The other day, a friend of mine who is involved in youth sports sent me an interesting e-mail. It was a letter from a travel baseball coach to the parents of his players prior to the start of the season. It so happens that the coach is Mike Matheny, the new manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, and a former long time major leaguer. After retiring from the game as a player, he coached his kids’ team and set in motion his principles and philosophies, which are listed in great detail in his letter.
It is long. But it is well worth the time invested. It’s baseball, but it could be about ANY sport. Matheny has some very definite (some would call old school) ideas about how the players’ experience should play out. His thoughts on the role that everyone plays in the development of young athletes are pointed. Let’s be honest parents, you get thrown under the bus right from the opening paragraph. I happen to agree with a lot of what he says. But do you?
Coaches, are you thinking about all the things that he’s thinking about in this letter? Are you focused on individual development, the mental aspects of the game, and your team’s demeanour on and off the playing field? Do you work to attain the knowledge and experience that would allow the parents of your players to trust you implicitly? Are you able to clearly communicate your plan to players and parents?
As a player, would you want to play for a Mike Matheny? Are you ready to be accountable to your teammates? Can you bring focus and energy to the field? Are you willing to work for and earn your playing time? We all – players, coaches, and parents – play an important role in the development of our young athletes, but it seems, as Matheny says, that we may have lost some of the core values and benefits of athletics that help make youth sports such a positive experience.
Do you agree? Read on and let us know...
Letter from Mike Matheny.....
I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. I think that it is best to nip this in the bud right off the bat. I think the concept that I am asking all of you to grab is that this experience is ALL about the boys. If there is anything about it that includes you, we need to make a change of plans. My main goals are as follows:
(1) to teach these young men how to play the game of baseball the right way,
(2) to be a positive impact on them as young men, and
(3) do all of this with class.
We may not win every game, but we will be the classiest coaches, players, and parents in every game we play. The boys are going to play with a respect for their teammates, opposition, and the umpires no matter what.
With that being said, I need to let you know where I stand. I have no hidden agenda. I have no ulterior motive other than what I said about my goals. I also need all of you to know that my priorities in life will most likely be a part of how I coach, and the expectations I have for the boys. My Christian faith is the guide for my life and I have never been one for forcing my faith down someone's throat, but I also believe it to be cowardly, and hypocritical to shy away from what I believe. You as parents need to know for yourselves and for your boys, that when the opportunity presents itself, I will be honest with what I believe. That may make some people uncomfortable, but I did that as a player, and I hope to continue it in any endeavor that I get into. I am just trying to get as many potential issues out in the open from the beginning. I believe that the biggest role of the parent is to be a silent source of encouragement. I think if you ask most boys what they would want their parents to do during the game; they would say "NOTHING". Once again, this is ALL about the boys. I believe that a little league parent feels that they must participate with loud cheering and "Come on, let's go, you can do it", which just adds more pressure to the kids. I will be putting plenty of pressure on these boys to play the game the right way with class, and respect, and they will put too much pressure on themselves and each other already. You as parents need to be the silent, constant, source of support.
Let the record stand right now that we will not have good umpiring. This is a fact, and the sooner we all understand that, the better off we will be. We will have balls that bounce in the dirt that will be called strikes, and we will have balls over our heads that will be called strikes. Likewise, the opposite will happen with the strike zone while we are pitching. The boys will not be allowed at any time to show any emotion against the umpire. They will not shake their head, or pout, or say anything to the umpire. This is my job, and I will do it well. I once got paid to handle those guys, and I will let them know when they need to hear something. I am really doing all of you parents a favor that you probably don't realize at this point. I have taken out any work at all for you except to get them there on time, and enjoy. The thing that these boys need to hear is that you enjoyed watching them and you hope that they had fun. I know that it is going to be very hard not to coach from the stands and yell encouraging things to your son, but I am confident that this works in a negative way for their development and their enjoyment. Trust me on this. I am not saying that you cannot clap for your kids when they do well. I am saying that if you hand your child over to me to coach them, then let me do that job.
A large part of how your child improves is your responsibility. The difference for kids at this level is the amount of repetition that they get. This goes with pitching, hitting and fielding. As a parent, you can help out tremendously by playing catch, throwing batting practice, hitting ground balls, or finding an instructor who will do this in your place. The more of this your kids can get, the better. This is the one constant that I have found with players that reached the major leagues....someone spent time with them away from the field.
I am completely fine with your son getting lessons from whomever you see fit. The only problem I will have is if your instructor is telling your son not to follow the plan of the team. I will not teach a great deal of mechanics at the beginning, but I will teach mental approach, and expect the boys to comply. If I see something that your son is doing mechanically that is drastically wrong, I will talk with the instructor and clear things up. The same will hold true with pitching coaches. We will have a pitching philosophy and will teach the pitchers and catchers how to call a game, and why we choose the pitches we choose. There is no guessing. We will have a reason for the pitches that we throw. A pitching coach will be helpful for the boys to get their arms in shape and be ready to throw when spring arrives. Every boy on this team will be worked as a pitcher. We will not over use these young arms and will keep close watch on the number of innings that the boys are throwing.
I will be throwing so much info at these boys that they are going to suffer from overload for a while, but eventually they are going to get it. I am a stickler about the thought process of the game. I will be talking non-stop about situational hitting, situational pitching, and defensive preparation. The question that they are going to hear the most is "What were you thinking?" What were you thinking when you threw that pitch? What were you thinking during that at bat? What were you thinking before the pitch was thrown, were you anticipating anything? I am a firm believer that this game is more mental than physical, and the mental may be more difficult, but can be taught and can be learned by a 10 and 11 year old. If it sounds like I am going to be demanding of these boys, you are exactly right. I am definitely demanding their attention, and the other thing that I am going to require is effort. Their attitude, their concentration, and their effort are the things that they can control. If they give me these things every time they show up, they will have a great experience.
to read Part II see the LIJSoccer Blog entry above.