8 Things You Need To Know About Youth Baseball
Watching your child play baseball can be one of the most thrilling, rewarding and memorable experiences that you can have as a parent. It can also be one of the most frustrating, infuriating and demoralizing experiences. Therein lies the dichotomy that is inherent to the game at all levels from 5 year old tee-ball to the big leagues. We fans know that when all goes well in baseball, it is almost poetic as if the Earth has shifted on its axis and suddenly all is right in the world. We also know that when things go bad, baseball can feel like its own distinct form of torture.
I have been watching my son play organized baseball for the past eight years in both the spring and the fall. This includes sixteen teams of travel, recreation and fall ball. Over these eight years, here are eight things that I have learned that I wish I had known starting out.
Don’t Get too Comfortable
While you may be enamored of your own child’s baseball successes, and he may in fact be very talented, realize that other people really do not care to hear about it. They don’t care if he is playing travel, club, or showcase. They don’t care to hear how dedicated he is, how this is all he wants to do, where he is training, who is looking at him or where he is going. If he is currently playing well, enjoy it, but don’t get too comfortable. As he continues to play he will inevitably meet more challenging opponents that will truly test his playing abilities and your images of his invincibility.
Team Parents Could Be – But Are Probably Not – Your Friends
You spend a great deal of time on the sidelines with the parents of the kids on your child’s team. While this can potentially present opportunities to develop adult friendships, and many times does, this is not always the case. In some cases, you will find that your relative popularity and social status on the sidelines is directly correlated to your child’s performance on the field or on the mound. Remember that you can always exercise your personal option to position your lawn chair as far in left field as is humanly possible. Expect to get a lot of “why do you sit way out there?” questions and just smile.
Really – Don’t Talk To The Coach
Under no circumstances should you talk to the coach about your child’s playing position, spot in the batting order or amount of playing time. I can guarantee that unless you are coaching yourself, you will be disappointed on some level about all of these things. As parents, it is difficult to be truly objective about our own child’s playing abilities. Teach your child to give his best efforts wherever he is assigned. If he is not getting any playing time at all or reasonably enough opportunities to learn the fundamentals of the game, you are probably wasting your time and your best option is to look elsewhere the next season.
You Won’t Always Get What You Want (Its not About You, Anyway)
There are only nine positions in the field at any given time and your kid will not always be where you think that he should be. In fact, what you want is basically irrelevant. This is the kids’ game.Kids will be placed in positions for which they appear to be unqualified. You will hear and see otherwise, but it is commonly accepted that in the younger age groups kids should be trained in and rotate through all positions that they can safely play. There is just no way that your eight-year-old is only a shortstop specialist.
Know The Game/Game Etiquette
Know not only the rules of the game but those of your particular league and age group. Don’t set up your chairs or a huge tent in front of other people. If you have small children, make sure that they are far, far away from the field and the foul lines. Realize that if you are sitting close to the first base line that you are risking serious bodily harm. If you are not following what inning it is, or the current score, don’t constantly ask the scorekeeper. It is tempting, but not good form to visibly celebrate the errors or strikeouts of kids on the opposing team (…guilty…but reformed). Don’t be complicit in supporting dirty play by clapping (example: kid steals home with a 15 run lead in the 6th – not to be applauded, even if, perhaps especially if – the coach sent him).
Starting out, we were encouraged to cheer vigorously for every player on the team (and my throat still hurts). I now disagree with this practice. Screaming out even innocuous supportive comments like “You can do it!” is distracting and annoying and only puts pressure on the kids. There is no silence quite as awkward as that of a rowdy cheering group of parents gone eerily quiet when a young pitcher suddenly can’t throw strikes or a kid strikes out. And nothing is worse than a parent screaming instructions from the sidelines – especially those that are wrong or inconsistent with those given by the coaches in the field. Staying quiet is not easy especially when the other sideline’s parents are jerks or are erupting with cheers. With great personal restraint, I have now resorted to some polite clapping and try to save the screaming for the pro games. They can handle it.
Expect, Even Embrace Failure
Winning feels great. It certainly feels better than losing. But if your child’s team is always winning, you have to ask – are they facing legitimate competition? A win against a clearly weaker opponent is not a true victory or fun for anyone. To find out how good a team or a player really is, they need to face teams to which they are well-matched in terms of talent. Doing so will automatically increase the possibilities of losing games. This should be accepted and even celebrated. People are terrified of losing. Losing causes us to question everything that we are doing as parents and as coaches. We fear that the team’s losing is somehow a reflection on us (and conversely, that we deserve some credit when they win). The fear of losing and the drive to win is so powerful that it causes adults to take extreme measures like in this past summer’s Little League World Series where the coaches of Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West team used ineligible players in their quest for a national championship (which, of course, was ultimately taken from these young boys).
Failure is an unwelcome, yet constant specter in baseball. In order to have the fortitude to keep playing the game, kids have to learn to dance with this devil and even come to embrace it. They can only do that if we adults make the prospect of losing an acceptable option.
There Will Be Bad Calls and Bad Coaches
You will see some of the most ridiculously bad calls ever made in the history of the game during youth baseball. In many cases, this will be the work of a very young and inexperienced umpire (or one that is at least extremely visually impaired 🙂. Mix that with a group of parents who are passionately vested in the performance of their kid and his team and you have the makings of a toxic cocktail. If you expect and accept that there will in fact be (very) bad calls made during youth games, you and your child can be prepared to deal with them graciously when they arrive.
Bad coaches are worse than bad calls by umpires. Coaches can be bad in countless ways – unfair, unorganized, uninspiring, even unstable. A bad coach offers a good learning opportunity for you and for your child. A bad coach also makes you really, really appreciate the times when you have a good one.
So, this is what I have learned in the past eight years. I have also learned that there is no sound more beautiful than those first echoes of baseballs hitting aluminum bats carried across fields still damp with melting snow.