The spring thaw, don’t you just love it; waiting for the crocuses to come up and the grass to turn green. For over fifty years this was the time of year that I lived for. The boys of summer, 162 games in 180 days, what fun? I am not a participant any longer just a spectator. Every summer though from the time I was eight years old until I was thirty five that’s what I did, I played baseball. As a kid the dream was to become a professional baseball player and do it for a living. I am sure that kids today have those same dreams and can see themselves hitting the homerun that wins the World Series or pitching a no-hitter. It was such a fantasy fest and we all did fantasize, but alas none of us made it. We played in and out of uniform, organized and pick up, honed our skills, took batting practice and we all thought we were so darn good, but not good enough. There were some guys in the town that I lived in that were so good that we figured we would be watching them someday playing for the Yankees. Not so.
I started doing the math many years ago and finally worked out the numbers. There are about three thousand professional baseball players in the United States and that includes minor league teams. I am not including Japan or other countries that play in the World Baseball Classic every four years. There are eight billion people living on the planet. The chances are greater that a kid will be hit by lightning than becoming a professional baseball player. Professional baseball players are the cream, cream, cream of the crop and have certain physical abilities that are innate to them and only them. When scouts talk about a five tool player they refer to a player’s ability to run with speed, has a strong throwing arm, can hit for average and hit with power, and can field their position well. These are all God given abilities that improve with practice but really it’s all about natural talent.
I am not too concerned about teenagers understanding those numbers, I think they do, but I don’t think that parents have a clear understanding of those statistics and further more believe that their kid is going to be the next Mickey Mantle. It’s not the belief that’s troubling it’s what parent’s do with those beliefs that can make life miserable for a lot of people.
Let’s be clear, coach’s coach, parent’s parent, and player’s play, anytime these three things get comingled and they start stepping on each other’s toes it is a recipe for disaster with the player losing and I don’t mean the game. Let’s take a look at what happens when each person in the group above doesn’t know how to do their job, creates unrealistic expectations, and starts telling others how to do their job.
Coaching at times can be tougher than teaching. When a teacher teaches they are in a classroom with their students and unless they are being observed by an administrator no one is watching. A coach during a game and at times during practice could be being watched by large portion of the community in which they work. They do this job at times for little or no money, they invest hours of their time into trying to help improve the athletic ability of someone else’ kids, and can be under appreciated and criticized unmercifully by parents and at times by their own players. Parents I might add who have unrealistic expectations of their own child’s ability and talent. I realize that parents are required to read and sign the handbook that lays out the rules for participation and they should realize their place during games but all too often in communities where sports is the center piece parents continually discuss the coach and sadly hold these conversations within earshot of their children. The coach becomes the object of rumors and gossip and is placed under the community microscope with parents chomping at the bit for the coach to provide them the evidence to support their belief. This is all started because of the agendas of a few disgruntled parents who believe that their kid should play every game even if their kid is not the best pitching choice for the game that day. Teachers are hired for their expertise in a subject area and are left alone to deliver content to their students. When they are allowed to call upon their own creativity and don’t feel intimidated by parents, and potentially administration they feel more confident and relaxed while doing their job. Coaches are hired to coach and they need to be left alone to deliver their expertise to their players. Parents who interfere with the coach while he is doing his job place undue pressure on him/her and rob the players of the joy of competition, and camaraderie. So if you are a parent do your kid a favor and leave the coach alone. He was given the job by a school district or a community that believed in him and his abilities to teach kids a sport and to get the best out of his players. Let the coach; coach and let him/her do what they love doing.
Your kid may be good at his sport but unless he/she is the next Bryce Harper they’re not making the pros. So why put all kinds of performance related pressure on this kid. By the way if you ask any professional baseball player what their parents were like when they were in little league they will tell you that their parents said to just go out and have fun; for the love of the game and nothing else. As a matter of fact that’s why they made it to the pros because of the no pressure or expectations attitude. Parents need to parent and that means to encourage, nurture natural talents, and to balance rules and regulations with compassion and understanding. Parents are their kid’s life coach and need to point their kids in the right direction by instilling in them lifelong values and character training that breads success in the future. The minute that baseball or any other sport becomes the benchmark for success any game related failures will result in the kid feeling like a failure in other areas of his life and lose the confidence necessary to move forward. So, be a parent not a coach, leave the coaching to the coaches and work with your kid to be the best he can be as a person not as a player. If they are good people they will be good players. Use sports as a vehicle to help your son/daughter show off who they really are; someone with character and values, who respects his teammates and opponents, and understands that there is only one person in charge during games and practices and that’s the coach.
Players play; think about that we call those who participate on sports teams players. Not workers, players. What does it mean to play? It means you have fun, you do it willingly, and you can’t wait to start doing it. You enjoy it. Is that what our kids experience today when they are involved as a player on a sports team? I don’t know, what I do know is I have seen enough kids being forced to go to Tuesday night soccer practice and Saturday morning games. Many kids today only play on organized teams and to them once the game becomes something that is organized by adults the word play doesn’t enter into the equation. Furthermore kids don’t know how to play today. They don’t know how to organize themselves and play pick-up games. Often, some leagues are in townships and the kids live miles apart and they don’t have anyone to play with and sharpen the skills that they learned at practice. Kids need to run around together alone and learn how to solve problems alone with adult coaching and not with adults hovering over them offering correction because their swing was off or they don’t know how to catch a fly ball. So let the kids play, if we don’t playing won’t be playing anymore it will be work.
So What Do We Do?
The solution is rather simple, let the kids play and stay out of each other’s way; easier said than done. I have been asked for solutions to problems by teachers and parents alike. My response at times has been “I am going to tell you what to do but, you’re probably not going to do it.” They either can’t or won’t do it. Ego’s are too big and when there are folks who have some power they use it to get what they want even when it is not in the best interest of the team or a group. School districts and communities are controlled by the minority who don’t always want what’s best for a group. Sometimes parents don’t always want what’s best for their own kid and they live vicariously through them hoping that they will somehow bring completion to their own unfinished life. As a society we have lost some real professional and personal wisdom and we want to dismantle the playground because one kid fell off the monkey bars. Our kids are looking to us for answers but we are too busy arguing with each other. They then look to each other and have their friends parent them by proxy creating what Robert Bly called “The Sibling Society” where the ground is level and no one is in charge.
As adults we have created this culture in a very innocent and unwitting way, and now we have to dismantle the Frankenstein Monster. We have to stop telling parents and kids what they want to hear and be truthful about their academic and sports related ability regardless of any unrealistic parental expectations. Billy Beane of Moneyball fame was drafted in the first round by the New York Mets right out of high school. He was identified by scouts as that five tool player we spoke about earlier. He played for a short time in the major leagues and then went into scouting. He never made it as a player but became a successful general manager with the Oakland Athletics. He was successful but not as the player that everyone though he would be.
When Bryce Harper made it to the pros as an outfielder for the Washington Nationals Davey Johnson the then manager of the team asked him how he felt, Harper responded; “This is the most relaxed I have ever been in my entire life.” Harper knew that he was hit by lightening and that he was the one in eight billion who became a professional baseball player. He truly did make it. Everyone else will have to just keep on trying but in reality all kids have the potential to be great people but not professional athletes. Even if a kid gets a scholarship and is all state in his sport he will always be a big fish in a small pond so let the kid have fun, let the coaches coach, and help parents understand how unrealistic expectations can do more harm than good.