“Our job is to teach them to want come back the next day because they enjoyed it.”
This is a direct quote from former Yankees Manager and World Series Champion Joe Girardi and holy shit, I could not agree more. On a video I came across on Facebook, he was discussing how to approach youth sports with Hall of Famer and first basemen Jim Thome.
The conversation was a breath of fresh air considering youth sports are infested with over-eager, arrogant, hard nosed dip shits for parents. It made it that much better knowing it came from two of the games finest.
One of my favorite points made by Girardi was that even though Thome hit over 600 home runs in his career, he hit .274 for his career meaning of 8,000+ at bats, he failed in nearly 6,000 of them. He went on to say that it is ok because the sport is hard. Everyone swings at high pitches at their chest. It is incredible at how mad fathers and coaches get when a kid hacks at something outside the strike zone.
So much freaking yes.
Although this conversation was primarily about baseball. This applies to the universal world of sports.
I have played sports since I was a child. I believe the first time I stepped on a field was when I was 4 years old for soccer. At 27, I am still playing recreational sports. It is a staple of my childhood and now adulthood. Part of that is because I had people who taught me how to have fun and still want to win. Competitive balance is everything.
I never played anything ultra competitive meaning high school, college or professional ranks. I don’t count the year and a half of baseball I played in high school. I retired before my sophomore season because I was tired of it and wasn’t enjoying it. Ultimately, I believe that is why many children quit playing. They lose that fire and passion for the game.
My Experience With Baseball
I played baseball recreationally until I was 19. I never enjoyed school sports for a number of reasons. The first being I always felt it was taken a little too serious for my liking. The second being politics involved with it.
I won’t get into the latter, however, I will talk about the seriousness of school sports. On one hand, you have coaches who’s paychecks are based off performance. That bonus they get from devoting extra time to sports won’t be pouring in if they can’t win or improve the direction of the program. I get that to some degree. But when your success is determined by a bunch of young kids, you knew what you bargained for.
I went to a high school with a good reputation for baseball in Louisiana. Although it wasn’t as bad as the experience in middle school at another program, it was the same story. It wasn’t any fun.
To be fair, I am not going to beat my own drum screaming I was some all-state talent who never got a fair shake because I wasn’t. I was an exceptional player who probably could have played maybe even started, but I needed to work for that spot. I wasn’t any sort of transcendent talent who the coaches would regret not playing.
I was also lazy. Part of that laziness came from not enjoying it. I wouldn’t stay longer if I had the opportunity. I wouldn’t give it my all in the weight room in fear of being ridiculed because I could barely lift an iPod. A large chunk of inadequacy at the higher level is on me.
Ultimately, we are trying to win games. We are not curing cancer. I think coaches and players forget that a lot of times. I know I did growing up. So I am not without fault.
However, I never understood the yelling and screaming. I also didn’t respond well to that when I was younger. I used to be a pretty insecure person so that didn’t do it for me. Especially when that criticism seemed pretentious and without fault from the person yelling. There is nothing worse than a coach who has clearly made mistakes bitching at his team and putting it all on them.
A couple of experiences that stand out to me from school baseball that turned me off…
The first few come from the middle school I attended and screw it I will out them because I loathe their existence…John Curtis “Christian” School. Before I tell these stories, I have always had a smart mouth and that hasn’t changed much and I can fully admit I sometimes brought punishment upon myself.
I already knew from the get go that it was going to be rocky. When asking our positions for tryouts, I said second base and a volunteer coach, Brian, who had never seen me play EVER (didn’t know the guy from a ham sandwich) told Cory (head coach) that I am no second basemen. I let it go, but I wanted to be like and you look real suitable to be a coach. But I didn’t. It was all downhill from there. Brian sucked.
For those who played baseball, you probably understand foul ball duty. This is usually done by the bench warmers as a way to “contribute.” I was in 8th grade and we were halfway through the season and I had been shagging foul balls all year. Well I was already beyond the point of wanting to quit, but my parents raised me to not quit in the middle of something so they didn’t let me. Shoutout to you guys *pounds chest.*
We were playing at delta playground and someone hit a foul ball that rolled a couple of hundred yards down the pavement and of course I got called on to go snag it. For the record, I felt I was getting more fouls than anyone else on the team. When Cory told me to get said ball, I said “nah, I’m good. Someone else can take a turn.” He just looked at me and said “you will never play with that attitude.” To which I responded, “well considering we are halfway through the season and I have 1 plate appearance and my on base percentage is 1.000% thank you very much and 6 innings in the field, I think that has been made clear.” He just shook his head and that was the end of that.
I finished the year with one more plate appearance and drew another walk and told the first base coach (Brian) “still the highest on base percentage on the team.”
Another incident involved Brian’s son. He was a few grades below us and playing catcher during a scrimmage. I decided to give myself the green light and steal second. Brian then made fun of me for stealing on a kid who was 5 years younger. He made me walk back to first. When I got there, I said “he probably shouldn’t be behind the plate then.” I stole again to which I was told to get back in the dugout.
The entire year was rough for me in terms of baseball.
This was my worst hitting year by far so I lucked out getting on base both times. In recreational ball, I finished with a team lead in strikeouts and hit under .200 for the year, which is why my dad hired a hitting coach for me. I lost all my mechanics because I wasn’t having fun and wanted so bad to prove something that I lost it mentally.
I eventually got my swing back during the off-season, meanwhile a switch of schools and playing high school was a similar story to middle school.
The pressure and yelling was too much for me personally. I hated staying after school. I hated workouts. I just hated it all.
Although I don’t really have anything particularly bad about the coaches or program at my high school like at Curtis, school ball just wasn’t for me. I learned that pretty quickly.
The only particular story I have was during a freshman game, I got one of our hitters called out for interference on a foul ball. I was sitting in the dugout and did not move from my spot in the front. I simply put my glove down in my lap where the ball was coming and when I caught it, the douche at first screamed that it was interference. I was in foul territory the entire play. After the guy hitting (total douche by the way) comes yelling at me and pushed me into the bench, the coach came over and said I don’t blame him. He should be pissed at you. To which I said I was in foul territory which is perfectly legal, probably should read the rule book. I did nothing wrong.
It was shit like that that turned me off. I was also honestly more interested in drinking and having a social life vs putting in work to get better.
Now that I have all the bad shit out of the way from my personal experience, you may be wondering why the hell I still stuck with baseball and sports in general. The answer is simple, the good far outweighs the bad. I had some incredible people who coached me throughout my life.
I played for a guy named Ralph who lived down the street from me. I was and still am friends with his son Nick. In fact, he and I play on a basketball team together.
I enjoyed playing for him throughout my childhood mainly because of what I said in the beginning. He knew the balance between winning and having fun. I feel like that was the common denominator with all my coaches.
Unfortunately, my dad traveled a lot during the week when I was a kid. For the record, when he was home, he always out in the yard throwing and being there for me so I don’t want this to seem like the whole “daddy wasn’t there for me” party. He most certainly was and still is. Homie just needed to make money. If he wasn’t home, my grandpa was throwing me pop flys and grounders in the front yard. So I had a wonderful support system.
But it was Ralph picking me up for midweek games (lived down the street) and getting me and Nick to the field an hour and fifteen beforehand to give Nick and I a little extra work in the cage or in the field. He didn’t have to do that for me, but he wanted me to be the best second basemen and 2-hole hitter I could be. He also brought the energy always. He was a ton of fun to play for.
Then it was Scott who I played 3 or 4 years for. Similar story to Ralph, he lived around the corner so he would swing by the house and scoop me on the way during the week. I was also friends with his step son, also named Nick. He was a little more laid back than Ralph, but nonetheless, still wanted to win.
In fact, about a year and half ago, I went to a party at their house for Nick and he and I probably spent an hour and a half reminiscing about the fun we used to have with baseball.
For 4 of the last 5 years of my playing, I played for the man I am most like and my favorite coach, my dad. As much as I loved playing for Ralph and Scott, it is no comparison to the fun I had playing for Bob (no offense to those guys). Bob is a freaking legend. We won 3 championships and one runner up. Of course me and Bob still talk about those seasons and how much fun we had. He and I are both competitive to a fault. The same basketball team I mentioned earlier have several guys who played for Bob and we joked before the season started that he should coach us. The people love Bob.
Because of these experiences and the fun I had, sports an addiction for me.
As mentioned, I played baseball until I was 19. Once I started college, the one thing I knew I wanted to get involved in was intramural sports. Based on what I had heard and knew about them, it was fun, competitive and all the good things about sports. No coaches yelling. No sports parents acting like dickheads. Just a bunch of guys talking shit and trying to beat each other down…I’m in.
Now Time to Teach Finn
Now that I have a son, of course I want to take my time getting there, but damn it, I cannot fucking wait for when he gets older and hopefully starts getting involved with sports. I hope he loves sports as much as I do. If he doesn’t, I am still all in. If he decides speed knitting is his thing, well damn it, I will become the biggest speed knitting fan ever.
That being said, I hope his sports of choice are basketball, soccer and swimming.
You might think that is random considering I played baseball throughout my life. Well, I completely fell in love with basketball very early in college. It literally took up a minimum of 4 hours of my days. Ball was life dude.
I want to share that same passion and love with Finn for the sport. Now being short, slow and white, I will have to teach him the art of the floater and corner 3. Stay in your lane kid.
Soccer is just fun as hell. I am not sure why I quit when I was younger, but it is a sport I wish I would have stuck with. I was a decent mid fielder and exceptional goalie.
As for swimming, just a great way to stay in shape and low impact on joints.
Of course I want him to be great at any sport he chooses, but at the end of the day, I just want him to know that if he tries his absolute best and has fun doing it, that is all I want for him. Effort and enjoyment are the keys. I don’t ever want him to feel like he has to score 30 goals, make every shot he takes or win every race.
Of course, I hope he can look at his shortcomings and understand what he can do better next time. I want him to be able to hold himself accountable. I like to think sports helped and continue to help me in accountability and self awareness.
One of the things I have learned later in life is that sometimes your best isn’t good enough on that day. Some days in sports and in life, you just take your L. I want him to learn how to cope with that when it happens and be able to take that in stride and figure out the best course of action to turn that L into a positive.
I currently play on a basketball team that is winless halfway through the season. All of us are still in good spirits as there has been improvement every week. Things take time and you just need to be patient. That is another great lesson sports can teach someone.
I want Finn to be able to have that same mindset in sports and in life. In my world and my rules, failure is not only an option, but it is something we will embrace. You can learn much more from losing than you can from winning.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretzky. Michael Scott.’ Michael Hotard” – Michael Hotard
In all seriousness, one of my favorite quotes about winning and losing comes from Coach O’ Ryan in D3: The Mighty Ducks. He asks the Ducks “what is the one thing all great teams have in common?” The quote that follows is something I hold near and dear to my heart and I hope I can instill into my children.
“Confidence. Listen, if you learn nothing else when you’re here, you learn this. All right? Cause it’s not just about hockey. It’s easy to be confident when you have control of the puck. It’s very, very difficult to keep that confidence when you gotta take whatever strange bounces life throws your way. Don’t be careless, but don’t be too careful either. You cannot be afraid to lose. That’s how you gain the confidence to attack the game when the puck isn’t yours. That’s how you attack life even when you think you don’t have any control. And that’s how you play real defense.”
Stay resilient. Stay confident. Know how to handle it when the ball is not in your court. Know how to put your best foot forward.
These are the things so many coaches out there forget to teach. We see the videos. We hear the stories. Youth sports coaches yelling and screaming trying to live through children because they regret their shortcomings. Well, that seems short sighted. Try thinking about your child and the other children before going macho man on them.
That is my biggest worry for Finn once he does break in to the youth sports world.
I went to a youth flag football game for 7-8 year olds a few years back. The head coach of a team was yelling obnoxiously at his son for not being able to snap the ball accurately. He berated him in front of everyone and it just pissed me off. It really set me over the edge when the little dude started crying and his dad called him a little girl in front of everyone.
Not only is this fuckstick a misogynist, he is a bully. You feel like a man bullying your 7 year old? He’s either trying to compensate for a tiny penis or his shortcomings as an athlete. In fact, it is probably both. Either way, I hope that guy gets ebola.
Honestly, let that happen on any one of Finn’s teams growing up. If there is one thing I love to do, it is bully a bully. I am a troll by nature. I just have a way of getting under people’s skin to the point they want to hurt me. It is a gift and curse honestly. I can promise you that I will make any coach miserable who tries to steal the enjoyment of sports away from my son or any other kid on any of his teams. This troll will unlock the cage and throw away the key.
This is their time. You had your time and you obviously squandered it like I did my time. But don’t take that out on your children. It is not fair to them. General rule of thumb, don’t be an asshole. One day you might just run into a bigger one…like me.