First, let me commend you on the time and dedication that it takes to do what you do. I am very well aware (being married to a coach myself) of the hours that are required of you beyond the two-to-four that you are actually on the field. There is so much behind the scenes…the communication with the league officials and other coaches, communication with parents, coordinating game schedules, evaluations, field maintenance, preparing line ups…just to name a few. Your commitment to the game, your team and the community is no small one. And for that I say a sincere thank you.
Also, the knowledge and love of the game of baseball itself that you obviously possess is something I both appreciate and admire. There are more rules and intricacies than the average observer even really knows…especially in Little League, as there are specific requirements that are affixed beyond just a normal baseball game. There are codes of conduct to be observed, specifications of equipment and plenty of other details set in place to serve the best interest of the children involved.
Which brings me to my main intent for this letter. The best interest of the children…can we talk about that for a moment?
After observing many a coach over the past seven years that my own three boys have been involved in Little League, I think maybe a reminder might be in order that this whole deal is supposed to be about the kids. It’s supposed to help them learn the game of baseball…give them an understanding of the fundamentals and develop skills. It also serves to teach them life skills such as team play and good sportsmanship. It’s about connection with other people in the community, citizenship and having fun. It’s supposed to teach them concepts such as respect and fairness and affirmation. In case you are unsure about the truth of those things, let me remind you of that little pledge that we have so often recited…
Little League Pledge
I trust in God
I love my country
And will respect its laws
I will play fair
And strive to win
But win or lose
I will always do my best
Or maybe we should revisit the stated Mission of Little League, and let this sink in for a few moments…
Through proper guidance and exemplary leadership, the Little League program assists children in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being. By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes.
Proper guidance. Exemplary leadership.
That’s you, coaches. It’s also us, parents. I think maybe we all need to take a breath and calm down. We need to process some facts, and gain some perspective.
Little League’s goal is NOT to produce superior athletes. Are there MLB players that started out in LL? Sure. Definitely. But here’s some cold hard stats that might help us to come back to reality, and hopefully enable us to chill out a little bit at the next big rivalry game between the local sporting goods store and the VFW.
According to Little League stats, fewer than 10 percent of all youth baseball players will even play high school baseball, let alone college or pro ball. Only 6.7 percent of high school seniors go on to play NCAA baseball—all divisions. Of that elite group, 9.7 percent will play professional ball at any level. Fewer than 1 percent of high school players will be drafted.*
Did you process that? Very few of our little guys will even continue to play through high school; next to none will actually make it to The Show.
Now, with all those insightful reminders, let’s make it personal.
We parents, we are entrusting our children to you. Not just their physical beings, but their emotional ones as well. I’ve learned a lot over the years about this whole releasing process. I’ve learned that, for boys, (because I can only speak from the perspective of boys in this area) there’s something about letting them take these first steps toward being men. I’ve learned to let them take their lumps and tough it out. I’ve learned to keep my butt firmly planted in that chair when my kid hits the ground in pain, and let the coaches rush to them first. I’ve learned to let others make the calls like “walk it off” or “put some ice on it”, and I’ve learned to trust that they’ll say “we need Mom over here…” when they really do. That’s no small thing, that trust I’m placing in you, Coach. But I’m willing to go there.
I’ve learned not to be offended when my son gets yelled at to “Hustle!!” or when they have to take a lap for lack of effort. I’m not blind to my childrens’ flaws, bad attitudes or other areas that need improvement. I know that they can tend toward taking the easy way out, and sometimes need to be pushed. I’m under no delusion that I alone will work character in them. And I’m not at all opposed to them being made to work hard, or to be stretched in their ability to make them better. In fact, I’m all for those things.
What I really take issue with is when I see my own, or other children, putting forth effort and being shamed for lack of ability, or for lack of simply doing or being what you WANT them to. It’s when you remain deafeningly silent when the child who struggles to put the bat on the ball comes to the plate, because we all know you are filled with angst over having to ‘endure’ what you know is likely to happen in these moments. Where is the encouragement? Where is the affirmation for giving effort?
Do you remember why we are here? It’s not to win every game. It’s to build strong children.
When you roll your eyes and turn your back on a child who has just struck out, you are communicating that they have completely and utterly failed. And more specifically, that they have failed YOU. When you actually say things like “good try” is a statement to not be made, because trying doesn’t matter if you don’t ‘succeed’….you have clearly lost sight of the big picture.
May I remind you that in every single MLB game I’ve ever watched there are many strike outs?
These children WANT to do well. They want to please you. They want to make their parents proud. Contrary to what you think, when you shame them, you are not spurring any kind of improvement…especially when their physical ability and skill level actually prevents them from even being able to meet your desires. You are working the exact opposite, in fact. You are tearing them down, you are robbing them of courage, and you are eroding their confidence toward stepping out, trying something new or pushing themselves to the next level.
Listen, I understand intensity. I understand a healthy level of competitiveness. I understand yelling coaching-statements such as “Where’s the play?”, “Ready positions!”, “Hit the cut-off!” and “Cover the plate!”
I’m not even saying “Don’t yell.”
I’m saying, can you please stop demoralizing? Screaming statements like “What are you doing??” or disgustedly spatting “You should be better than that…” are not helpful. Those statements have gone beyond the actions of the game and are demeaning their personhood. Sure, they probably had a moment of not knowing exactly what to do (as they are in the LEARNING phase of both life and baseball…so this happens, regularly), and whether they should or should not be better, in your opinion, is irrelevant.
And please, do not yell “What’s wrong with you?”, because I will happily answer that question for you right now. NOTHING. Nothing is wrong with that child! They are a child, they are learning the skills and thought processes involved in this game, and they simply might not be quite as adept at it as you are yet. Not surprising, since they are probably about 8-12 years old to your likely 30-40+ years.
Would this kind of berating work well to encourage you in your workplace? No? Then, I think it’s safe to assume it’s not going to work here either.
So, while I am able to entrust their physical being to your coaching care on the field, I need you to know that they are still not yours. I am, at this point, the final authority in their life, and I will not allow you to emotionally damage what I am working so very hard to build. If you would like to partner with me in building a strong person out of my child, I welcome you. But I will not allow you by words or actions to communicate to them that they are inferior, or lacking, or a failure in any way. They are not on that field solely for the purpose of winning, or fueling your competitive ego.
When your team walks off that field, heads hanging in shame, the failure is not theirs. When specific players are named and blamed for a loss, the failure is not theirs. When a child leaves a game, or a season, never again wanting to pick up a bat, the failure is not theirs.
It is yours.
Your job is not to produce a star athlete, it is to help build a healthy child. Every loss experienced is an opportunity to teach character, and when that doesn’t happen, on the field, the blame is squarely on you. (And let’s share the weight here…the conversation in the car on the way home, speaking in terms of good attitudes and sportsmanship falls to us parents. We all need to own what’s ours here.) Their job is simply to play hard and do their best. Your job (and ours) is to lead and model exemplary behavior, sportsmanship and citizenship. Win or lose.
Little League is about the kids. With that in mind, can I ask you a favor?
Would you pause and take a moment to re-evaluate yourself? I mean…our kids – they are getting coached, evaluated and critiqued daily…so this really shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Can you take a good hard look at yourself and ask why you are doing this?
What really matters to you?
Is it winning at all costs? Is it having the winning team every season, every year? Is it beating that other team because you despise that other coach so much? Are you willing to play dirty, bend the rules? Do you care more about the score than the players? Is it living out some unrealized aspirations of your own?
If you answer yes to those questions, can I humbly ask that you consider stepping away?
Because answering yes to any of those questions signals that you have drifted away from what is meant to be the very heart and soul of Little League.
I value greatly your knowledge and understanding of baseball…but not more than I value courage, respect, honesty and integrity. If we are not in agreement on this, then I can’t, in good conscience, entrust my child to your influence. And frankly, I won’t. Because, while I have no grand illusions that my child is headed for the ‘big leagues’…even if they were, there’s no way I’d want them there without having instilled these foundational character qualities above all else.
One final thought. While a good dose of competition is fine, please try to remember this as well… These kids, the morning after the game, will walk to the bus stop together. They will show up at school, work on projects, participate in classes, play in concerts together. They ride bikes, swim at the pool, go to the movies together. TOGETHER.
They are friends and neighbors.
While they might be opponents for a few hours on this field, when they walk off, they…like we…are community.
I think we’d all do well to remember this.
With deepest sincerity,
A Baseball Mom
P.S. – To all the fantastic coaches who are wonderful influences, and true exemplary leaders to our children, to us, and in our communities, I want to add an overwhelmingly heartfelt THANK YOU. You are pillars in our kids lives and helping to form the future through our children in bigger ways than you will probably ever get to know.