As many of you may know, whether from here or Twitter, I’m active in our local youth sports association. Last year I coached football & this year marks my third year coaching baseball.  It’s something I enjoy doing, not only because I get to spend time with my sons but is also fulfilling for that part of me that was once an Education Major waaaaaaay back when. In those years of being a parent & coach of a youth ‘athlete’ I have never lost my cool when dealing with other coaches or the kids.  Last night that changed. So if you are a youth coach or have younger children who are getting into sports and are thinking of coaching them, and you should because it’s a pretty rewarding experience, please read on.  If you just want to read through a cathartic rant, you’re welcome as well.

Youth sports for younger leagues should be about making sure the players on your team are having fun, everything else is secondary. For a lot of these kids in the 5-6 year old league I coach and the 7-8 year old one my older son plays in, this may be the only organized baseball they play. These younger leagues should & need to be about letting the boys play & learn to like playing before the focus begins to shift towards the more competitive nature of the game in the older leagues.  By the time the kids reach that next level, they’ll know if they want to continue playing based on their desire & skill. It’s mostly that desire, and some skill, that is fostered in the younger leagues which means making the experience fun for them. Unfortunately the fun ended last night for my son Connor after being scolded and yelled at the entire night by his coach.

Now before anyone says ‘Oh, you’re just being that parent’, hold up a minute.  I am under no illusions either of my boys will be the next Ryan Braun or Aaron Rodgers. Sure it’s fun to dream about that because c’mon, it would be pretty friggin cool, but realistically the chances of that happening are pretty slim.  I also knew that this may very well be Connor’s last season of baseball because he likes playing football so much more, but I still held out hope he’d have enough fun playing baseball this year that he would continue on with it. I know my boy & he’s not a bad ballplayer for his age & he’s not a quitter.  When he tells me he doesn’t want to go back and play anymore, I know there’s something wrong.

As a youth baseball coach for younger leagues, your job at that level is not to drill in the rules of the game. Your job is not to explain the finer points of executing a squeeze bunt, what a balk is or correct the batting stance of a kid that is comfortable hitting in it, said that’s how he wanted to stand & can hit that way better than anyone else on your team (hint as to what set this off right there). All of those jobs are really the job of the parent, should they choose to do it. For example, I have two kids on my 5-6 team who are switch hitting. Do I think they should be switch hitting at that age?  No, but obviously their parents have worked with them on that so it’s not my place to tell them not to do it or that it’s wrong. Don’t take any of this to mean that I think your team should be re-enacting Lord of the Flies while on the diamond, you have to maintain order and some level of discipline obviously.  You do not have to be worrying whether or not your team can turn a double play to get out of the inning.

Your job as a youth baseball coach is to maintain order, or semblance of order & make sure your players are playing in a safe, comfortable, friendly coached environment.  Your job is to teach them how to field grounders & run the bases but not get on their case should they forget how to do either one at any given time. Your job is to throw the kids pitches, hope they get on base & keep them attentive enough in the field so they don’t get hit by an errant throw or hit. Your job is to tell them it was a good throw, a good stop/catch or good try no matter how far off they may have been. Your job is to tell them  to knock the snot out of the ball on the tee & that they’ll get a hit off a pitch next time because they were sooo close to it this time & not to worry about it.  Most importantly though your job is to make playing the game fun so they want to continue playing & enjoying the game of baseball.  There will be plenty of time later in life for them to get yelled at for doing something wrong. For now though let them all be Ryan Braun, because if you do your job in keeping the game fun for them now, maybe someday they will be.


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  • BigSnakeMan

    I remember when my son was involved in youth hockey, I couldn’t believe how they grinded those kids at such an early age. And then people wonder why kids often get burned out on organized sports by the time they’re in their teens. That’s just plain sad.

  • Chris

    I coached baseball and basketball for both of my sons, from tee ball up through the 14 year old leagues. Sometimes I was the head coach, sometimes the assistant. Looking back, I can’t believe I made it though all of that. It was fun at times, but I was always burdened by the gravity of what I was doing: I felt the pressure of trying to make sure all those kids had a good experience. But what constituted a “good experience” was not a fixed target: Some kids wanted to play hard, win and learn the games, others just wanted to goof around and be with other kids their age. Trying to make something work for all of them, to get an outcome that pleased everyone, was a struggle.

    The parents had equally diverse expectations for their kids and for me, and while most were supportive of my efforts, I always felt like I was under the microscope: Was I pushing too hard or not hard enough? Opinions likely varied, so I never felt I was hitting the sweet spot.

    In retrospect, I am glad I did it all those years because I ended up learning a lot about the sports I thought I knew, about the varieties of families and circumstances in which children are raised, about leadership, patience, and my own sons. But while it was highly worthwhile, it was not an easy, joyful experience. There was way too much responsibility (and far too many games and practices) for that. But I am sure glad I did it.