. No dice.” Three simple steps, short and sweet.
Borrowing from the succinct delivery mechanism deployed by Brad, when it pertains to parents of ball players (albeit baseball or softball) instructing their kids, the advice from me is “Know it. See it. Teach* it.”
(From here out, whenever I reference baseball, it’s fine to substitute softball. There’s really no difference with respect to what follows in the application.)
A parent…whether it’s dad, mom, or both…owes it to themselves and their ball player child to get educated on proper mechanics and game strategies for playing baseball. Even if you think you know it, challenge yourself and those beliefs. Dig deep and gain the proper knowledge. Just don’t parrot “Squish the bug!” and/or “Throw your hands!” because it’s what you heard as a kid or because others are yelling out the same cues. Seek the truth! You’ll be surprised what you can learn when you sincerely immerse yourself with an open mind and question conventional wisdom. And, get current. If you’re looking into learning more about hitting, see what Bobby Tewksbary and Craig Wallenbrock are instructing now. Don’t rely on what Charlie Lau and Walt Hriniak were preaching many years ago. (If you’re saying “I never heard of any of those guys” at this point, that’s a sign that you need to learn more.)
With the advent of greater technology, there’s been huge gains in the understanding of proper baseball mechanics. If you’re relying on what you learned as a kid and passing it on to your children now, then your player will be way behind those who are not stuck in the past.
This is hard. First, you have to take off your parent blinders and be objective. And, that’s easier said than done. Ever stand next to another parent at a baseball game or practice and listen to what they are saying about their own kid? Be honest, probably many times in those situations you thought to yourself: “We must be looking at different kids because I don’t see what you’re seeing.” Many sports parents just can’t shake that illusion of delusion.
Even if you conquer that element of it, and can be objective in what you see, “seeing it” can be very hard – even if you “know it” in terms of what you are looking to “see.” Personally, I have to use photos, video, and applications like Coach’s Eye to slow it down and analyze mechanics. The game moves too fast for my untrained and old eyes. Plus, to borrow from the old football expression “The eye in the sky never lies.” Game film will show you the truth whereas your eyes, brain and heart sometimes see something that’s not really there or happening.
Honestly witness and examine what your kid is doing – and determine their strengths and areas for improvement.
The asterisk is there for a reason. For most of us, we will never be able to “teach” our kids proper mechanics or game strategies. And, here’s the deal with that:
Kids want their parent’s approval. (Well, at least until they are teenagers.) And, when mommy or daddy offer some advice on how to swing the bat or make a pitch, the child doesn’t hear “This will make me better.” Instead, they hear “My parent is telling me that I am wrong (in what I was doing).” And, that means parent disapproval – which the kid doesn’t want to happen. Right away, they start pushing back like injured wolverines. This is the root cause behind most parent-child sports instruction meltdowns that you see, again and again. No matter what you are saying, all the kid hears in their noggin is “My parents are telling me that I am wrong.”
So, what’s a good intending parent to do here?
Survey says! Find an instructor and then vet them out.
Use “KNOW IT” to make sure they are teaching what you agree with in terms of what’s the correct approach. (And, if they preach “Squish the bug” or “Throw your hands,” run like heck.)
Use “SEE IT” to make sure they are teaching your kids what they need to learn. If the coach is just using cookie-cutter instructions and rubber-stamp lesson plans and not addressing something specific that applies to your child that you have noticed when you “SEE IT,” then you are wasting your time and money.
That’s the asterisk. Most likely, you need to pay someone to “TEACH IT.” Many have a hard time swallowing that pill. But, it’s the most effective tool here. It’s no different than you trying to teach your kid at home versus sending them to school. Find someone, verify that they are teaching the right stuff and in synch with what your kid needs, and let them connect with your kid without the complication of being their parent.
This will all help your ball player get better at the game.
The kid whose parent is using incorrect and/or dated information, refuses to be objective, and insists upon being the only voice in their journey is being disadvantaged. If you want to help your ballplayer, don’t be that parent.
Get educated. Be objective. Use others.
It will take time, effort, a willingness to let go of preconceived notions, some disposable income and checking your ego at the door. That’s a significant checklist for some to handle – with the biggest ticket at the end. But, isn’t your kid worth it?