One of my most talented players has decided to quit baseball. He’s seven years old. WHY?
A five year old attended my Summer Camp in a last ditch effort to find the joy in baseball. WHY?
A nine year old was so anxious, he couldn’t sleep the last three nights in anticipation of a new PE class.
I know why. A bad picture gets painted in a young person’s brain MUCH clearer than a good picture. In all three examples, these kids had been scarred by a prior experience with a coach. When I asked these children specifics of their bad pictures, here were some quotes: “I felt a lot of pressure.” “The Coach was always negative.” “My Coach argued a lot, and got kicked out of games.” “I was afraid to make any mistakes.” “I wasn’t having fun.”
Now let’s push pause for a second. I know I’m in the minority here, but I personally fed off getting yelled at. I thrived when I was pressured to succeed. I even got fired up when my coach stuck up for his players and got kicked out of a game. But I was 18 years old. I was a grown man. Prior to that, I wasn’t able to embrace that coaching style in a healthy way. Picture an eight year old version of Coach Ballgame crying his eyes out in a dugout because he made three errors at third base. I remember it well.
In my humble opinion, the atmosphere of coaching high schoolers and coaching our youth must be apples and oranges. At a mature age, one can compartmentalize the pressures bestowed upon them. One can even see through the semantics and understand exactly what the coach is trying to do. And by that age, you’re dealing with adults who’ve been in love with that sport for many years. Conversely, with youth sports, you’ve gotta be in the business of “giving the bug.” My proudest moments come when a parent informs me of their child’s newfound obsession with baseball. “My kid is exchanging baseball cards with their friends, and we are going to our first ever Angels Game!” They’ve got the bug baby! As a youth coach, I did my job.
In all three examples at the top, I actually believe the coach meant well, and was simply teaching the way they were taught. I definitely started coaching Little Leaguers that way, and it led to neither of us having any fun at all. As I began to look at the big picture of youth sports, a blaring theme became clear. These kids shouldn’t need to know they are learning skills. These kids shouldn’t realize they are being challenged. I can actually build their character, and sharpen their skills, all while they are having the time of their life. Their sole realization is they are engaged. Unfortunately, this task hasn’t gotten any easier. We’re up against a fierce enemy: The INCREDIBLY ENGAGING WORLD OF VIDEO GAMES. So what do we do about it? We paint ten really fun, memorable pictures of youth baseball in their brain at an early age, and you hope that outweighs the one Bad Picture they are bound to have. Young kids need to feel as excited about playing baseball as they would at a Fortnite themed birthday party.
In closing, this is not a negative rant on bad youth coaching. I’m too optimistic to believe a parent who takes time off work to coach their kids, and in turn paints a bad picture in the right fielder’s brain was malicious. They simply fell into the same traps I did as a young coach. I stick by the idea that we all mean well. But the time has come to execute well also. Kids need sports. Kids are actually yearning for sports. So let's help them paint some beautiful pictures and create a lifetime love for sports.
To hear more information on how to keep your kid in love with baseball, check out my podcast here.