Dos and don'ts for Little League parents
Two years ago, in this space, I wrote a column on the Dos and Don'ts of being a Little League parent. Basically, it was quick reminder of how parents should behave as they watch their sons and daughters play youth baseball or softball. The e-mail reaction was incredible. Yet for all the pats on the back and requests for copies, here we are two years later and many of issues in that column continue to happen time and time again.
For the record, I have two sons, ages 12 and 16. Both play or have played youth league baseball in St. Petersburg and in Minnesota. They've played on city teams, all-star teams, AAU teams. They've been on really good teams and really bad ones. They've played locally, all across the state and in national tournaments. So I've seen it all -- a few too many times.
All-star tournaments are kicking up all over the area this week. Go watch one night and you're guaranteed to see adults screaming -- at kids, at coaches, at umpires. So here is that column from two years ago, with a few revisions.
Don't take it so seriously
What happened to the days of playing a game and going out for snow cones? Now it's all about winning tournaments, going to state, going to nationals. They're kids, for crying out loud. They go swimming, play baseball, go home and ride skateboards and play video games. Baseball is just one thing they do. Win or lose, there are a lot more important things going on in the world. Wins and losses fade quickly, but the lessons learned last forever.
Don't argue with the umpire
Give these people a break. It's hot. The umpire's gear is heavy, sweaty and smelly. These guys are calling two, three, four games in a day. Most are volunteers. Those who are getting paid barely make enough to cover the gas to drive to the game and hot dog and a soda when it's over. Yes, they will miss calls and it's frustrating. A strike one inning is a ball the next. But, trust us, these umpires don't go out there intentionally trying to put the screws to anyone. They really are doing the best they can. And if you think you can do better then grab a mask and a chest protector and start calling games.
Be supportive of your kids
That means two things: Go to the game. And give him or her a hug afterward and say, "Good game'' even if it wasn't a good game. Don't get angry if your child makes an error or strikes out. If he makes an error, don't say something stupid like, "Hey, you gotta make that play!'' He knows. He tried to make the play. He made an error. Just like major-leaguers do every night. A kid feels bad enough when he makes a mistake. He doesn't need you -- the person he is closest to in the entire world -- making him feel even worse by pointing out his mistake for everyone to hear. The only time a parent should discipline his child is if he or she is being disrespectful to an umpire, coach, teammate or opponent. But don't you dare yell at him because he's not Derek Jeter.
Watch your language
Just because you think it's okay to swear in front of your kids doesn't mean it's okay to swear in front of other people's kids. Remember where you are. This isn't an R-rated movie. It's a ball park with kids and grandparents.
If you have a problem, talk to the coach privately, not in front of the kids
Getting into an argument with a coach in front of the players does one thing: embarrasses your child. Even if you have a legitimate complaint, airing it in public is a recipe for disaster. Do it in private and don't do it during or right after a game. Emotions are high. If it's after a loss, everyone -- coaches, players and parents -- is frustrated, and that is not the tone you want when you're trying to solve a problem. And don't bad-mouth the coach or one of your kids' teammates in front of your child.
Remember there is crying in baseball
Regardless of what Tom Hanks said, there is crying in baseball. They're kids. Kids cry. They cry when they get hurt. They cry when they make a mistake. They cry when they're embarrassed. But, being kids, they'll stop crying in a minute, and they'll move on. Telling them to "grow up'' or "shake it off'' isn't going to help at that moment. It will only make matters worse. Just give them a second and they'll bounce back. Kids are resilient.
Let the coach coach
When you start giving your child instructions and secret signs, he is suddenly put in the impossible position of having to decide between what his coach is telling him to do and what his parent is telling him. If you notice something, mention it to the coach. But don't go behind his back and undermine him. In this category: If you don't know what you're talking about, be quiet. And if you don't know baseball, just say the generic stuff like, "Let's get a rally going'' or "Let's play some defense.''’
Respect your team
Don't get frustrated with a kid on your son's or daughter's team because they are not as good as your son or daughter. Hey, those kids are trying, too. And don't complain to other parents about that kid either. And while we're at it, let's bring up something to all those parents out there who think little Johnny is destined for the majors. At this very moment, there are 750 men in the majors. That's 750 from the entire planet! You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than making the majors.
Respect your opponent
Anyone who has ever had a child play youth sports has run into the Jerk Team. The other coach is a jerk. The players are jerks. The parents are jerks. Don't you become a jerk by sinking to their level. Don't let them engage you. Don't cheer for your team by putting down the other team. Don't say things like, "You can hit this kid.'' Or, "He throws it nice and slow.'' Or, "He doesn't even want to swing. Just throw it in there. He can't hit it.” Look, there will always be a Jerk Team. Don't let your team be it.
Watch your behavior
This is for the coaches. You have a greater influence on these children than you realize. Everything you say is taken as gospel. When you criticize them, it stings more than you know. You can coach without being insulting. Plus, he or she wants to do well more than you want them to do well. In addition, they follow your example. If you cry about umpires, so will they. If you're a poor sport, your team will be full of poor sports. And remember this: 20 years from now, the players you coach won't remember which games you won and lost, but they will remember if you were a man with good character or not.
Remember, it's just a game
Kids seem to understand this, but parents don't. Five minutes after a tough loss, the parents are in the parking lot griping about the coaches, criticizing the lineup and blaming the umpires. Meanwhile, the kids are eating candy, playing Wall Ball and trying to figure out the best all-time episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. Take a cue from your kids and realize that when it's over, life goes on.