Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Isn't It Just A Game?

The 15- and 16-year-old boys on the Gloucester High School junior varsity baseball team filed off the bus single file toting their baseball mitts, bats and bags with their heads down. They hardly said a word to each other. Julie and I were sitting in the van waiting to pick up Ethan watching them walk to the Gloucester High School locker room. "Look at them," I said quietly. "You would think they lost." The JV Dukes had traveled to Newport News to face Woodside's team and prevailed 6-2. It wasn't necessarily a pretty win. Mistakes were made but Gloucester did plenty of things right as well, obviously. You would never know it from the coach, however. After the game I was chatting behind the dugout with a couple of other fathers after the game when the coach walked nearby. "I hope they get some TLC from you all," he said. "Because they're not getting it from me."

Ethan and the rest of the team played a solid game overall. Good pitching, some timely hitting, some plays were made when it counted. The kids came through. Ethan batted leadoff and went 1 for 2 with a double and RBI. But he also reached base on an error, drew two walks and stole three bases, though he did get thrown out once on what I would say was a disputed call at second base. In the field he played third base and fielded two grounders, throwing guys out at first base both times. He also had one error when he threw a ball into centerfield and another inexplicable play when he fielded the ball hit to him and stepped on third base -- except it wasn't a force out. He knew right away he had blown it. No one needed to tell him that because he's hard enough on himself. So how did his coach handle it? Here's what he said to Ethan afterwards: "Ethan, you're a genius in the classroom, but an idiot on the field. You'll never play an inning of varsity baseball doing that." He had plenty more to say to him, but that was the lowlight.

The coach ripped into everyone he could. One kid walked away from the field in tears. Ethan took it well; a lot better than I'm taking it. I talked to Ethan on the walk to the bus after the game and told him he played well. "It wasn't good enough," Ethan said. I told him he got on base all four times. "It wasn't good enough," Ethan said. "You made a couple plays at third. Had a real nice tag on that kid trying to steal," I said. "It wasn't good enough," Ethan said. We talked about what the coach said and I said to pay no attention to him. If the coach wants to give him pointers on fundamentals and actually be a coach, that's one thing. If the coach wants to be a raving, abusive idiot, just block that stuff out of your head. We got near the bus and our paths diverged. I told him he played well. Ethan shook his head: "Imagine if we had lost."

I don't understand this style of "coaching." I get that there are times when you need to crack down on the kids and get their attention or point out the mistakes they made and get them to understand how to make the play correctly. It's one thing if the kids aren't playing hard, or as some say, "disrespecting" the game. That's not the case here with these kids, it looks to me. They play hard. They're not perfect. Excuse me, but baseball is a game where it's considered a success if you get a hit every three or four times at bat. You can get your message across without getting personal. Without demeaning them. Without calling them idiots. A good coach can demand a lot from his players, but still have their respect. A great coach prepares his team to succeed on the field and his players play hard as much as for themselves as for their coach. When winning a game isn't any fun, something is wrong. Hey coach, it's a game. A game played by kids who are playing because they love the game. And who are hoping to have some fun.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Matt. I'm a friend of Annies. She sent some of us the link to this post.

    My dad coached sports for 35 years. He coached everything from football to girls swimming. He considered it a calling, not a job. And it was his utmost pleasure to encourage and cultivate existing talent, and teachs fundamentals to the ones who had not yet found their niche. And he invested in his kids. When he retired from teaching 3 years ago, the banquet room was PACKED with former athletes of his who came to thank him for his investment in them as people and instilling the love of the sport he coached them in. That's what coaching SHOULD be. The ones who make it about anything else other than mentoring kids and instilling sportsmanship, have missed the boat completely.

    I hope your son has a coach like that. Very soon. In the meantime, I'm so sorry he was made to feel bad about himself over a game...a game, they won. I'll pray for peace for you and your wife as well. I don't know about you, but I get figurative claws and fangs when someone upsets my kids.