If you’ve read much on the Coach Hub blogs, you know I tend to get defensive when youth sports parents are vilified, usually through the stereotype of being boorish buttinskies. As a coach, I dealt with a few problematic parents, but the vast majority were helpful and supportive.
So I wasn’t thrilled to read this blog post from coachandplaybaseball.com, which offers a sample letter coaches could send to parents at the beginning of the season. I’m a firm believer in a preseason meeting with parents or a letter/email communicating what they can expect and laying down some ground rules.
But this letter is not the way to go. The opening couldn’t more wrong-headed: “The baseball parent I have found is the biggest problem in youth baseball and youth sports. I think we should get everything straight and out in the open before we go any further.”
It’s safe to say that offending one’s audience right from the start isn’t the best way to establish a relationship. I also think it’s safe to say that a lot of baseball parents believe that coaches are every bit as much a problem as parents.
The coach goes on to say that it’s going to be “all about the kids.” In fact, he say this so many times one cannot help but wonder if it’s actually going to be more about him. He then tells parents that they will be allowed to applaud during games but otherwise should keep quiet. He will “handle the encouragement,” thank you. In fact, he’d really prefer that they just drop off the player at practice and games.
Sounds like the same type of arrogance he’s accusing the parents of using to spoil the season, doesn’t it? The parent-coach relationship clearly is going to be one-sided with this guy, who maybe simply has been coaching for too long.
Now, I don’t want to focus on this letter except as an example of a pervasive mindset among coaches. No doubt this coach is just trying to be helpful. But that way of thinking about the coach-parent relationship, frankly, isn’t helpful at all. When I hear coaches make these same points, they sound much more concerned with the control and power of their position than about their players.
Many of the ideas in this letter are worth reading (and heeding). As you’re composing your own letter to parents, you might want to use some of them – nothing revolutionary but a smart approach, nonetheless.
His points about laying off the umpires and letting the coaches do their jobs are much needed for some parents. Kudos to him, too, for his emphasis on hustling and good sportsmanship rather than on wins and losses. I also like his request that parents practice the game with their kids. His approach of letting the kids play multiple positions, even pitch, and his use of multiple batting orders sounds right on the mark.
The fact that a coach takes the time to go into such detail implies the importance he places on informing the parents, even if the impetus is mostly to circumvent problems arising later in the season.
Coaches do have a tough job dealing with a team full of kids and their parents, but that first meeting or email sets the tone for the season, and you need to instill a sense of cooperation and community among everyone involved. Taking such an autocratic stance will make things unpleasant, even adversarial. Claiming that you’re trying to make their role as parents “easy” is obviously patronizing and adds further insult.
Being a youth sports parent requires sacrifice, and sometimes coaches lose sight of the parents’ experience. The game needs to be about the kids and for the kids, which is why I get tired of hearing some coaches make this claim when, in the end, it’s really about them.
In your communication with parents, be open and honest within a context of mutual respect. And if they want to yell encouragement to their son or daughter, let them. They know their kids better than we do.
Yes, coaches need to draw a line right from the start, but building a wall on top of that line and taking a few shots from the ramparts is overbearing, more a product of the coach’s ego than a desire to protect the players’ enjoyment of the game. When you see the parents as key to the season’s success and treat them that way, nearly all will respond in a positive way. When you go in spoiling for a fight, you’ll usually get one.
I’m a fan of Coach Dan Clemens. Don’t know him. Never met him. But I follow him on Twitter and visit his website frequently in my never-ending search for good tips and drills to pass along to you here at Baseball Coach Hub.
Today I found this post on his site about the difference between reacting and responding in the heat of competition. Our passion for competition has fueled our participation in sports for much of our lives, and so we tend to react instinctively rather than thoughtfully. When a player makes a costly mistake, we sometimes don’t think before we speak. That’s called “reacting.”
Coaches who have no regrets about how they reacted after a key play are few and far between. Just bringing up the subject causes me to wince at the memory of a few times when I reacted rather than responded.
Check out the post, in which Coach Clemens explains the difference between the two. It’s a short piece but I think you’ll remember it the next time you’re tempted to react. Pausing for a moment to get past your own competitive instincts will help you to respond in a more positive way, keeping the play in perspective and the player’s feelings as the highest priority.
Call me corny, but this story touched me. Seems a baseball travel team in the little town of Hobart, Indiana, was ripped off by its coach. Parents had ponied up nearly $700 a piece for uniforms and other expenses in preparation for the season.
The team’s manager allegedly took the money and ran. The player and parents were left only with empty pockets. No uniforms, no registrations for tournaments, no season, nothing.
Naturally, they were crushed. Everything they’d worked toward was gone. But the story has a happy ending, one of those real-life happenings that reaffirms your faith in human nature.
When the story hit the media, a number of people stepped up and offered to help. Most helpful was Jim Garner, owner of the Sports Station in Tinley Park, located nearly 50 miles away. He donated uniforms to the Hobart kids so they could play their scheduled games.
When asked why he made such a sacrificed to a team not even located in his area, he said, ”I heard about it, and I knew I had to do something. You just feel bad for the kids. They were left with no direction.”
In an even stranger story, a district attorney in Worcester, Massachusetts, took a different approach – stealing public money to buy youth sports uniforms and upgrade playing fields.
We all know that the cost of playing youth sports continues to grow. I guess we all need to be sure our money is going where it’s supposed to go.
Sometimes it’s an uneasy alliance. Sometimes it’s a bond that develops even after the season ends. Most times, however, you’re hardly aware of it, even though it can have a significant impact on the young player. I’m talking about the relationship between parent and coach.
It’s sort of a strange situation – a temporary yet intensely shared experience and shared goals with someone you don’t really know, a situation that involve kids. As a parent, you put your trust in a coach to develop and treat fairly your son or daughter. As a coach, you depend on the parent to support the team and keep their kids on the right path.
Here’s a short article by a dad who knows both sides of the relationship – through his daughter who plays two sports, one of which dad coaches. It’s worth a quick read. He offers some interesting insights, and it might inspire you to spend a little time thinking about this unique relationship.
Like most interpersonal relationships, the key to success is a foundation of trust and mutual respect, each party knowing what’s expected and demonstrating commitment to open communication. With that foundation in place, you’ll enjoy the experience, and the player will feel more relaxed and balanced. The sports season will be that much more fulfilling for everyone.
My favorite find of the week comes from youth sports mom Patty Kleban on statecollege.com. She is an instructor at Penn State and “mother of three.” Her post beautifully captures the range of emotion a youth sports parent feels when the injured player lying on the field is your own.
Your first impulse is to run onto the field, but you don’t want to be THAT sports mom (or dad). So you let the coaches handle it. But you watch every move they make around your hurting child. It’s all you can do to remain in your seat, but you don’t want to embarrass your son or daughter or overstep the coach-parent boundary by rushing out to offer parental aid, which would be even worse than running after your kid to the school bus stop with a forgotten brown-bag lunch.
Kleban vividly evokes that powerful – and painful – tug-of-war between parental fear and sports-parental duty, as she battles back her instincts to care for her fallen son. If you’ve ever suffered through this experience you know exactly what she’s feeling.
She writes: “My kid is not the first athlete in the world to get hurt during a sports event. I am not the first mom to feel the pain of watching her child athlete be tended to on a sports field by someone else…. However, on that day and on that play, it was my kid. What’s a sports mom supposed to do?”
An excellent question. We know in our hearts that our child needs us. We also know that the last thing they want is their mom to scurry onto the field and take over. As much as our kids want someone to stop the pain, they want even more the sense of independence they feel while playing. This is their team, their thing. It’s often their first step toward being their own individual selves.
We need to respect that step, even if inside we’re feeling an overwhelming desire to comfort and care for them. Check out the post. You’ll be nodding – and wincing – right along with the writer.
It’s tough to have a conversation about youth sports today without getting into the issues that we face – injuries, over-emphasis on competition, kids specializing too early while parents swoon over thoughts of a college scholarship. It’s not about fun anymore, say the critics.
A roundup of the usual suspects in the case invariably begins and ends with a single villain: the parents. They push their kids too hard, argue with coaches about their kids’ playing time, and are generally disagreeable.
That’s the stereotype, anyway. And it’s one that new St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny apparently supports. In this interview on a St. Louis network affiliate’s website he recalls managing his son’s baseball team, an experience that might have been a great and memorable one for him and his players, except for those darn moms and dads.
“The biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents,” he tells the reporter. His advice to parents: say nothing during the games. Even a “Come on, you can do it” is out of line, placing too much pressure on the child, who may or may not actually be able to do it.
Matheny says a lot of the right things in the article about teams showing respect for each other and the umpire. His three goals at the start of the season: “To teach these young men how to play the game of baseball the right way. To be a positive impact on them as young men, and to do all of this with class.”
Tough to argue with that approach. No talk of winning being the barometer of success. That part I liked. But he seems to have no patience for the parents, how he expected to, well, I guess just sit there and watch in silence. Seems the parents weren’t the only ones who needed to be in control.
Yes, there are plenty of youth sports parents who take things too far, who get too involved, who bring to their son’s or daughter’s sports experience a footlocker packed with their own personal issues.
I’m not blind to certain irritating parental behaviors. There are the overly aggressive dads who are unaware how much they’re grasping to recover their own youth, and the moms with the chips on their shoulders, and the “cool” parents who relish socializing with the other “cool” parents, just like they did in high school. I get it.
But the vast majority of parents who I’ve met through the years really just want their kids to have fun and enjoy themselves and try hard and be part of a team. They usually look sort of frazzled from running one kid to soccer and another one to softball and another one to cheerleader practice and another to trumpet lessons.
Maybe I’ve been lucky. Far more than aggravated by sports parents I’ve always been amazed by the amount of time and effort they give from their lives to support their kids. Most don’t care much if the team wins or loses, and they cheer for every kid on the team. A nice sense of community grows around the team that includes the kids, parents and coaches.
Rose-colored glasses? Maybe. Let me know what you think. I just felt that Matheny’s comments seemed unnecessary, a back-handed swipe at a stereotype based on a small percentage of parents. If he’s so sensitive about how the people in the stands are acting, I don’t think he’s going to last long as a major league manager. The folks in the stands there definitely will have a lot to say about how well he performs. I hope they don’t ruin it for him.
Last year the college game made the move to new guidelines for aluminum bats, and this year high schools will follow suit. Youth leagues are moving in the same direction. The new bats are less “lively,” which will mean fewer rockets through the infield but also will mean safer pitchers.
The steady improvements in aluminum bats over the past decade had led to a number of injuries among pitchers, who have less than a second to react to a batted ball zooming at them. This article explains the particulars. In a nutshell: “At the youth level, new bats need a 1.15 BPF certification. For the record: BBCOR is Batted-Ball Coefficient of Restitution. BESR is Baseball Exit Speed Ratio. BPF is Bat Performance Factor.”
The situation was approaching critical mass, as bigger pitchers threw faster pitches, which bigger hitters would hit even harder in what’s called the “trampoline effect.” Of course, the situation was less dire at the youth level because the players aren’t as big, and pitchers aren’t thrown nearly as fast. At the same time, pitchers aren’t as well equipped to catch a ball shot back at them either.
Critics of the change complain that the game won’t be as exciting with a deader bat, but the game always seems to find its own level, and the kids will be much safer. There’s just no reason to take the risk when these new rules can lessen it without hurting anything. I like the change and applaud it.
I found this blog post today through Twitter, which for a long time I used only grudgingly, but since have become a believer. Without it, I don’t know if I’d have found coachclemens.com, a great youth sports blog written by Dan Clemens.
The topic drew me immediately, when spring sports coaches are grappling with the same problem – which kids should play which positions and what do you do when many crave the same spot. When you have a lot of kids eager to play the same position to deal with (along with their equally eager parents), you’re in a tough spot.
Coach Clemens offers six solutions to the dilemma. Hit the link and check them out. But I was even more interested in the final points he makes about the value of teaching kids multiple positions. As youth sports grow more competitive at younger and younger ages, kids begin to specialize too soon. Parents hoping for a college scholarship for their son or daughter tend to push for that specialization.
Having kids learn multiple positions also prepares them for changes made necessary by their growth rate. As Coach Clemens mentions, you might have a big kid who only pitches for a season and then, by the next season, the other kids have caught up. No longer bigger and stronger than his teammates, he needs to be ready to play elsewhere.
Those adjustments will have to made even if the players find themselves among the very, very few who have a professional career. Far more shortstops are drafted out of high school and college than any other position (other than pitcher, of course), and very few of them will “stick” at that spot in the minor leagues.
Rotating your kids through multiple positions, therefore, is good for the kids as well as a solution to the problem of too many of them competing for a single spot. He also notes that a kid’s “favorite” position can change quickly. Often it’s simply the position they played the season before, and they’ve come to identify with it.
Writing the blogs for Coach Hub has introduced me to many fine coaches who offer a lot of helpful instruction via their blogs and websites. I’ve also learned which coaching sites to avoid. One is written by an insufferable character who I won’t name, but I now assiduously avoid his strident condescending diatribes about the ineptitude of other coaches – and that seems to include every coach he’s ever faced in a game.
Before I learned my lesson, however, I read one of his posts that focused on how a manager (or head coach in other sports) should pick his or her assistant coaches. His advice: pick people you can control, who won’t offer ideas of their own. This advice struck me as colossally wrong-headed and more an exposure of the writer’s personal issues than useful information for his reader.
If you’re a manager or head coach, you should feel fortunate to have the support of other dads and moms in running your team. And, as this article suggests, if you’re an assistant coach you should feel entitled to speak up with your ideas.
Now, if you disagree with the manager on a subject, you need to express that feeling in private rather than in front of the players and/or parents. You don’t want to undermine the manager’s authority publicly. One of the benefits of youth sports is teaching lessons in teamwork, and that benefit includes the adults.
Managers interested in only their own ideas limit the team’s and their potential. Of course, the coaching staff needs to share a vision of what they want to accomplish. If you’re leading the group, be sure to meet with all of them at the start of the season. Explain your goals and your methods. When everyone understands the reasons behind the methods, they feel more comfortable and also can add ideas to help achieve those goals.
For example, if you feel that every practice should end with some type of game or contest to keep the players interested and having fun, building their enthusiasm, then let your coaches know what you’re thinking.
A preseason meeting with the parents also is a good idea. You can present your coaching philosophy and your approach to the game. When parents know why you’re doing something, they tend to be more accepting of it.
A control freak who needs to make all the decisions is in for a long season. Value those parents who are willing to help coach the team. You can learn a lot from them.
The game goes by a lot of names. As little kids, my friends and I called it “Running Bases.” When we grew older, it was called “Pickle.” I’ve also heard it called “Rundown.” In this post on SportsDadHub, Kevin, the host, calls it “Hotbox.” But all the names refer to the same game.
You set a couple of bases at a distance apart and put a kid with a glove on each base. They toss a ball between them while a third kid runs back and forth between the bases, trying to get to each base before being tagged out.
In his post, Kevin laments that kids don’t play the game anymore. When he mentions it to members of his son’s team they admit they’ve never even heard of it. Kids used to play it constantly – a great alternative to an actual game of baseball when there weren’t enough other kids available to field two makeshift teams.
He also makes a great point about the skills learned by playing the game. Here’s his list:
- teaches quick glove to hand ball transition
- stresses the importance of making an accurate throw
- gets base runners to know how to stay in a rundown
- helps fielders concentrate on the ball when a runner is right in front of them
- makes fielders move their feet to get into an open throwing lane (so they don’t hit the runner with the ball)
Teaching the game to your kids at home will give them a great new way to have fun (while getting exercise), and as a coach you can use it during practice. It will keep players productively busy while other players are taking their swings in the batter’s box or working on other aspects of the game.
Check out the post. I’m sure it will bring back fond memories.