Parental Guidance Suggested

The summer after eighth grade I coached a younger girls’ softball team. Technically I suppose I wasn’t the head coach because a parent volunteer had to be, but I was the one who ran all the drills, made the line-ups, and well, did the coaching. At the end of the season the team won first place in the league tournament. The girls really improved a lot that year and that last game was an exciting one.

We were presented with a team trophy, which the girls all wanted to give to me. I was really honored and felt good about what we’d accomplished as a team. And then the mom “coach” whose main role was basically to haul the equipment around because I was 14 and had no car, took the trophy from me and kept it herself. Her stated reason was that she should have it since my family was moving at the end of the summer.

Wonder where that trophy is now and if it ever really meant anything to her? To a 14-year-old kid that trophy would have been a special reminder of the last summer she ever spent in the town where she was born and raised, where all of her memories of being a kid were sown throughout the years. To that shy 14-year-old girl, who had never been a leader of anything, it was a big deal.

As my kids progress through their sports careers I’m finding that nothing can suck the life and enthusiasm out of kids quicker than an adult with a misplaced set of principles. Whether it be the guy who is trying to live vicariously through his kid, or the obnoxious blowhard who hassles the umpire every game, or the mean girl who turned into a mean mother, it’s the adults who can’t act like mature adults who ruin it for everyone.

Fortunately individuals like that have been the exception and not the norm, but when you do run across them it’s difficult to find the right answers. Difficult to know how to react and how to help your kids work through it. I suppose in a way it’s a good exercise for kids to know what type of behavior not to model, and because they’ll be subjected to idiots, windbags and bitches for the rest of their lives, so they may as well learn coping strategies at a young age. But wow, how I wish people could grow the fuck up.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2012



Would You Rather?

We spent a full weekend at the baseball diamonds. I do love baseball, but had a sour taste in my mouth by the time we finished. David and Cameron both play on traveling tournament teams. I won’t say who plays for which one, but here’s a quick rundown of what went on during each tournament.

One tournament team had great success, earning a berth in the state tournament later this summer. That team’s coaches, in a deviation from the way most teams in the age division are managed, decided to play the same players in the same positions every game, while rotating the same four players (who typically only saw two innings of play during a six inning game) in and out of right and left field for five straight games. The coaches’ kids were part of the infield crew who never spent any time on the bench. Not even when the team was ahead by nine runs. Even pitchers weren’t sat down for an inning after they were taken out, even though they had a five game weekend, playing in intense sun. Naturally by the time they played the championship game, the infield was spent, making errors all over the place. Still there were no substitutions.

My son was one of the four benched players. After yesterday’s two games when we finally got home, he was in tears. In his regular league he is treated as a valued player, and although there is a greater emphasis on winning on a tournament team, one would think that if you are good enough to try out and be selected to play, that you’d have an opportunity to…well, play. So the second place finish was bittersweet in that it’s difficult to feel like you are part of the team when you barely have the chance to contribute.

The other tournament team started out well, but fizzled out their last three games, ending up with a fourth place finish. The coaches for this team move kids around in different positions, typically each player has maybe three areas where they typically play. No one is left out, everyone takes their turn on the bench, everyone is involved, win or lose, good and bad. On this team my kid is probably one of the stronger players, but the team as a whole doesn’t seem to always gel. The ball gets thrown around a lot, they looked a little sluggish today. Yet they are all supportive of each other on the field. My son is upset, though, that they haven’t qualified for a state tournament yet, and doesn’t think they will. He just wants to be a part of a winning team.

So each kid essentially has what the other wants. Personally, I think that at their ages, getting time in the game is what is important, and is why they’re out there to begin with. So if given the opportunity to choose, I’d say screw the team who wants to win at all costs while alienating kids, and put me on the team where we actually play as a team, where everyone has a chance to either shine or take some lumps, even if that means not always finishing on top.

I’m curious what others think. I venture to say most people feel like I do, and it’s a handful of parent coaches like the ones on the first team I described who basically ruin it for everyone else. Vote in my quick little anonymous and unscientific poll so I can see if I’m right. Feel free to comment too, I’d especially like to hear from anyone who has coached youth sports.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2012

Instant Karma

Once again I’m making a liar out of myself. I wrote a few weeks ago in Breathe In, Breathe Out that I’m not one of those parents, who bores all of her friends with tales of all her kid’s sporting events in an excruciating play-by-play recap that takes a half hour to finish. But today I feel the need to get it out.

David’s team is playing in a state baseball tournament this weekend. They lost their first game this morning, then had another game this afternoon, against a team that had beaten them badly earlier in the season.

The opposing team was hitting very well the first and second inning. They were up several runs with two outs when a kid hit a grounder to the shortstop. Our shortstop reached out and tagged the runner who was going from second to third. It was a clear tag, easily seen from the position where I and some other parents were sitting on the third base line. Dust from the shortstop’s glove even flew off the kid’s arm. But the umpire’s call wasn’t immediate, and our shortstop overthrew to first for whatever reason, not knowing the out count, not seeing the call right away, and trying to get the batter, I guess.

Given there was only one umpire, and he was at home plate, the tag play would have been very difficult to see from his angle. In fact, there really is no way he could have definitively made the call. But there was someone who had a bird’s-eye view. The opposing team’s third base coach. I saw him watch the entire play. He clearly saw the tag. But when our shortstop protested that he tagged the runner, the umpire said that because he continued on with the play, he assumed he hadn’t made the tag. He looked at the third base coach for help, and the third base coach stood there with a dumbass grin on his face and said nothing.

So he sat and watched while his team scored a couple more times before we managed to get the fourth out. Completely bush league, in my opinion. Demoralized, our kids couldn’t seem to get their bats going once they got out of the inning and were down 0-7. It’s this kind of action that gives youth sports a bad name. A win at all costs attitude does nothing but hurt their team and ours. Our side held back admirably. One dad suggested to the coach that it was his job to help the ump out on that play. Someone (I’m not sure who, because I was saying something at the time…ahem.) said, “You saw that, coach.” But other than that, we behaved.

I’m pleased to say that the story does have a happy ending. It’s not often that karma works so quickly, but for the team’s sake, I’m glad it did today. We came back on them, chipping away at their lead, and ended up winning 14-13. And we did it honestly. I hope our kids learned something from it, and that the other team did too.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011