Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August 4, 2009

When we were visiting my brother and his family last week, one of the things we did was go to watch my nephew’s baseball game. He's 8 years old, 4 months older than Lucas, and he is the youngest player on his team, which ranges from 8-12 years old. My brother had given me a heads-up that what I was about to see was pretty out of the ordinary, but even that advance warning couldn’t prepare me for what I saw.

It all started off innocently enough, in a humourous way, as I watched the opposing team take infield practice. Yes, that’s right, infield practice for 8-to-12 year olds. The opposing coach, who looked remarkably like Bruce Willis, was all Softball Pimped Out in his cleats, and batting glove, and designer sunglasses. So, he’s up at the plate barking instructions to the players on who’s going to field the ball and where it’s going, and this guy is tossing the ball up with his left hand and hitting the ball with the bat one-handed with his right hand every single time. We get it pal, you can hit the ball with one hand, who are you trying to impress? But he continues to do it every time, and then I realize that the hand he is wearing the batting glove on, is the hand he’s not using to swing the bat. That’s right, he’s tossing the ball up in the air with his ‘batting glove’ hand, and swinging one-handed with no batting glove. Awesome.

So, the game starts, and keep in mind that they are playing with a softball, and pitching underhand to the opposing team. These are young kids, so it’s pretty much a lot of walks, as well as “stealing” bases on balls that get by the catcher. They all call it “stealing”, but it’s really “advancing on a wild pitch”, but that’s just 10 years as an official scorer talking. Now, on my nephew’s team, there are FIVE coaches, all with COACH in big block letters emblazoned on the back of their shirts, in case you mistook them for players. The head coach also coaches third base, and another guy coaches first base, but here’s the crazy thing: with all of these coaches (who are supposed to be teaching these young kids how to play the game), they refuse to tell the kids when to run and when to stay on base. This is what base coaches do! You never outgrow this! In the major leagues, players still get instructions from their base coaches on when to run and when to stay, but these coaches have determined that the kids should make the decisions on their own. I’m not just surmising based on what I saw, this is the actual coaching strategy. They started the season off telling them when to go, and then explained that they wouldn’t be doing it anymore, and that the kids had to decide on their own.

Can we all please shake our heads in confusion at the same time?

Invariably, kids are getting thrown out trying to get to the next base because they take too long to decide, and then the coaches just shake their head at the kid. How hard is it to yell “Go, go, go!” when a ball gets away from the catcher, or “No!” when it looks like it’s not a good situation? One time, a kid was on third, and when the ball got away from the catcher, he started to run, and then stopped and decided to come back. The whole time, the coach said nothing, and then blasted the kid when he got back to the base, saying “You can’t hesitate, you have to decide right away!” Sure enough, on the next pitch, the ball squirts away and the kid takes off, and is out by a mile at home plate. The coach then makes a demonstrative act as if he’s pulling his hair out in frustration.

That’s just one of many things that shocked me about this game, but the overall theme is that these coaches provided no actual coaching or mentoring, and absolutely zero positive reinforcement to these kids. There were even times when the kids themselves were trying to be positive and the coach sabotaged that. They were losing, and were on a big losing streak, and one kid said to the others on the bench, “Remember back at the beginning of the season when we were in first place?”, and the coach turns and snaps at him “Are you out of your mind, Parker?! When was the last time we won a game!?”

Heading into the last inning, our team was down 7-3, and their pitcher was struggling. He had walked 7 batters already in the inning, and the other team just kept scoring. The max for the other team to score is 7 runs, and then they just switch sides. So, they’ve scored 5 runs already, and the poor kid pitching can’t hit the plate. The other team is up 12-3, which means that our team can’t even win the game in the bottom of the inning since they too can only score a maximum of 7 runs. They have already won, but Bruce Willis, who is coaching third base (but has now taken his batting glove off) is still coaching his kids to steal home when the catcher misses the ball. Way to teach them class and respect, Coach.

So, the pitcher can’t pitch a strike, and I see that he’s now crying on the mound. Does the coach go out and do anything? Nope. Maybe a new pitcher would have been a good idea, but at the very least call time and go out for a comforting word. Nothing. So the kid keeps crying and walking players until the seventh run is scored, and as he is coming off the field, only THEN does the head coach go out to him and put his arm around him to comfort him…and it’s then that I see that the kid pitching is his own son!

Seriously, I’m not making that up.

Your own son is out there struggling, and crying on the mound, and you don’t go out to try to do something as a coach, as a teacher…as a dad? I just don’t get it. Then, after the game, and the team has lost and shaken hands with Bruce Willis’ team, the coach barks at all the kids to meet him over by third base, where he proceeds to blast them for sloppy play and explain that they’ll never win in the playoffs if they play like that.

I was horrified by the whole experience, and it would have been magnified even more if I hadn’t seen how much fun my nephew had playing the game, but he was the only one who seemed to be enjoying himself. Everyone else was just a somber kid doing what he or she was told. It’s a shame that these kids on this team will never learn anything from these coaches, from a sports standpoint, or from a team standpoint.

And it’s a tragedy that this is the frame of reference that all of these kids will have in terms of team sports.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally sad story. The true coaches that were required at this game were for the adults. They needed coaching on parenting, promoting team spirit and comraderie, and how to positively reinforce a child to become better, or at the very least just realize that it truly is just..a...game. Bet you realized how good a dad you were after that experience...