“There ought to be two rules for our baseball league. Rule number one. Don’t be a [expletive deleted]. Rule number two. Don’t forget rule number one.”
This brilliant gem came from the last speaker at the town rec league’s annual pre-season coaches meeting. I go to all the meetings and clinics because I never know what tidbit I will pick up, and this was the nugget for the day. It was meant to remind the coaches we are coaching little kids’ baseball games and nothing more, but really, it’s great advice for coaches and parents alike.
This isn’t the World Series, we aren’t being paid and, even if we were, we aren’t being paid because of our won-loss records. Our livelihoods are not at stake and no one other than us will remember how many games we won or talk about us when they see us in town saying “Coach Smith won 1,000 games last year.”
There are, however, two reasons they will talk about us when they see us. One is because of how well we carried and conducted ourselves throughout the season, setting a great example for their kids and helping their kids get better and have some fun. The other is because we made complete horses’ rear-ends out of ourselves and went nuts throwing all the bats and helmets onto the field because the umpire missed a call.
Which one it is is up to us.
Following the two rules of little league baseball, I’d suggest we
- not argue with the umpires,
- not argue with the opposing coaches,
- not raise our voices at our players no matter how many times they make the same mistake,
- not resort to bush-league [expletive deleted] to win a game,
- play all our kids as much as we can, and,
- pitch as many of our young little ballplayers as is feasibly possible because even one inning on the mound just might make a kid fall in love with the game.
Our kids are not going pro. Hopefully, we have read enough material and scanned the internet enough to understand this. It’s not that our kids are not awesome. They are. It is simply there are 1,111,111 exact duplicates of our kids out there playing the same position in the same sport. Numbers dictate our kids are not going pro.
Even if they are among the 0.01% who eventually do “make it,” they are not making it tomorrow or next year or the year after. Right now, they’re playing in a little kids’ game with other little kids. Their baseball career doesn’t hinge on winning this game or that game or that other game. And it doesn’t hinge on how well they do. They’re not signing a contract because they hit 74 homers in little league and they’re not getting a scholarship because they threw eight no hitters this year. Those are both very impressive accomplishments though and we should be proud of them. We should also be proud of them if they hit .190 for the season and let a grounder go through their legs letting the winning run score in the last inning of the championship game. They probably need us to be proud of them a lot more then.
However far they do go, they most likely won’t remember more than a handful of these games unless we give them a reason to. Hopefully, what they will remember is how we were always there, making every game we could, supporting them and loving them. Or they may remember we were there screaming at them from the sidelines at the top of our lungs embarrassing them or, worse, belittling them. Or that we went insane yelling and screaming at the umpires or the coaches or the opposing coaches or the opposing parents. They’ll never forget those.
The choice is ours.
I suggest we parents follow the two rules of little league and
- not yell instructions from the sidelines because they have a coach – he’s the one on the field – and our messages just create confusion or tension for our kids, neither of which is fun,
- sit quietly, biting our lip if we have to, when the umpire rings them up on the pitch which sailed over their head to the backstop,
- remember they are playing this game for themselves and their own enjoyment and not so we can relive our youth through them,
- not use the car ride home to hold a tutorial on everything they did wrong,
- sit calmly and quietly in the stands, enjoying the show and reveling in the splendor that is our kids, and if we absolutely, positively have to open our mouths, yell “way to go” when they or one of their teammates do something well and “you’ll get it next time” when they don’t,
- make every game we can provided and only if we can remember to follow the two rules of little league, and
- pull aside anyone who’s forgotten the two rules and remind them – it’s a team effort after all.
I want expand a little bit on the influence we can have on our children. I had a love-hate relationship with baseball. I loved the game (still do), I loved being a ballplayer, I loved being good at it and I loved the fact everyone knew I was good at it and knew me as a ballplayer. But if I am completely honest, I loved everything about the game except playing the games themselves. Somehow I managed to wrap up my view of myself in how I performed and the games became stressful. If the skies where cloudy on the morning of a game, I’d spend the rest of the day looking out the window praying for rain. When I did play, if I got a hit in my first at-bat I could relax and the rest of the game was a pure joy. If I didn’t, well. . . .
I once went eight-for-15 in a regional tournament which included a one-for-four game in which I hit a triple and three rockets at the third baseman. The discussion during car ride home after the one-for-four game, which was our second game that day, I had gone three-for-four in the first game with a couple of RBI, was about how I had swung at bad pitches on the three lineouts and how I had to be more selective at the plate. Do the math. This was a pretty good day at any level, let alone at what we would now call 18U where most of us were college ball players and the rest were playing on the varsity in high school.
We can debate the reasons why I placed so much importance on my performance and why the game became a source of stress. It would be naïve to place the blame solely on my father’s shoulders. My father wasn’t a bad person or a bad father. Far from it. But it would be equally naïve to think his approach didn’t contribute to my inability to decouple my performance with my self-worth. And it crushed my enjoyment of the game. Would I have been different if all we talked about on the way home was anything other than baseball or if he let me approach him about how I played on my terms? I’ll never know.
I remember a lot about that tournament (20-something years later that tournament led me to understand Why I Coach.) And I remember how my parents only missed one game from the time I started playing until the time I went away to college. And I cherish that memory. But whenever I tell the story of that tournament it always starts with the car ride home the first day. I’ll never forget that either.
A brand new season is upon us. It’s the best time of the year when hope and optimism abound and the possibilities are endless. No doubt we all daydream about what our kid might accomplish this year. But as you get ready for the season, do yourself a favor. Whether you are a coach or a parent or both, memorize the two rules of little league. You’ll be doing your players and/or your kid a favor too. You’ll be making sure they remember you were always there for all the right reasons.