Adults Behaving Badly

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Photo by PMillera4, via Flickr

Everybody else’s families had been out at the ballfields for nearly four hours by the time I got back there last night—even the four-year-old little sister of Alex’s teammate. I was the slacker; all I’d done from 4p.m. on was take kids to piano, pick up dinner at Hy Vee, drop Nicholas at cub scouts, cross town to drop Alex off at baseball, pick Nicholas up, take kids home, supervise packing lunches, get kids ready for bed, and continue triage from the weekend’s kid drama.

(In case you’re wondering about division of labor in our house, Christian has been working 60 hour weeks for quite a while now, and he was teaching piano last night following another brutal day while I was taking point on everything else.)

It was a beautiful night, but by the time I arrived, at the top of the third inning of the second game of this double-header, Alex’s team was obviously worn out. It was about 9:30 p.m. when it happened: someone took issue with a call by the home plate umpire. There was widespread confusion on both sets of stands: was the kid out? Was he safe? What was going on? Momentarily, the game sort of ground back into motion.

It was a couple minutes before I realized a group of parents was converging behind the backstop, exchanging words that were escalating steadily. Pretty soon there were expletives, and threats of violence. Then suddenly one of the players was in the middle of it. People were stalking off, turning around, coming back for more. Apparently a parent from the other team had threatened the father of one of the players on Alex’s team with an – – – kicking.

To his credit, the umpire kept his cool, and eventually turned around and stopped the game—by now it was past 9:40p.m. on a school night—and said, “Folks, we’ve got one out left. Let’s just get this game done and get out of here for the night.” At least one parent stormed off, yelling, “Tell me when you’re ready to play real baseball!”

The fact that a judgment call made by an umpire could spark this level of anger? This is wrong on so many levels.

It’s…a…REC LEAGUE, folks.

These kids are TWELVE. And THIRTEEN. They’re not even in HIGH SCHOOL yet. There are no scholarships being won or lost at the American Legion fields on a Tuesday night.

Plus….

IT’S A GAME.

For KIDS!

IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.

And what kind of example are you setting for your kids about the right way to handle setbacks?

I confess: I am not now and have never been a sports person. In fact, the general obsession with sports in America, to the exclusion of the arts, is a source of continual irritation to me. (I heard about a school that requires kids do be in a sport EVERY SEASON. I longed to ask, “Do they require kids to be involved in an art as well?” But I decided the answer was likely to make me angry, and life offers plenty of emotional stress without going in search of more.) What quality sports experience exists independent of music and visual arts and a well-crafted turn of phrase? Not a single one.

Still, not liking sports myself doesn’t preclude me supporting my kids in playing sports. They love playing, and it is a great opportunity to learn teamwork and grace in both success and failure. And the simple importance of making physical activity a long-standing personal value, something integral and normal to life, can’t be overstated.

But sports can teach kids the opposite lessons, too. Especially when parents behave like they did last night. Which is why I’m calling them out this morning.

Kids Sports: It’s (supposed to be) about Respect

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Today I’m handing the soapbox over to my husband, who is coaching Little League this year for the first time. As parents, we find the attitude toward kids’ sports disturbing–too focused on winning and creating star players, too little focus on teamwork, character and physical fitness, and not enough playing time for the mid-pack and low-end players.

So Christian decided to make right priorities the centerpiece of his coaching. I want to share the notes he went over with parents via email before the first practice, and with the boys at the first practice.

Playing Catch

Christian Basi speaks on Little League team expectations:

The theme for our summer will be RESPECT:

By our last game, I hope to have instilled in the boys the following ideals/skills:

RESPECT for the game: Every boy will learn the proper skills and fundamentals of the game (including hitting, throwing and catching).

RESPECT for your team (and teammates): Every boy will know what it means to be a good teammate, supporting everyone on the team.

RESPECT for your competitor: I want the boys to recognize good competition and cheer for good baseball. (For example, St. Louis Cardinals fans will often applaud the opposing team when they make a good play. This has always stood out in my mind as the ideal competition – someone who plays hard, but recognizes and respects good competition.)

RESPECT for yourself: I hope to educate the boys on being proud of their hard work while also knowing how to respond to criticism appropriately.

We certainly won’t win every game, but I expect us to have the classiest coaches, players and parents in every game we play. As a parent, if you haven’t done so already, I would encourage you to go online and read “The Matheny Manifesto” – written by St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny when he was asked to coach a little league team. You can find it here: http://mikematheny.com/sites/default/files/docs/MathenyManifesto.pdf

I’m working hard to develop good practice drills as we prepare for our first game.

Go Pirates!

EXPECTATIONS FOR PIRATES
SUMMER 2015

Acceptance of players of all abilities

We have a team with players of all abilities. Some of us (the coaches included) are better hitters while others can catch better. Some are going to have “natural” talent, while others have to work harder to learn certain skills. I expect all of us to help each other in whatever way possible. No player or coach will disrespect one another by talking behind their back, calling names or embarrassing them publicly. As a member of our team, if you see a player (or a coach) that needs a little help with a skill, please offer help in a kind way.

  • Never laugh at someone’s inability to do something, because in the next moment, you might be overwhelmed by their ability to achieve a particular goal.
  • Sometimes individuals with the least amount of talent work harder than the rest of the group combined – we can all learn something from that type of work ethic.
  • Everyone deserves to be included and there is a role for everyone. Support those who want to be there.

Effort/Behavior/Attitude

I expect the boys to give me their absolute best effort at every practice and every game. If they are sick and not feeling well, but feel well enough to be at practice, I will still expect them to be mentally sharp even if they cannot take part in every drill. Otherwise, they should stay at home until they are better.

Hustle

We will hustle to our warmup spots; we will hustle to our positions with a fast jog. Players who are not ready to make this commitment could face a minor penalty.

Punctual

I expect every player to arrive on time. Late arrivals are disrespectful to your coaches and your teammates who are ready to go. We will only have approximately one hour to practice on our field. Please be there ready to go at the appointed time.

Responsibility

Each boy is responsible for their glove, hat, any bat they wish to bring and additional gear. This includes water and any snacks. No boy will be allowed to leave the dugout during a game except for the following reasons:

  • Bathroom visit
  • Injury
  • Family emergencies.

I do not want to have the boys talking with parents/grandparents and getting snacks during the games. This leads to a lack of focus and a perception that they are not supporting their teammates. I expect the boys to learn the responsibilities of remembering what they need for a game before it starts.

Parental support

To make this work, I need the support of all the parents. I hope to earn your respect as the season goes forward, but in the beginning, I’m asking for your support. This includes:

  • Umpires – no boy will be allowed to criticize an umpire, either through words or actions. If they do, they will be removed for one inning. It the actions continue, the consequences will be more severe. I have been a certified umpire in 3 states and umpired little league, high school and college-aged (and older) baseball games. For several summers, I also served as the organizer of the umpires. I can assure you there will be bad and missed calls. I expect our team and our fans to be supportive of the umpires. If any criticism is handed to the umpires, I will be the one doing it. Trust me – this is going to take a load off your shoulders. Please note: there is a significant penalty for the head coach and the entire team if a parent harasses an umpire.

  • Cheering – please support your boys through appropriate cheers. Many experts have said that the quieter you are about your son, the less pressure they feel. (Again, see The Matheny Manifesto for more information) I will be the first to admit that this has been very difficult for me to learn, so we’re all in this together.  I want the boys to enjoy the summer, and this means not demonstrating that we think they will be the ones to be a major league draft pick 10 years from now.

I hope you understand my goals and expectations for the team. I’m looking forward to coaching the boys this spring. Please let me know if you have any concerns.