I am a baseball mom. Well, to be a bit more precise, I am a baseball, softball, soccer, cheer, football, and basketball mom. But out of all of those, baseball is our family sport. From the beginning of February through the end of October, seven days a week, we are doing something related to baseball. Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, College Ball, Little League… we love it all.
But with all of my time watching my kids play, I have realized that there is a problem with youth sports. A very, very big problem. Now, the first thing that someone says when you dare to criticize youth sports is some variation of, “Well if you think you can do better then you can get out there and coach.”
Okay. Challenge accepted. I am a coach. My husband is a coach. Over the course of the last ten years we have coached a total of 51 seasons, from Kindergarteners to high schoolers, in six different sports.
So I have earned the right to say something.
But you know what? I don’t need to have earned the right to say something. And my speaking out isn’t a right – it’s a necessity. Because the problem with youth sports is that young people are being mistreated. And it’s not okay.
I’m not talking about the constant practicing. Although at times it gets a bit excessive, I understand the need to practice. I firmly believe in encouraging kids to strive for excellence, and excellence does not come without a lot of hard work.
I’m also not talking about kids being over-committed. If your kid wants to be involved in ten different activities at a time, and you want to pay for and take them to all of those activities, then go for it. Work that out with your family.
What I am talking about is that in the arena of youth sports it seems to have become accepted that adults will yell and scream at children. Belittling them. Humiliating them. Often times swearing at them.
The very same actions that if we saw it happening on the street, we would stop and intervene. Yet when it happens on the field, or the diamond, or the court, we all sit by and let it continue.
This is not okay.
My oldest son is an umpire and this season he has received a lot of verbal abuse. I understand that in professional baseball the manager yelling at the ump and getting tossed from the game is just something that happens. And you know what? Fine. Two adults throwing a fit and yelling at each other while millions of people watch? It’s a baseball thing. But when it is in the context of youth sports, where the umpire is a high school or middle school student, the dynamic has to change. We cannot simply accept it as normal that a 40-year-old man is going to shout insults at a child.
It is not okay.
All three of my sons play baseball and my daughter plays softball. I have seen countless coaches yelling at their players. Not helpful instruction, not even constructive criticism, simply out of control yelling and screaming. I have seen coaches throw things, slam things, and stomp around, raging at their kids.
I even overhead one coach yelling at his players in the dugout, “This is not a game in here!”
Uh… Coach? It is a game. And those boys you just yelled at? They’re 9 and 10 years old. Almost everything is a game for them. And that’s how it should be.
I realize that I have the option of not having my kids involved in youth sports. My son doesn’t have to umpire, and we can find other ways for them to get exercise and be a part of a team. But I have also seen the benefits that come from playing. Not only the physical benefits, but other benefits as well. I love the responsibility that they learn. I like seeing them helping teach the younger players, cheering for their siblings, and the confidence that comes with mastering a new skill. I like the fact that my oldest son is learning how to stand his ground, and realizing that he can take charge of an incredibly intense situation. These are valuable things to know.
Every day we have conversations about the things that they have seen at the ballpark, the good and the bad. And they are learning from everything. But far too often what they are learning from the adults is what not to do and how not to treat people.
And that’s not okay.
So what do we do? Do we just accept that it’s part of the culture? Do we just roll our eyes, vent on Facebook, and occasionally throw passive-aggressive remarks towards the coach?
Yes. I have done that.
But that’s not okay either.
And so I am speaking out. And speaking up. And I will continue to speak out and speak up. Because even if I remove my four children from this environment, that leaves 996 other kids in this league who are being subjected to verbal abuse.
And it’s not okay.
So what can we do? What can you do?
Speak with your coach and make it clear that you will not allow your child, or any other child, to be mistreated. Request a meeting with the director of your league and let him or her know that you are concerned about the fact that kids are being humiliated.
Because it is possible to coach kids without belittling them. It is possible to help them learn and excel, without making them miserable in the process.
I’ve seen it.
Last season my son’s team was undefeated the entire season, including the championship game. And his coach never once yelled and screamed at the players. He was passionate and he was intense, but he never bullied the children.
There are several organizations that have been created to help coaches learn how to coach without the abuse. Contact these groups and have someone work with your league.
Don’t just sit by and watch it happen. Do something.
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I am not someone who thinks that everyone should get a trophy and that there should never be losers. I am fiercely competitive, and I believe that games are played to be won. I also believe that part of coaching is teaching kids how to win and lose with dignity.
I don’t tell my kids, “Good swing,” when they are chopping wood, and I don’t just shrug it off when a softly hit grounder rolls through their legs. We work on it, and I expect them to do better the next time.
So I’m not saying we need to be soft.
What I am saying is that we need to make sure that the adults who are leading and shaping and influencing children are doing so in a way that is not abusive. It is not too much to ask.
In fact, why would we accept anything else?
So do something.
See you soon.