Years ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine. We were reminiscing about high school baseball. He grew up in Kansas and I grew up in South Carolina. In that conversation he said some things that didn’t make sense to me. Let me tell you what he said.
He told me that he didn’t play his senior year of high school and his reasoning was, “he couldn’t stand the coach.” The thought of not playing the game I love because some coach was a jerk was and still is not something that I can comprehend.
Last summer, I had the privilege of coaching a group of young men in a season that I will never forget, and I hope they feel the same. But, it didn’t start that way. In our very first weekend, we lost a game 1-0 and I noticed something. The kids looked as if someone had died.
That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about my boys. Suddenly it hit me. They were putting so much pressure on themselves and what was supposed to be fun looked more like work. My question to them the next day was, “Do we play baseball or do we work baseball?” The obvious answer to that question is we play baseball, and the word “work” was eliminated from our vocabulary and it actually cost a quarter every time we said the word.
Why do I tell that story? Because I believe we are failing these kids at early ages. Not just in baseball, but probably in all sports. We don’t teach them to love the game. How can they love the game when they see coaches of 10 year olds cutting players? Anybody can cut their 2-3 worst players, and steal the best 2-3 players from another team and win. That’s not coaching, it’s recruiting and anyone that is cutting and recruiting 10 year olds is a disgrace to the game.
How is a kid supposed to learn to love the game when there is a possibility of him getting cut at 9? If you want to recruit, coach in college, otherwise teach the game.
Parents, let your kids play! Does it really matter if they went 0-4 with four strike outs when they are 7? Keep that in perspective. Is your relationship with your kid dependent on how they perform on an athletic field?
Play catch with your kids. Pitch to them. Teach them to love the game. If they love the game, they will not quit because of a coach. Every player that has made it beyond high school has played for someone that they didn’t like.
As a player gets older, the most successful learn to control what they can and not get caught up in what they can’t control. Most importantly they learn to enjoy the process. When you enjoy the process, it doesn’t feel like work. A great player learns to compete with him or herself. If it’s lifting weights, they learn to push and they are never forced to lift. The thrill of getting stronger outweighs the pain.
Getting in the best possible shape that you can be in can never be about impressing a coach or it will eventually feel like work. If you wait to start hitting when the high school practice begins, you’ve waited too long. Every day you have to push yourself to get better.
One of the worst things I have said and I’ve heard it said thousands of times. “You should hustle because you never know who’s watching you.” That sounds good on the surface, but I will not say this again, rather, “If you hustle all the time, then it doesn’t matter who is watching you because your effort is a habit.”
If you’ve learned to love playing the game, the process becomes enjoyable. If don’t love the process, you are not a player, you are a fan.
If you’ve done all that you can do to become stronger, faster, a better hitter, a better fielder, and in great shape, that’s all that you have control of. If you haven’t, only you can change that.