It finally happened. It was inevitable really. Still, I never saw it coming. This past weekend, I found myself in the middle of a circus between umpires and coaches from both teams for the first time. It was a rec league regular season game, no less. Every team makes the playoffs. If ever there was a meaningless game, this was it.
It came to a head over a bomb my best player hit and a missed base. The particulars do not matter, and even if they did, retelling the story would serve no purpose. There are three versions of the truth – your side, their side and what actually happened and you would only be getting my side.
What does matter to me is the whole affair has left me wondering if there really can be a cure for the woes which plague youth sports. Did I mention it was a meaningless rec game? And it’s left me saddened that, after everything I’ve thought about and written in the eight months I’ve been writing 8U Travel, I was not able to diffuse the situation more quickly.
It took 48 hours for my anger to subside (I could feel it boiling anew every time I started to write which is why this post is a day later than usual.) As I’ve replayed the events in my mind a million times or so, I’ve come to realize anyone, and I mean anyone, can get caught up in a moment, especially if you feel your players are being taken advantage of. In those moments, the best approach you can take is to step back, breathe and think, most of all think, before you speak or do anything.
It is the one thing I wish I had done differently, and believe me, I feel I did a pretty good job, trying my best to not engage the other team’s coach (which I eventually and unfortunately did) and trying to focus only on the call and rules (which is ultimately how I did resolve the situation.) If I had simply stepped back, I would have gotten to the logical conclusion earlier and I truly believe the incident would have been over in 30 seconds. The rule book is pretty clear after all.
Engaging the other team’s coach was the mistake I made. I did it only once and only when I felt I was personally under attack, but I should know better. No matter how many times he wanted to (even between innings after our at bat had ended he came back at it), I should have been smarter, knowing that in the end getting the proper call should have been my only thought and that warranted a discussion with the umpires and them only.
And it should have been a simple discussion at that really. “What is the call? . . . If that’s the call, that’s not actually the rule so I am going to protest which as per our league rules we need resolve with a look at the rule book or call the rules commissioner to get a ruling.” Situation over. It should have been that easy.
But I felt put into an unwinnable situation. If I simply acquiesced, I would be letting down my players and teaching them to back down even when you know the rules of the game are on your side. On the other hand, was I modeling the best behavior and teaching them the best way to handle tensions and irrational emotions thrown their way?
What saddened me was the fracas took the focus away from what we should have been celebrating, the fact a nine-year-old kid hit a ball 220-plus feet, an over-the-fence homerun in any little league field with a fence. He got his homerun in the end, which was the proper call, but not without a lot of commotion and puzzled looks from all the players on both teams. The only positive I could take away is that I never raised my voice.
At the end of the game, I apologized to my team. I told them it was my job to do better in those situations. I told them the thing we should be celebrating is the win and the homerun. And I told them I would do it all over again, albeit differently, because it was also my job to have their backs.
Step back, breathe and think. Step back, breathe and think.