I try not to rant much — in life or when I blog. I feel plenty of people are already ranting, but occasionally when I come across someone saying what I believe — I push it out for everyone to digest.
But, first let me set the record straight. I love baseball. Always have. I spent a considerable part of my youth playing catch, learning to field, hit and score. I followed the Big Red Machine religiously and relished in both of their World Series wins. I still think they are one of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled.
But something happened along the way between childhood and parenthood changing my view of youth sports.
I’ve attended youth sporting events in the past decade where I felt as if I had been transported to a Will Ferrell movie set. This is because some of the comments I’ve heard parents yell — sounded like Ferrell (think Stepbrothers).
I had even come to the conclusion that maybe it was me. Maybe I was old, cranky, tired and irritated. Maybe my inability to enjoy the incessant, juvenile heckling of the coaches and referees proved I was out of touch with how sports should be handled.
But I was wrong — it’s not me, it’s them.
In Sunday’s Parade magazine, St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny, an Ohio native, is interviewed for his recent book, The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life where he expands on the idea of making youth sports all about the kids.
You say, “the biggest problem in youth sports is the parents.” “Yes. When you ask kids who play sports at different levels, ‘What do you want your parents to do?’ The overwhelming majority say, ‘Nothing.’ Parents need to be a silent source of encouragement.”
Silent source of encouragement?
His quote reminds me of another book every parent and coach should read — Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids by Mark Hyman. Hyman, a sports reporter, gives an inside look at the amount of money spent — and the volume of injuries — caused by the overly ambitious drive of parents who are banking on their child’s professional athletic future.
Hyman, though, does not just spout off numbers and stats, instead he takes you along for a more personal ride. The ride of his teenage son who has aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player — a son, who at the age of 18, has Tommy John surgery in the hopes of extending the life of his overused pitching arm.
Hyman, who had reported on the epidemic of Tommy John surgery at the high school level, writes,
..with my son in the doctor’s waiting room, I had become the overzealous parent and the accuser had become the accused.
A few pages later, Hyman further explains,
The bigger is better model of youth sports delights adults. We see our kids improve their skills and join highly competitive travel teams, a feat that impresses friends in the neighborhood and validates our superior parenting. The thousands of adults whose living depends on the billion dollar youth sports economy — selling gear, services, hotel rooms and such–are also happy…Only kids are losers here. Their voices are rarely heard…
Matheny, a Golden Glove winner who has led the Cardinals to the postseason each year since taking over as manager in 2012, was coaching Little League when the Cardinals approach him with a job offer.
In his book, Matheny dives into that youth coaching experience and argues that youth sports are about building character and concentrating on the 99 percent who will never make it to the next level of competition.
I couldn’t agree more.
I followed Tommy John’s pitching stats in my youth because he –and the Dodgers — were always standing in the way and trying to prevent the Reds from advancing to the postseason. He had the surgery named after him in September, 1974 and did not play in 1975. However, he was back in 1976 and was named the Comeback Player of the Year. He had three seasons with 20 wins or more after his surgery.
Long since retired from MLB, John operates a sports business designed to take aspiring young pitchers to the next level so they can make it in the big leagues. In Hyman’s book, John has this to say about parents.
What they don’t understand, and will never understand, unfortunately, is it makes no difference whether you start pitching at eight or eighteen. I can take a kid who has never pitched in his life until he’s seventeen. By the time he’s nineteen he’ll throw as well or better than the kid who’s been pitching since he was eight — and have less wear and tear on his arm.
John retired from MLB in 1989 after Mark McGuire got two hits off of him in a game. McGuire’s father was John’s dentist and the ole left-handed pitcher quipped,
When your dentist’s kid starts hitting you, it’s time to retire!