Why Can’t We Just Let The Kids Play?
With a new Major League Baseball season starting, youth leagues are also getting underway. And with this comes something kids and coaches dread: overzealous parents. Obviously, not all parents are problems, but there are enough that many kids and coaches will not come back this year. My son is one of those kids, and I am one of those coaches. He said he was tired of parents getting too wound up, and I was sick of playing nice with parents who were making things miserable. I plan on going back at it in a couple of years, but I need a break.
I have been volunteering with kids for over 30 years now, but it has only been in the past four years that I have been a sports coach. My youngest really wanted to play baseball, but the league commissioner told me they might not have enough coaches to run the season. So I agreed to coach.
After several hours of scanning the internet for training and coaching aids, I came across the Positive Coaching Alliance. I was hooked by their philosophy of positive mentoring. What impressed me was the idea that losing and failure were learning opportunities rather than something to be feared. Obviously, no one wants to make mistakes, but everyone does. Learning how to get past them and keep going is one of the most valuable life lessons little people can learn.
I worked hard to get the players on board, and the boys responded. I taught my players anytime they made an error to tell themselves they would do better next time and just let the bad play go away. I also taught the kids that if a teammate made a mistake to encourage them and tell the player they would get it next time. They encouraged each other, and at the end of the season when we got knocked out of the playoffs, the boys were still upbeat about all we had accomplished that year. They were actually high-fiving one another and smiling even though we had just lost a game and ended our season.
I wish I could say the same about some of the parents. Every year I coached, I had at least two parents who made things hard for both their player and the team in general.
My first season, after about four games, I noticed one of the boys was crying. He had been fine at the end of the inning, but something set him off while waiting for his turn to bat. I found out later that his father was making all manner of comments whenever the boy was off the field, and not a single one was positive no matter how well his son did. I considered this boy one of the most skilled players on the team. I finally had to ask the father to stop talking to the boy during the game as it was causing problems on the field.
Ever since then, I have tried to make it clear to parents how to keep things positive. I felt it was wrong that a parent should bring their child to tears over a game. Here are some of the things I stress to parents every year:
The first purpose of the game is to have fun. If the children are not enjoying the spirit of the game, why bother playing? Obviously, you want the children to give their best effort on the field. The game should be fun, however.
Correction happens during practice. In the heat of the game is NOT the time to teach a player. If something needs more focus, it needs to be dealt with at practice. Harping on what has passed only makes the child obsess and fear making a mistake.
Be positive and recognize both teams. Two things I repeatedly stressed with parents was to encourage their players positively if something goes wrong, and to recognize skilled play by the opposing team. I didn’t want a single player on either team to feel belittled or otherwise have a negative experience as a result of something one of the parents on my team said. Also, by modeling good sportsmanship, the parents would be setting good examples for the kids. Fortunately, I never had a parent bad mouth the opposing team.
Players need to be at every possible practice. Some kids are just more athletically inclined than others, but everyone needs to learn to work well with teammates. Many kids have a variety of activities going on, and sometimes they probably would miss a practice. But parents should not assume that because their child is very talented, they don’t need to come to practice and can go to other activities instead. There is an unspoken communication between players who work together outside the game, and the only way to do that is practice together. Also, resentment can crop up with the players who show up all the time toward those who only come to a few practices.
Let the coach direct the team. This may sound egotistical, but it creates confusion when the parents are telling the child to do something different than what the coach is saying. Some parents also shout during the entire game. Even if they are encouraging, it makes it hard for the coaches to give instructions during the game if they have to talk over parents. A couple of times parents got a little indignant, and I said I would be glad to let them coach, and I could just enjoy watching my son play rather than be responsible for twelve children. I have yet to have a parent take me up on my offer, and they usually keep things positive after I put it in those terms.
Remember the players are children. Statistically, one of the kids I coached playing in the major leagues probably will never happen. Parents need to be encouraging, but cannot get upset if the game does not go the players’ way. An eleven-year-old is not going to have the same skill set as a professional player, and parents need to set their expectations accordingly.
Despite my negative experiences with a minority of parents, I know that most do a great job of modeling positive behavior. I wish everyone a safe and positive season this year.