By Rob Monaco – The Heart of Youth Baseball
If you’ve been around youth baseball as long as I have, you know how it all goes down. You’re an ‘OG’ like me, right? You’ve seen some parents’ interference for years. Heck, maybe you were even one of them, trying to give your 2 cents as to why your kid needed to pitch, or catch 6 innings or even bat clean up.
It’s been happening for a while now, the parent that butters up the coach, only so the coach can play that less talented kid at shortstop a few extra innings while another kid sits. Maybe they’re in construction doing work on the coach’s house at a discount. Maybe he promised him a case of Bud Light. Maybe the dad and the coach are just really good friends and that’s why their kids are always on the field while your kid sits. Who knows. What I do know is that favors happen… probably too much in youth baseball.
Let me guess, you’ve never heard of something like this before. Maybe you’re sheltered and didn’t know that this stuff actually happens. Well, it does, but it wasn’t always that way. But over the past decade or so there are certain instances of favors, sometimes public, sometimes private and suspicious, but it happens, trust me.
Meanwhile all it does is teaches that dad’s son that success doesn’t need to be earned… ‘Daddy’s got this, Daddy will fix this. Don’t worry.’ Not a good life lesson… that father is ruining that kid’s future. When it gets hard down the road. That kid’s going to have a hell of a time adapting to challenges, isn’t he?
That’s ‘Daddy Baseball’ folks, and while mildly excepted in town ball, there is zero room for that when you venture outside the bubble. Club baseball is a different ball game, it has to be, and believe me, we need to keep it competitive, structured and always about the best kids. When it comes to Club baseball, Dads need to shut up. Let the coaches coach… that’s the bottom line.
When we talk about club, that’s where we need to move forward, not back. Daddy baseball needs to disappear, especially as kids start to gear up for High School. Town politics, Dad’s hanging out in the dugout talking to the coach before the game needs to stop. By then, it should really be about a coach and player bond, and a team that comes together based on solid game play, a good camaraderie and a true love of the game.
Youth town baseball was never designed to stack “studs” in a lineup and turn the less talented away from the game. Quite the opposite. With town baseball, the players are young… it’s about the development and nurturing and confidence building of these kids. It’s designed to keep players playing, to keep kids motivated.
But as they grow older, you would hope that these kids learn the game, become more skilled and eventually play great baseball in a more competitive setting. And… if a young player has the potential, he should venture outside the bubble. That’s club. That simply means leave town ball.
That simply means you can see how your kid does on a club team where he doesn’t know a single player. Where he needs to adapt on a field he’s never played on. Where the only language is baseball. Where the coach is legit and not the father of a player on the team, and instruction is more sound than anything in your town.
And it is there that you will see the next step, the quality of higher–level play, the exclusion of father’s sitting your kid because his kid needs to play. You would hope in that world, politics and favors don’t exist. Sadly however, as youth baseball becomes a big business… fathers have slithered their way into club ball as well, changing the entire landscape of what some club teams are trying to accomplish.
Believe me, certain dads are now even ruining club ball, making it more about individual achievement for their own kid rather than about “team”. That’s bad. That’s toxic… and it turns off a group of hardworking kids who absolutely see the manipulation and change of momentum when the old man is seen wandering in the dugout and then as the game starts… that father’s kid is the lead-off man.
And those players on that team are not stupid. They know that kid’s not a lead-off hitter or starting pitcher. Heck, he’s never been one… except for on his father’s team, But now… he’s starting on this team too. And the worst part? The rest of the team is too worried about backlash if they question the coach about it. Why? Well, they don’t want to be reprimanded, they don’t want to seem like they are questioning a coach’s decision, and they sure as hell don’t want to talk badly about their teammate to their coach. Sadly though, being in the game as long as these kids have been, even THEY know a favor when they see it.
Why does it happen? Why can’t fathers butt out? Because fathers are too wrapped up in making their son’s into superstars and if it means they can cut corners and “make a phone call” to get their son to the front of the line, they will. But here’s the problem with that; it will eventually hurt that kid, because when it matters, in High School and the kid’s riding the bench, it will soon be realized that Daddy can’t fix everything, and success must be earned, not given.
‘Daddy baseball’ hurts the player. Not only that, it hurts the team, especially when kids reach high school. While I will never accept the idea of ‘Daddy baseball’, I know that as youth town baseball is played, volunteers are important, and many times, those volunteers are fathers. But as these kids grow older, after Williamsport or Ripken or Cooperstown, we as adults really need to access the game, our young players and ask ourselves 2 very important questions:
“Does my son really have what it takes to make baseball his passion?”
“Have I coddled him too much?”
It’s always been my feeling that giving a kid whatever he wants on a baseball diamond doesn’t allow a player to grow into a passionate and dedicated ballplayer. It makes a selfish athlete. Baseball players need to fail before they can grow. Baseball players need to have that 3rd party, a legitimate coach to help bring that player to another level once the years of Little League are behind them.
If daddy’s ALWAYS there giving “Sonny Boy” whatever he wants in the field, directing him, talking to the kid’s coach on the son’s behalf about positions and spots in the batting order, how is that kid, now a young adult, supposed to advocate for himself as he plays on club teams? On the high school team?
How’s he going to speak up for himself in the real world? What does that kid really know about working hard or earning his keep if he’s handed whatever he wants out there by daddy? And sadly, everyone around that kid? They know what’s going on. They know Daddy’s writing a backroom check and offering coffee and sports drinks whenever the coach needs it. But that kid… he’s clueless, and in the end… it will not help him in baseball down the road. It’s kind of sad really.
Competitive Baseball is where ‘Daddy baseball’ is supposed to be shown the door and it’s where real coaches and dedicated players can really get down to the nitty gritty. Winning baseball games in a competitive setting, bonding between the team and coach with zero involvement from parents other than to ask about directions to the field this upcoming weekend or how they can get extra hitting lessons aside from practice. You would think you’ve graduated to that. Solid, baseball. No parent involvement. After all, your kid worked hard for years dealing with the pitfalls of sitting probably a little more than he should because of parent interference. Well, it’s gone now… until it isn’t.
Message to overbearing parents with sons in Club baseball… BUTT OUT! You have managed to make a solid youth club baseball team about your kid first… and in club, it’s not about individual achievement… it’s about team first. Parents aren’t stupid. They are watching you and are not pleased. If that continues… we as a baseball society are doomed.
If you see something… Say something.
Baseball has never been about 1 player. It’s about 12 in a competitive, a “dad free” zone. Now that that’s off my chest… can we play ball please?