I do baseball lessons in my down time. It’s what you do when you’re a former baseball player and you’re bored, and you’re tired of watching kids do it wrong. I see a bad delivery on a kid and it irritates me like crooked picture frame.
Working with young baseball padawans also lets me stay around the game in a capacity I enjoy. I like to teach and instruct. Folks tell me I should become a little league coach, but… uh… I can’t stand the parents. The kids are fine, they’re easy, they do what you tell them. The parents on the other hand… well, sometimes they can’t get past themselves long enough to let their kids be kids.
Parents, or The Parents, as we call them among coaching circles, are the number one cause of problems for just about every coach and player… including their own.
That’s because The Parents, in their quest to be loving, helpful, and provide the perfect baseball experience, do some crazy-ass s*^#$ like pick fights with coaches in parking lots, start arguments in the middle of games, harass other teams ten year olds to the point of crying, brawl with other dads, attack other mothers, and contact child services over lack of playing time.
Coach for any amount of time and you’ll learn quickly that the hardest part about coaching young children is dealing with the grown up problems of their parents. Look, parenting is hard (ask my mother). You’re always worried that your child is going to get scarred for life and end up some drugged-up burnout that cites a bad childhood experience for ruining his or her passion for just about everything. You fear that a coach will squelch his or her desire to play the game he or she loves. You fear that not doing something for them, or controlling everything you can will put them in harm’s way leaving you to live with a lifetime of regret. I get that. I know you’re afraid that your child might suffer, and you will do everything in your power to make sure it doesn’t happen.
But it’s an unrealistic goal. In fact it’s not even always beneficial to the child. You know, one of the best things about baseball, I mean the absolute Best things, is it’s a game of failure. Controlled, tracked, and itemized failure. Kids, even gifted ones, WILL fail at it. And, as child, this is a great thing to experience.
Why? Because life is a game of failure. Not to sound nihilistic, but life can really kick your ass, and when it does, you can’t run to mommy and daddy and beg for them to fight the coach, or boss, or ex-girlfriend for you. The successful among us are always the ones who pick themselves up after failure and press on. Competitive sports teach this. They teach a myriad of other great things, but none is more life empowering than this.
It’s a natural instinct to want to help you children. But, sometimes, helping them means getting control of your natural instincts. In your attempt to make sure your child enjoys the game, you may very well end up embarrassing your child out of it.
In a recent lesson, I talked to a fourteen year-old about “awareness being an impediment to action.” It’s my little way of addressing those times when everything is going wrong and you can’t stop thinking about how wrong it’s going. You’re no longer the player that is locked into the game. Now you’re the player that realizes everyone is looking at you, is disappointed with you, and is waiting for you to fix it. It’s a terrible feeling, and one of the hardest to recover from when it’s sitting on top of you in front of fans, teammates, and opposing forces.
I asked the child when he feels most aware, and he said, “when my parents are yelling at me to do better in front of the whole team.”
“And does this help you?”
“No, it just makes it worse. I just worry about myself more. I feel terrible. I hate it.”
If you take time to think about why you do most of the things you do as a parent of a young player, you might realize that much of it is because you’re trying to cope with your own fears via outward actions directed at your child. This is often why coaches get so much heat.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some bad coaches out there, especially at the lowest levels. Most don’t know anything about baseball, or the mechanics. They yell a lot, they boss kids around, and they have big expectations. But that’s life for you: lots of loud mouths, know-nothings, and frustrating expectations to deal with.
Luckily, many coaches are good people doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Even so, it’s important to realize there is no perfect coach. Don’t expect them to be perfect, or your children, or you. And don’t try to make a scenario perfect because, just like no player has ever had a perfect season from the inside, you can’t make it one from the outside.
Trust yourself. You’ll know when your kids need your protective intervention, and when they just need to toughen up. Remember, they are not emotionally developed yet, crying is a way they cope with things they can’t express, it’s natural— it is NOT your cue to throw punches or set an ambush in the parking lot. Give your child a chance to figure it out on his own by controlling your need to control: support, encourage, and let go.
Remember: sports are meant to be a teaching tool for life. They require discipline, control, and confidence, not just from the players but also their parents. How much of those traits you exude as a parent will correlate to how much of them you see in your children.