Like a lot of baseball fans that have sons, ever since my son was able to stand we’d go in the back yard and I’d toss him whiffle balls at big, over sized plastic bats. My love of baseball being passed down to my son as my father passed it down to me. As he grew, we’d move on to bigger bats, real gloves, and instruction. “No son, hold the bat this way, step into it”. As he got even bigger we’d sign him up for little league. Coach pitch: Little guys learning the game, little kids playing on a green grass exercising on a sunny afternoon.
As my son grew and got better, he was asked to join a “travel team”. Bigger kids, more competition, real games. Weekend tournaments at big baseball complexes. We’d drive him and his friends around and he’d play and have fun in the sunshine. But, with bigger games and advancing age, one thing started to change: The coaches.
At the travel level, the coaches started to take this whole thing REALLY seriously. Barking orders at the kids, pushing them to get better faster, stronger. Losing no longer an option. Must win. And, as expected a few different style of coaches started to take shape:
1. The Coach-Dad. The Coach-Dad is the guy whose son always comes first. Hey, he’s the coaches son, so of course his kid gets to play the position he wants or pitch when he wants. Even if his kid isn’t the best at the position or shouldn’t bat cleanup, the Coach-Dad is convinced his own kid shines over the other kids. I don’t have a problem with the Coach-Dad. If the Coach-Dad wants to put all the time and effort into actually coaching a little league team, then more power to him. Who cares if the Coach-Dad’s kid made the last out or a game losing error in the field? Kids had some exercise on a sunny afternoon, that’s what counts.
2. The Coach-Parent. These are the parents that constantly offer coaching advice to their kids at games: “Two outs, run on anything”. “Get that shoulder up, son”. These are the baseball fans that since the boys were able to stand have been in the back yard teaching, coaching, and helping their kids learn the game they love so much. Some of the Coach-Parents get to sit in the dugout and help the whole team as assistants. Some sit on the sidelines and offer advice from afar. Always watching, and trying to give their kids a little advantage to help at that day’s game. I admire the Coach-Parent that puts the time and effort into taking the kids to the games and private lessons, always kindly nudging the kids to do their best and try hard even in losing situations. Still though, the Coach-Parent realizes that they’re just 10 year olds playing games on a sunny afternoon. Win or lose, no big deal, the kids got some exercise.
3. The Coach-Nazi. These are the coaches that take the whole thing wayyyy too seriously. They don’t think of themselves as teaching 10 year olds the pastoral game. These guys think they are coaching the New York freakin’ Mets. Every play must be run as practiced. If not, they get barked at: “RUN!!”. These guys have egos so big that even when the Coach-Parent wants to offer advice they get a stern tongue-lashing. No parents allowed to coach the kids. All coaching MUST come from the Coach-Nazi. My way or the highway. What do you want, a bunch of losers? The parents on the bleachers shout out a friendly “Keep that arm up, son” elicits a hairy eyeball from the Coach-Nazi fuming in the dugout. These guys are usually the reason kids quit playing baseball. Too much pressure. Too much focus on winning. None of the fun of playing a game and getting some exercise on a sunny afternoon.
At all sporting events my kids participate in, I like to keep in mind this little mantra: Let the players play, let the coaches coach, Let the referees ref, and let the spectators be positive. I always try and maintain composure, never yelling disparaging comments at the refs for making bad calls, or taunting the other little 10 year olds or their parents on the opposing teams. I yell positive encouragement and praise for my children and their teammates. If I see something that might make their game easier or helpful, sure, I’ll shout that out as well. I guess I’m a Coach-Parent. Ever since they’ve been little I’ve tried to encourage them to do their best, have fun, get some exercise, and hey, if they win, all the better.
But sometimes, if you run into the angry Coach-Nazi, well it’s not so much fun anymore. The drama is simply not worth it. The kids fear losing. They fear making mistakes. And this fear leads to them no longer liking the sport, the game. It leads to the Coach-Parent taking his kid off the team. It leads to no parents on the bleachers in fear of insulting the Coach-Nazi. It leads to kids disappointment when their parents no longer want to attend games. It ultimately leads to kids sitting on their butts playing X-Box instead of going outside to play games and get some exercise on a sunny afternoon.