Are You Okay with Second Guessing and/or Questioning?
If you have a child playing Little League at pretty much any level beyond T-Ball (and maybe even in T-Ball, depending on the personalities of those involved), you’re going to have some parents and maybe the kids themselves who are going to second guess your decisions. I can almost say for certain that you’ve overheard these conversations, if not joined in.
I’m not talking about in-game strategy decisions, by the way. Those are pretty rare except when it comes to pitching. I mean decisions such as who’s playing which position in the field, where they’re batting, who gets to pitch (and how long you let them try and work out of trouble) and etc.
At most age levels, kids are going to move around a lot. Which is great. I love it. (It makes it a bit of a challenge to make sure everyone gets to play the “prestige” positions, but if you’re organized — see #7 below — it’s not really an issue.)
But one thing you do need to keep in mind, and something my coaches and I would often discuss in private, is who you can put where without risking injury to himself. And by injury I don’t just mean physical.
You don’t want to stick a kid where he can get embarrassed. Now understand that I’m all for letting kids take their lumps. I don’t believe in participation trophies and don’t believe in sugar coating constructive criticism. These are all “teaching moments,” I guess some would say.
But it really is a strange decision to put the shortest kid on the team, who maybe doesn’t have the best glove, at first base. That’s hurting the team and isn’t fair to the kids who are making great plays and throws at the other positions. But sometimes maybe you DO put him there for a inning or two. That’s just an example. At the same time, it’s not right to stick the same kids in right field all the time. That’s no fun for anyone.
So balance. That’s the key. But no matter how hard you try, there will probably be one or two times when someone isn’t thrilled. It’s something you have to live with. Personally, I explain to parents that this is a time for learning. That we’re going to try and move kids around…let them experience a bunch of different positions. Just about everyone is okay with that.
But I’m sure you know some parents who truly believe their son or daughter is head and shoulders above the rest and should be treated accordingly.
Again, I just go back to the “we’re here to learn the game and have fun” position. I’ve never had a situation where anyone truly got angry, but just be aware that those feelings may be out there and you may have to address them.
If you’re someone who basically takes the “my way or the highway” approach, you’re liable to butt heads.
Real Story from “The Trenches”
I was coaching a fall ball team and I became aware that one of our players’ parents were divorced. I developed a nice friendship with both his father and mother, and felt for all three. The kid was a great kid and teammate. The parents were both super nice.
The father would make it a point to be at all of his son’s games and it just really touched something in me that it was baseball that was bringing all three of them together. Even if it was only for a couple of hours. (Being a child of divorce, I knew how the kid must feel.) But anyway, that aside…
I knew this kid really wanted to pitch. At least that’s what his father kept telling me. But every game I would ask him if he wanted to throw an inning and he’d say no. You could tell that he did, but his nerves were getting the best of him.
Some kids have no problem toeing that rubber and firing away. Others, not so much. This particular young man was in the latter group. I never pushed him to do it. Prodded maybe? Encouraged? Sure. But if he said no I didn’t want to force it. I just kept asking and let him tell me when he was ready.
Eventually his father and I became pretty good friends and I asked him if he wanted to be one of the coaches, sit in the dugout with his son, share some moments…just generally spend some more time with him. He graciously accepted.
And he was AWESOME! Anything that needed doing, he did. And you could see how happy he was, and his son was, during those moments they’d spend together. It was really rewarding knowing that I could help make that happen.
Anyway, after a few games and what I would assume must have been some conversations at home, the kid showed up one day and agreed to give it a go on the mound.
Cool! His father was in the dugout. His mom was at the game. And we penciled him in for the first inning and that inning only. Just to see how he’d do.
Long story short, he got rocked.
But that’s not the moral here. It’s what happened WHILE he was getting rocked that was special.
We have a five-run mercy rule in our league (I have to check my official Little League rulebook to see if that’s in ALL Little League sanctioned leagues), meaning after five runs in an inning, that’s the end of the inning.
So we were about three runs in, and it was looking like we’d come up against the mercy rule. I went out and talked to him, made sure he was feeling good. He said he was (of course), and didn’t seem on the verge of tears or anything, so I left him in.
Another run came in and it was pretty clear that this kid was not going to be getting a lot of batters out. I turned to his father and said, “What do you think? What do you want me to do? Pull him or leave him out there? It’s up to you.”
Without hesitation he said, “I think he’d rather finish the inning.”
He did finish the inning. Once five runs had crossed. I forget how many outs he got. He may not have gotten any. I don’t remember and don’t want to dig out my scorebook from that game to find out.
But it didn’t matter. He came off the field and you could tell that the weight of the world had just been lifted off his shoulders. He had conquered his fear. He did it! The results didn’t matter. He got to pitch.
His mom and dad were both there to greet him when he got into the dugout. “You did it, buddy! You pitched!” And man, was that kid happy. He DID do it. We probably lost that game but who on Earth cares? I certainly don’t. Was I second guessed? Who cares?
That’s one of my fondest coaching memories. Seeing his parents rally around him and celebrate the simple fact that their son went out there in front of everyone and did his best. And he didn’t quit when a lot of kids would have. He saw it through.
Good for him!
It’s moments like those that are what being a coach is all about.