Baseball Coach Bad Karma Burns Kids
If your kids are in organized team sports, it’s only a matter of time before you encounter the win-at-all-costs coaches and parents who are more concerned about living vicariously through their kids than with the kids actually enjoying the game.
Back in 2010, I wrote about my oldest son’s basketball team facing an opposing coach with the worst attitude I had encountered on the court. This weekend, my youngest son got to see the ugly side of a baseball coach.
Now, I’m going to go ahead and assume that it was the intense heat and competition that made these adults act so badly. For that reason, and for the sake of the kids on their team, I’m not going to name the team, the coaches, or the venue. Besides, this sort of behavior runs rampant. It could – and does – happen just about anywhere.
Over the weekend, my son’s 9 & Under baseball team participated in a two-day tournament about 80 miles from where we live. They played their first game on Friday and won by a large margin. They played again on Saturday morning, and again won by a large margin. Despite the heat and physical exertion, the kids were in high spirits headed into their second game of the day. One more win would earn them a spot in the championship game and a shot at the 1st place trophy.
The game got off to a great start. The teams were very evenly matched. So much so, that the lead changed hands five times over the course of the contest. The kids on both sides played their hearts out and every time one team gained an advantage, the other team would answer right back.
In the bottom of the 3rd inning, the opposing coaching staff snapped. After the call didn’t go their way on a close play at 3rd base, their head coach began shouting at the umpire. And it wasn’t just the commonly-heard, “Aw, c’mon, Blue!” This was a full-fledged meltdown in the middle of the diamond, in full view of every kid on the field and in both dugouts.
It wasn’t long before the opposing team’s parents joined the tirade, shrieking at the umpire from the stands. At this point, I spoke up and attempted to point out that this behavior was setting the worst possible example for our kids. I got a few resigned nods of agreement from the yelling parents, but there was one dad who wasn’t about to be silenced.
“Bad calls are bad for the kids, too!”
There’s a lot wrong with this statement. Sure, having a call not go your way is disappointing. But that’s part of the game. If you’re going to remove the parts of competitive sports that have the potential to disappoint the players, then you’d better not keep score, either. In my experience, few things are more disappointing than losing. At the level my son is playing at (9 & Under), the kids are still learning the fundamentals of the game, and that includes good sportsmanship and the ability to deal with the ups and downs of competition.
The temper tantrum on the field continued for quite a while before play resumed. Even after the kids were able to get back to the game, the entire opposing coaching staff continued to make loud verbal jabs at the umpire, our team’s coaches, and even our team’s parents, every chance they got. At one point, irritated that they were being called out for their unsportsmanlike examples, one of the opposing assistant coaches yelled at one of our parents, “We’re the coaches. You’re the parents.” As if that made their conduct somehow more acceptable.
After the game, I learned that the opposing coach had even suggested to our coach that our team concede to them so that they could continue playing in the tournament.
Later in the game, when my son’s team was down by a run, a blatantly bad call ended their inning and the rally they had mounted. Instead of yelling at the umpire, or allowing the team to disrespect him, my son’s coach knelt in the dugout and called all the kids to him.
“Hey guys, there are going to be a lot of important calls in baseball. And not all of them are going to go your way. Don’t get mad. Don’t hang your heads. Just get back out there and play your best.”
After a team cheer, my son’s team took the field with a new resolve.
Non-championship games have a time limit, and since we were close to the time limit and both teams were on their second game of the day, in muggy heat, the umpire announced to both teams that the 5th inning would be the last. Since the opposing team was the home team, they got the final at-bat. Headed into the bottom half of the 5th inning, my son’s team was ahead by one run. If they could get through the inning without allowing the opposing team to score a single run, they would be headed to the championship game.
The opposing team got the tying run to third base, and the winning run to second. Our hot, tired pitcher reached deep down and struck out their final three batters. His teammates swarmed the mound, hugging each other and showering the hero of the hour with praise, excited to be moving on in the tournament.
Then the opposing coach struck again.
“We have two minutes before the time limit. We can start another inning.”
The umpire tried to explain that he had already notified the teams that the 5th inning would be the last and gotten the coaches’ consent, but the bitter coach was beyond reasoning with.
“You can go get a tournament director, if you want. I’ll wait.”
Dejected and clearly not wanting to take more verbal abuse, the umpire gave in.
My son’s team didn’t score in the top half of the 6th inning, and were once again facing a situation where allowing even a single run could knock them out of a spot in the championship game. Again, the opposing team got runners on base, getting the tying run to second and the winning run to first before our team’s pitcher shut the door on the game for the second time. The victory was no less sweet to our kids, and they swarmed the mound for a second time, oozing pure joy.
I couldn’t help but feel bad for the players on the opposing team. Not only had their coaches been an embarrassment, but their bitter, angry demands had caused their kids to lose twice in the same game. Their kids played hard and deserved much better than that.
I was also grateful that my son has coaches who put the kids first and are willing to risk losing in order to play the game with integrity.
After a brief respite, our kids took the field for the third time that day. The game itself was a nail-biter, with a combined 20 hits and the final score a mere two runs apart. In the end, my son’s team ground out a 12-10 win, taking 1st place in the tournament. But what really stood out to me was the complete lack of drama during the game. Coaches and parents alike were shouting encouragement to the kids, regardless of which team they were on. When one of the opposing team’s players made a fantastic play, we let them know it. And they did the same for our players. It was kid baseball the way it should be, and it just felt right.
After the game, I made sure to shake the opposing coach’s hand and tell him how much I appreciated his team’s class. He, in turn, thanked me for coming out and congratulated us on the win. His attitude was genuine and refreshing. I have no doubt that he made each of his players feel like the winners they are, regardless of the final score.
Afterwards, I took a moment to enjoy the sight of my son holding his trophy, gathered with his teammates and grinning ear to ear. Had anyone been looking, they may have noticed me quickly swipe at my eyes. And had they asked, I would have blamed the wind blowing around the dirt from the field.