Three summers ago, my son’s 11U Raptors were getting ready to play their toughest competitors, the Ampersands. They were the kind of team that applauded acts like trucking a four-foot-tall catcher and editing birth certificates. 10 minutes before game time, both teams were stirring around their dugouts, retying shoes, retucking jerseys, spitting and adjusting athletic cups. It was sweltering outside. The kind of day when you wished your kid was a bowler instead of a baseball player. Earlier, I’d overheard a mom say that our opponent’s star catcher had been sick with the flu all week, but was there, in his uniform, ready to lay a sledge hammer tag on any kid who dared to run home.
An outburst from the opposing team’s coach ripped through our happy hum of pregame activity. We all looked up to see him standing red-faced and menacing, with his finger in the catcher’s face.
“I don’t give a bleep how you feel! You get your bleeping bleepity bleeping @$$ behind that bleeping plate and do your job!” Then, to punctuate his orders, he gave the kid a firm shove.
Noisy excitement fell to “pin-drop silence.” Every eye was on this bleepity bleeping jerk. But he didn’t care. He had a game to win and nothing else mattered. We were all appalled, but no one actually did or said anything. Soon the game began like any other.
A month later, we faced that same catcher in a different uniform, behind the plate for a new team. “Good for him!” I thought.
As travel ball parents, we see all sorts of coaching examples. Good, bad and a million in-between. I personally know coaches who behave ghastly toward their players on a regular basis. Otherwise they seem like nice fellows. I wonder, Do they treat their wives and kids like that? Would they spew profanities at a waiter who brought them the wrong entree? Do these coaches realize how their words and actions tear down their players’ trust and self confidence? Do they care? Or do they honestly feel like bullying is the most effective way to challenge their team to reach maximum potential?
Just for the record, I’m not one of those politically correct “never say anything that could be construed as offensive, never raise your voice, treat all children like fragile woodland creatures with delicate feelings,” kind of moms. Heck no! Be tough. Push them. Challenge them. Set expectations. Call them out on their BS. And don’t let them get away with giving less than their all.
Having said all that, there are some coaching methods that have no absolutely no place in sports, in my opinion. (If your opinion is different, then feel free to write your own article.)
- Public Humiliation
Third baseman Jethro makes a bad throw to first in a close game. In response, Coach Huffgard shouts a colorful cloud of insults from his dugout bucket heard by everyone in a three zipcode radius. He calls the kid a “retarded pile of crap,*” and screams “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU????” Or maybe he waits until everyone’s in the dugout to give poor Jethro his tongue lashing. Jethro is now so down on himself that he performs terribly the rest of the day.
I don’t know a single person who enjoys or benefits from being humiliated in front of others (or alone, for that matter). Yet, it’s so commonplace among coaches.
- Showing Negative Emotion When Something Goes Wrong
A veteran travel ball parent says, “We once had a head coach who, when he was at third base, would throw his hands up if a player struck out, got caught stealing, anything not positive. You could just watch the kid’s face when he saw the coach act like this. The kid was devastated.”
Coach Huffgard is all about these public powder keg displays. He’s the first to lose his cool when a call doesn’t go his way. He’s had his finger in the face of every opposing coach in the district at some time or another. And the players never know what’s going to set him off or if they’ll have to run wind sprints for coming in second in the weekend’s tournament.
- Being Inflexible
Yes, rules are important, in sports and in life. But every once in a while, something comes up where common sense would tell you that it’s okay to break the rule in question. For example, Coach Huffgard has players who miss practice or games run 20 poles per missed event. Andre, the second baseman’s grandpa dies of a massive heart attack the night before a Saturday game. (You can’t exactly schedule a heart attack.) Andre, as expected, misses the game. Melvin, the right fielder, has missed practice all week because he’s been in the hospital with pneumonia. Both boys return to practice on Monday. Andre has to run 20 poles and Melvin, still weak from being sick, is slapped with 80 poles. Andre and Melvin’s parents would like to shove one of those poles up Huffgard’s asterisk.
- Bad Sportsmanship
Coach Huffgard thinks it’s funny to ridicule and berate the opposing team to his own players before games. He likes to “stir the pot,” so to speak. He can routinely be heard yelling things like “drop it!” “miss it!” and “FENCE,” to distract the other team’s players during games. Sometimes he posts gossip and insults on social media directed at other teams, coaches and players. Coach Huffgard doesn’t realize the terrible example he’s setting for his kids and that he’s making himself look like a fool.
- Focusing on Winning Instead of Player Development (especially when kids are younger)
Coach Huffgard has the winningest group of 8-year-olds the county has ever seen. But five of his players rarely set foot out of the dugout. And they don’t know any more about baseball than they did when their parents signed them up. They’d love the opportunity to play, but are starting to get frustrated and lose interest. Huffgard, like many coaches, is focused on winning trophies instead of creating ballplayers. His team has enough talented athletes that he doesn’t bother working with those who could benefit most from his attention.
No coach is perfect. And I’m grateful to all of the guys who sacrifice their time to teach our kids this great game. But many of them don’t realize how much influence they have on their players, for better or worse. What coaching mistakes are particularly bothersome to you? Let us know in the comments.
*a direct quote heard at a youth baseball game.