I'm not a huge baseball fan, but my husband is. As a result, our son has been involved in Little League for the last three years. In the beginning, it was somewhat painful to watch, e.g., his inability to catch, hit, etc. Over the years, of course, his skills have improved and he too has grown into a baseball fanatic.
The first year, it was all about encouragement, learning and skill building. He was not a fan of t-ball that first year as he wasn't very good (which is to be expected). He eventually overcame his fear of failure through practice and lots of encouragement from my husband and I.
The following year, things were a bit better. He was more confident and looked forward to games. While watching his games was a fun family event, I began to observe some not so positive things: the other parents. I was amazed to see so many parents yelling at their own child as well as the other players. To hear a parent yell something like "C'mon! What are you doing?! You're swinging at junk!" was distressing to me. This is not to say, of course, that all of the parents behaved this way. There were, however, enough doing this that it was beginning to make the games less enjoyable to attend. If I was feeling this way, I can only imagine what the kids on the field were going through.
We were optimistic, however, that his third year would be better. Entering into a league with older kids, we were sure that things would only get better. We were wrong. Of course, there continue to be parents who yell horrible things to the players. This year, however, there is a new twist: sucky coaches.
Now don't get me wrong, I know that there are lots of wonderful Little League coaches out there. I also understand that being a Little League coach is a thankless job. A coach will never be able to make everyone happy and, when you think about it, is that really their job? To make parents happy? Or is it their job to cultivate talent, build comrade amongst team members and model good sportsmanship?
Apparently that is not the case in my son's league. I have observed on at least two occasions coaches within my son's league acting in what I would consider an inappropriate manner. Thankfully, my son's coach is very laid back and gives the kids lots of pats on the back. He is a quiet man who the kids respect. Some of the other coaches, well, they could learn something from him.
To see grown men stomp their feet and have tantrums because they disagree with a call seems ridiculous to me. I know, I know, you see it in the majors all the time. The difference is that they are doing so in front of other adults, not impressionable nine and ten-year-olds who are still learning about sportsmanship.
Things have gotten increasingly worse within the league and culminated at my son's last game in an all out bitchfest on the field. Apparently, the game started late. The coach of the team who was ahead wanted to quit at quarter two. My son's coach wanted one last at bat since the game started late. The opposing team's coach protested. The ref decided to go ahead with one more inning. The fireworks began when the coach of one of the teams that was playing the next game started yelling to get the players of the field. Fence gates where kicked. Shouting ensued. All the while, the kids on the teams stood witnessing this exchange unsure of what to do.
After sending a lengthy message to the president of the league (to which we have yet to get a response), I remain disgusted by the behavior of the coaches. Let me be clear, I understand that there are going to be conflicts in any organized sport. This is to be expected. It is not the actual conflict that is at issue here, it is the manner with which it was handled. Perhaps I am misguided in thinking that a Little League coach serves as a role model to team members? What an opportunity these men had to model conflict resolution for these kids. Instead of demonstrating how to express their disagreement with a decision and work towards a compromise or resolution, they behaved like two year olds fighting over a toy in a sandbox.
As parents, we were left in the position of having to explain what happened to our son. He was clearly confused and disappointed by the commotion detracting from something that is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable experience.
So, in closing, I have a few things to say to those parents out there that yell at their kids:
- Think before you speak. If you were out on the field, what kinds of comments would you want to hear from your family? Statements that indicated you screwed up or comments that let them know that they have your support no matter what their performance?
- Negative comments about performance do NOT motivate kids to perform better. In fact, negative comments cause anxiety which detract from their performance. Instead of standing at the plate thinking "I can do this," they are thinking about disappointing their parent or family member. To use another Dr. Philism: It takes a hundred 'atta boys, to erase one negative comment. Wouldn't you rather have your child thinking "If my mom and dad believe in me, so should I!"
And for those of you who are coaches:
- Be a good role model. You have the opportunity to help these young kids
- Encourage teamwork. Nip negative comments that the kids might make about each other's skills or abilities, e.g., "Tommy sucks as catcher" or "Joe always strikes out," in the bud. A positive and encouraging spirit amongst team members makes all the kids a winner despite the score.
- Encourage sportsmanship. Let the kids know right from the get go that negative comments or poor attitudes towards other teams, coaches or refs will not be tolerated.
- Address negative comments by parents. Have the guts to pull parents who are consistently demeaning their child or others to the side and discuss the matter with them. This can be done in a calm and rationale manner by suggesting that you are trying to cultivate a positive playing environment. Point out that the negative comments may be having the opposite effect that they are hoping for. Most parent truly believe that their derogatory comments are helping their child. Maybe have a parent meeting before the season begins to share your philosophy and ask for their support as a whole in making the experience a positive one for all the kids.
- Keep it fun. Baseball is supposed to be fun! Not to sound cliche, but it really isn't about winning or losing, it IS how you play the game.
Are you a coach? What things do you do to keep organized sports positive? Or maybe you are parent with a similar story to share? Post your responses!