[This is my column in the July 3 issue of The Commercial Review.]
Wednesday I stumbled upon something in The Commercial Review archives from half a century ago, which really came as no surprise.
One of the biggest issues in youth sports — at least in Jay County in 1964 — is still common today.
Obsessive parents and coaches.
In late June of that year, a Junior League coach was relieved of his duties after a petition floated around lobbying for his dismissal. A note from then-editor, Dan Rottenberg, stated the group of parents who circulated the petition claimed the coach was not running the team very well, but goes on to mention the team was at the top of the standings.
Secondly, Rottenberg’s note says the parents said the coach was favoring his son, but records at the time show the child had sat out two of the team’s six games.
Not quite favoritism if the child didn’t play for two games.
While I haven’t been around the Junior League fields enough to know whether or not the issue is still prevalent now, reading Rottenberg’s account of the drama in the ’60s brought back memories of when I spent a couple years coaching Little League baseball in Michigan.
It was 2006 and I made the decision with my good friend Jason Dark to try our hands at coaching. We had always thought it would be fun to coach kids in our favorite game, but we also did it to give back to the same league that shaped our childhood baseball careers.
From the time we had to “draft” our team of 7 and 8-year-olds we knew we were going to be at a disadvantage. All of the other coaches had kids in the system. Jason and I did not.
Other coaches could ask their kids whom they wanted to play with and draft their team accordingly. Also, they were more familiar with the player pool and knew the kids with more skill than the others.
As for Jason and me, we didn’t care who we had on our team. We just wanted to develop the kids we had into the best baseball players we could, no matter if we won or lost. To us, we weren’t coaching to win.
Unfortunately, some of the other adults we coached against in our three years together beat to a different drum.
In our third year in the dugout, Jason and I had moved up to coach kids 12-and-younger. We had a decent team — I think we finished second out of four teams in the league.
One coach in particular — his team won the championship — threw out basic fundamentals in order to win, even teaching his players something they will never do at the higher levels of the game.
If his players drew a walk, the batter was to sprint to first and run straight to second if the defense was not paying attention. By doing so, the act would entice a throw, hopefully a poor one, allowing the runner to reach third.
Three bases on a walk. In high school, college, or even the professional ranks, the likelihood of this play happening is slim to none.
Why teach kids something they will never do again? To win, obviously.
But at that age, winning is not the priority.
After every game, win or lose, Jason and I always asked the players on our team if they had fun. To us, if the kids said “yes,” we were doing our job.
The record was not important. The smiles on their faces when they left the field are what mattered to us.
And that should still be the case today.