I spent the past weekend working as an umpire at a local baseball tournament. Over the course of the 8 games I worked, I had the opportunity to observe many coaches, parents, and players. Overall, the atmosphere and attitudes surrounding the tournament were very good: most of the kids and coaches were having fun playing/coaching, and most of the parents/fans were just enjoying the games. Unfortunately, as has become all too routine in today’s society, there were a couple bad eggs that left a sour taste in my mouth after the weekend. There was one parent in particular – whom I’ve been “lucky” enough to see in action at other times this year – who gave me cause to reflect on why he continually chirps to umpires. (As much as I’d love to call out this parent by town and name, I’m not feeling quite that vindictive this morning.)
Because I was working on the bases, I had a great view of this parent’s movements throughout the game. At almost every half inning break, he would change spots in the stands, moving from up the first base line, to behind the plate, to down the third base line, but his comments were the same regardless of his position. This guy was one of those fans who felt it was his duty to critique every single ball/strike call that he didn’t agree with. Ultimately, it lead to his son chirping about balls and strikes, too.
Side note – the two coaches of this team are fantastic, which means that the kids on their roster are fantastic, also. The single rogue dad in the stands has very little effect on the attitude of the entire team.
Back to subject – so what’s the harm in this dad making these comments throughout the game? Other than the fact that this guy clearing isn’t enjoying himself while watching his son play, he’s perpetuating two very dangerous ideas to the kids on the field:
(1) That the players aren’t responsible for their own successes or failures, and
(2) That complaining to get a quick fix is the best way to solve a problem.
Let’s address the first idea, first, since both coaches and parents are guilty of this problem. When I talk to my coaches about getting after officials, their response is usually something like this: “I’m just trying to get my kids a good call later in the game.” While I understand that coaches are angling for an advantage, they aren’t sending the correct message to the kids. Let’s use the baseball dad as an example. By hollering about balls and strikes throughout the game, the pitcher was given the idea that it was the umpire behind his successes (strikes) and failures (balls). In fact, almost every time the pitcher walked a batter, I’d see him turn around and complain to a teammate or complain to himself about the pitch calls. In complaining about the calls, the kid never made an attempt to fix what was wrong. He made no attempt at changing his body posture, his arm angle, his release point, or any other technical change that might have helped him find the strike zone. Instead, he just complained about where the strike zone was.
As a young football coach, I was plenty guilty of this also. I can remember times that I felt our defensive linemen were being held at the line, so I complained to anyone wearing stripes who would listen (and some who didn’t listen!). Ultimately, my kids resigned themselves to the fact that they were being held and, therefore, had very little chance for success. Looking back, it would have been a great time to teach my players about dealing with that kind of adversity. What could we do differently in alignment or technique to give us a better chance for success? What do we need to do better to give ourselves a chance to win each rep? By complaining, I gave my players an easy excuse for their failure, and completely whiffed on an opportunity to teach them a great life lesson. Sometimes, in our adult lives and jobs, we get certain parameters that make success more difficult than we feel it should be. At that point, we’re faced with the same two choices: either complain about it and do nothing different, or find a way to be successful.
The second harmful idea that this parent was perpetuating is the idea that a quick fix is an actual solution to a problem. I’m guessing that this parent’s goal in yelling at my partner behind the plate was an attempt to get more balls and strikes called in favor of his son’s team. The best case scenario is that the team gets a couple calls their way for the rest of the game, but that won’t help the team out in the future. I’ve actually seen this problem up close in a slightly different manner.
Twice in my career as an athletic director, I’ve inherited a new coach who was taking over a program following the resignation of the previous coach who simply grew tired of parents complaining about their scheme/strategy/etc. In both of those cases, the new head coaches were only in place for 3-4 years before subsequently resigning. Any guesses as to why the new head coaches resigned? Gold star for you if you guessed it was because of parents complaining. While I do everything I can to protect and insulate our coaches from parental feedback, we can’t keep coaches entirely away from parents who want to complain. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t value or entertain any parents’ opinion outside of the physical/emotional treatment of their kid, but those comments that eventually get back to our coaches anyway tends to wear on the coaches.
So where’s the problem with this? In both cases, the current players learned that because their parents didn’t believe in the leadership of the program, a simple change in coaches would solve the problem. All that happened in both cases was that a different group of parents didn’t believe in the new leadership and then made their opinions too well known. Unfortunately, the parents gave their kids the complete opposite lesson that should have been learned. In the adult world, if you don’t agree with your boss’s leadership style, you have two choices: (1) figure out how to be productive within that leadership structure, or (2) find a new job. It’s not the boss who has to walk out the door, it’s the employee. As much as I try to encourage our coaches to stay in their positions to help teach athletes this lesson, the time and compensation to be a high school coach just isn’t enough to justify sticking around with that kind of opposition.
My takeaway – coaches and parents need to allow kids to deal with adversity that happens outside of their control rather than trying to get a quick fix. The quick fix might help your kid or your team be successful today, but it won’t help build the necessary long term attitude for success.
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