May 4, 2010 – Thoughts on Youth Coaches

I didn’t think I’d write about a situation Martin was put in by his little league coach last year – but the triangulation of a few events, brings it finally to bear. Martin played t-ball for a couple of years and last year was in his first year of real pitching ball – at seven years old.

A few games into the season, when it appeared that Martin was still picking up the knack of hitting the ball, he came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. Martin stood and watched as the pitcher threw three called strikes, as Martin stood still with the bat on his shoulder – not even attempting a swing. He ran back to the dugout, tears streaming down his eyes, and bravely took the field with his glove, while his parents and spectators all wondered quietly to themselves why he didn’t even take a swing.

On the way home, Martin told us that he wanted to swing, but before he went up to bat, the coach told him not to swing at any pitches and that he might get walked. So Martin listened, and suffered the humiliation of standing there, bases loaded, and not swinging as the coach instructed, while all the spectators and his parents saw him not even try to hit the ball.

So what’s the coach’s motivation to put a learning boy in that situation? What could possibly be so important as to not let a seven year old play? I don’t know, but can make some assumptions. For what it’s worth in a league of seven and eight year old boys, his son was the “star” of the team. His older brothers were good high school players. Was the rest of the team just an accoutrement to his son’s exploits? Did he have to win at all costs, even at this level?

So earlier this year, Martin came home from school and said he thought he’d “take a year off” from baseball. I commented that there were lots of fun things to do in the summer and remarked that we didn’t even get a sign-up sheet from school. He said that the sheets were passed out weeks earlier and that he (who brings every paper home religiously) had thrown it in the trash at school.

So all you good coaches out there – never doubt that you have the ability to encourage and engage players in a lifelong love of the sport and a team. Martin learned a different lesson. I was thinking about this as I drove home and saw all the fields filled with kids, but not Martin among them.

But when I turned in the driveway, I was happy to see Martin and Emma playing catch in the yard.

one year ago…”A Walk in the Spring Forest”