*The following is an excerpt from an email I worte to a coach concerned about the role he would play in the development of his young team’s personal lives. I though I’d share it here as well. Thanks for reading. *
In my opinion, the main job of the baseball player is to entertain. That’s why the job exists when you stop to think about it. People may ascribe other meanings to the sport, like learning how to work in a team, stoking the competitive spirit, over coming challenges, hard work and so on. But the reason there are so many teams around is because it entertains the player and the viewer— all the other stuff is a byproduct. In fact, that byproduct can be, and has been manipulated for positive or negative results, and younger kids seem to get the brunt of this the most.
They aren’t old enough to know how sports fits into their life so they rely on others to tell them, mostly coaches and parents and even pro athletes. Some of these parties will tell kids, directly or indirectly, sports are the most important aspect of their existence. Others will tell them to just have fun. Some will say that if you are good at sports, you can get away with anything you want. Because of the unique structure of a team, the peer pressure, the push to win, the large value of results and cultural infatuation, young minds learn good and bad lessons. Being a coach is about maximizing the good, sometimes by acknowledging the bad and filtering it out. This takes good communications skills, selflessness, and understanding.
Sports are a type of currency, I believe, and we give it a fluctuating value as we go through life. That said, because some people look at sports as life and death (extremely valuable) while others tend not to concern themselves to deeply with them (not so valuable) we can use the game as a tool. Luckily most kids love it, they give their full attention to it, they commit to it. This is a blessing for a coach who wants to win, BUT, also a great responsibility as the coach is directly responsible for molding young minds. How will you mold them? Will you manipulate them to live and die on results, to win for you at all costs, to swear at failure and rage over disappointment? Or will you use this time of focus to teach them things other role modeling figures would only dream of? How many teachers wish they could be coaches or pro athletes because coaches and pro athletes get attention where teachers don’t simply because they are not in the sports world?
I know you referenced the Charles Barkely quote about athletes not being role models and I can assure you there has never been a more ignorant quote ever spoken. Some athletes may believe they are not role models, and they may not want to be role models, but the fact of the matter is; role models don’t always get to choose their role. Sports figures are worshiped by their fans, that’s obvious. Chalk it up to media saturation, idolization, or culture pinning’s; whatever it is, it’s true, and you’d have to be living under a rock to believe otherwise. Coaches and pro athletes alike need to embrace this and understand that this elected role modeling power is a great tool, one that gives us an amazing ability to positively impact those who love this game. Do you know how much money is spent on campaigns to positively influence our youth each year? We are desperately trying to find ways to impact the young and yet we have whole teams of potential impactors who’ll on one hand say they hate the direction the country is going, but on the other hand they spout they don’t want to be bothered with the responsibility of shepherding youth by the way they behave.
Sir, you are on the right track. Keep your teams involved in community service. Keep telling them they are they’re to work hard, to rise to challenges, to support each other on a common cause. Keep using baseball as a tool to mold young minds into believing they can do more than just win as a team; that they can sculpt a better community as one as well. Indeed, they can sculpt a better life. That’s where the real power in baseball is; a group of like-minded individuals who responsibly shoulder the power our culture has given them. Can we really ask for anything more?