I like sports, but I love baseball. My love of the sport—and the Boston Red Sox, specifically—was passed down to me by my dad. Growing up in Connecticut, I watched or listened to hundreds (thousands?) of Red Sox games. When I was in first grade, my parents surprised me after school one day with tickets to see the Red Sox play the Yankees in New York that night. Walking into Yankee Stadium and getting my first glimpse of the grass and all the players I’d seen on TV, in magazines or on baseball cards was truly magical, surpassed only by my first trip to Fenway Park a year later.
I played wiffle ball for countless hours as a kid—often with my dad—and my dad was my coach the entire time I played Little League. In a lot of ways, my dad and I bonded over the game. He loved the game and wanted me to love it, too. Oh, I’m sure he had dreams—as did I—that I would grow up to play for the Red Sox, but those dreams never took precedence over the fun we had sharing the game in the moment: the time he showed me how to throw a curveball, how I became a good fielder because of all the times he took me down to the field to hit me a million ground balls, the first time I ever struck him out, the first time I ever hit one of his pitches over the fence. Baseball was a healthy thing for us, and to this day, seldom do we talk without talking at least a little bit about it.
I have tried to cultivate the same healthy interest in the game in my own son. My son is 6 years old and is beginning his third year in Little League. Before the start of each season, I make a point of asking him if he’s sure he wants to play before I sign him up, and during the season, I often remind him that he doesn’t have to play if he’s not having fun. (I’m not gonna lie: I’m pretty tickled that he loves the game and very much wants to play. He’s still free to opt out, however.) Baseball is a game, and that’s the level of importance we place on it. It’s fun, and I’ll keep coaching him as long as he wants to play.
Each new season is great, and this season has been no exception. My son is excited to be playing again. He’s excited about his new teammates and his new uniform, and I’m excited about all the new memories we’re making. He can catch a little better this year, throw and hit the ball a little farther, and is learning more and more about the game.
Sadly, one of the things he’s learning is that some folks take the game way too seriously.
During one of our preseason tournament games last week, the opposing coach spent the entire game screaming at his team. He was personally offended that our team was winning, and he took out his anger on his team. I am fully aware that it is a coach’s job to correct and direct his players, but there are ways that you can be firm and positive on the field. But this was different. Every mistake his players made—and these were 5- and 6-year-old players, mind you—riled him up more and more. Though nobody was immune to his wrath, he reserved his sharpest ire for his own son, cussing him out (with words I won’t repeat here) for striking out late in the game.
I wish I could say this was the first time—or even the 50th—that I’ve witnessed this sort of thing over the years. Little League is a breeding ground for bad behavior, and the vast majority of it is committed by the adults, not the kids. Coaches need to remember that parents pay so that their kids can play, not win—especially at the ages of 5 and 6, when some kids play whole games not even knowing if their team is winning or losing. If our kids win, great. If not, that’s fine, too. There are a lot of other victories that can be achieved on the field, regardless of the final score. I’m not advocating doing away with wins and losses, as some do. I’m just pleading for a little perspective.
If you had a lousy relationship with your dad growing up, it’s not your kid’s fault.
If you never fulfilled your dream of playing in the big leagues, it’s not your kid’s fault.
If you are frustrated about other things, it’s not your kid’s fault.
I don’t care how great a coach you are. You can’t win every game. But even if you could, would you still want to if it meant losing your child’s heart?
Your kid is playing the game. You are not. Teach him the game, encourage him and let him have fun.
I won a lot of baseball games when I was a kid, and I took home a lot of trophies. But when I grew up and left home, I left them all behind. I couldn’t tell you where any of them are today. The memories I made with my dad are a different story.
My fellow coaches: What kind of memories are you making?
Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) local news, culture, music and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.