Last week, I wrote about the reason you cannot keep me away from my kids’ games. The idea for Stop Telling Me to Stay Away came from reading numerous articles telling parents how much better it would be for everyone if they skipped the next one. What I quickly glossed over with a sentence or two was the fact the intended audience for most of these articles was, to a large extent, the problem parent.
When I take my son to his private lesson I go hit in the cages. I have all spring and summer to coach him, so it’s best if he and his coach work together without me. When the cages are full the accepted practice is to let other hitters work-in which is how I ended up sharing a cage last weekend with a kid one or two years older than my son. Ordinarily I would have given up the cage completely, the kid has a baseball season ahead of him, and I have . . . well, I may play beer-league softball this summer, but I felt like hitting and the alternative was to watch my son’s lesson which really isn’t helpful to anyone.
“Johnny” shows up when I am mid-round. I make my way out after the last pitch to let Johnny step in for his first hacks. Before a ball can come rolling down the chute and through the churning wheels of the pitching machine, it starts.
“Is that how you’re going to stand? . . . You’re not ready to hit. Get ready to hit. . . . I’m going to put this on 50 mph. . . . You can too hit 50 mph.” It’s Johnny’s dad. Johnny still hasn’t seen a pitch but Dad’s on a non-stop roll for a minute or two. He keeps it up as Johnny proceeds to miss every pitch. “You’re swaying back.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I said, you’re swaying back.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
And so it goes from one round to the next. “Do this. You’re not doing that. Why is your bat like that? That’s not where you hold the bat. Since when are your feet there? Oh, you missed because the pitch wasn’t perfect, huh? Should we ask the pitchers to put it on a tee for you?” Johnny misses the vast majority of pitches, making only weak contact on the handful he does manage to hit. Through it all Dad is relentless with his useless observations and seemingly spiteful comments. Somewhere around round six, to prove a point which only makes sense to him, Dad does turn the speed up from 40 mph to 50 mph. You can guess the outcome.
The monologue would have been as comical as it was futile, assuming its intent was to magically make Johnny start spraying frozen ropes around the cage, if not for the fact Johnny was red faced with two big watery eyes he barely kept from overflowing with tears. Dad’s crowning achievements of the evening were “What’s wrong with you?” and, three pitches into what would mercifully be his last round, all of which Johnny missed, “Get out! Get out of the cage! I can’t watch you anymore!”
Let those sink in.
“What’s wrong with you?” Because the ability to hit a baseball is something we’re all born with and Johnny is somehow defective because he isn’t tonight.
“I can’t watch you anymore!” Because Dad’s satisfaction is the only reason Johnny is allowed to play baseball and Johnny is trying as hard as he can to miss every pitch just to get under Dad’s skin.
I debated saying something but did not. The few people I have retold this story to generally agree I had no business even thinking of saying something. Still I can’t help feeling I should have, if only to offer some advice to Johnny to help him correct two minor issues with his swing which were going a long way towards keeping him from making decent contact. Not that it would have mattered. Johnny’s chances of hitting the ball were over before he even saw the first pitch and probably before he got in the car to drive to the cages in the first place.
I learned a big lesson at my son’s first ever soccer game thanks to my wife. I was shouting all sorts of instructions from the sideline when, about five mins in, she strode up to me and calmly said “If I were him, I’d be nervous as hell right now.” She might as well have punched me in the stomach. I truly didn’t realize what I was doing until she played “sideline-daddy” whisperer, and I knew she was right in an instant. I shut my mouth for the rest of the game and apologized to my son afterwards. Now I sit on the sideline of his games, watching him play and calmly cheering for him and his team, whether they do well or not, when and if I say anything at all. No instructions, no do this or don’t do that. It’s pretty much the same when I’m coaching his baseball games in terms of instructions. That’s why we have practice. When we get in the car after a game and after practices too, I say only two things. First I ask, “Did you have fun playing today?” Then I tell him how much I loved watching him play. From there it’s up to him. If he wants to talk about the game, I will. And if not, that’s fine too. More and more, I find him asking how I thought he played and if I have any advice for him. I can’t think of a better environment to praise him and offer some examples with actionable tips to help his learning process.
After last week’s post, a good friend commented it depends on the kid as he wouldn’t have wanted his father at any of his games. Yet another point I glossed over. So to the Johnny’s Dads of the world, I maintain it’s not my business how you parent your kids. Still, a bit of advice. If you’re going to open your mouth, something helpful or insightful ought to be coming out of it. If you can’t do that, then keep your mouth shut. If you can’t do that, then stay home. Johnny’s not playing for you, he’s playing for himself. If you’re not supportive, particularly when you are trying to help him, you are only hurting him. The sooner you recognize that, the better. Especially for Johnny.