Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hey, you in the bleachers...

How not to be an obnoxious youth sports fanBefore I altered this photo, you could see the most annoying fan ever encountered at a U9 recreational playoff game. She's between my son (catching) and the batter (white arrows point to her). She sat reclined in her chaise yelling – no, bellowing – no, heckling, even – for the entire game (except when she got up to use the porta potty).

When they were handing out trophies at the end of the game, I wished there was a "Most Obnoxious" award for her.

One thing I can thank her for is that she is the one who inspired this story: she was the tipping point, so to speak, after my 10+ years of experience with youth sports. (I kinda wished she'd have tipped over in that chair while she was knocking back the cocktails.)

Hey, you in the bleachers...

Too bad you think practice or game times are inconvenient, but the coaches are volunteers who most likely have other paying jobs. Can you imagine that your kid’s coach might have left work early and ducked out of a meeting so he can coach your kid and 10 or so other kids besides his own?

Who do you think preps the field before the game? If it’s your kid’s coach, perhaps you should get to the field 30 minutes before the game (when the players are supposed to arrive) and ask him if he needs any help.

Hey, you in the bleachers...

Umpires are human and at the U9 level – unless it’s a playoff game – they’re kids. This means you should do a better job of concealing your “expert” judgment of their calls. Chances are, they’ve taken umpire training and they actually play baseball, whereas you most likely have not and do not (and if you did, you'd certainly be more respectful).

Some 14-year-old umpires have been calling games for three seasons now, which is likely a lot more experienced than most of the fans in the bleachers (or even some of the coaches at the U9 level). You need to set the example for your kids to respect the umpire, which includes shaking his hand after the game in addition to the kids’ on the opposing team. Even if you don’t respect him, pretend you do. And if you can’t do that convincingly in front of your kids, make the point that while you don’t agree, you are still going to abide by the umpire’s decision, because that is how it works in baseball. The umpire is always right, even when he’s wrong.

Hey, you in the bleachers...

This is a local recreational baseball game, it isn’t the World Series. It isn’t even tournament baseball (though I have heard of one local team that stacks their team that way). It also isn’t your game, it’s your kid’s.

You are not standing in the batter’s box and you are not pitching. You are not deciding whether or not you can steal second and you are not the one in the outfield trying to figure out if you should go for a diving catch, let the ball hop once, or if it’s really the short stop’s play.

You do not need to pace up and down the first base line and coach your kid from the sidelines. He has a coach, and it’s not you. If you were the coach, you would not be sitting in your spectator chair, and swilling your morning cocktail, which I am sure you were doing given the way you were pounding it and how you became louder and louder as you tipped your travel cup at an ever-increasing angle.

Hey, you in the bleachers...

These players are just kids who are learning to play the game – and hopefully enjoy it. Help them love the game, not just love winning. Nothing will ruin a kid’s enjoyment of a sport more than a parent who is overly invested in the outcome or one who chastises him or offers unsolicited advice the whole way home from the field – or who leaves the game if his team is losing.

Some of the best things I have heard coaches tell their players – that are the right things for you in the bleachers to say, too – include, “good play,“ or “nice try.” Stick around after the game to let your kids share the victory or shake off the loss with their teammates. An impromptu home run derby or game of pickle is an excellent way for kids to ease into the next thing (with no worries about the car ride home).

Plus, you’ll have time to help the coach rebuild the pitcher’s mound and rake the batter’s box. 


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Personal victories

“Who wants to help me write my talk?” I asked the boys. We were sitting at Red Robin after the u9 Championship baseball game (with a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods squeezed in) talking about the rest of our weekend. There would be another baseball game the next day after church: it would be the beginning of the summer season for one of our teams.

“I will,” my youngest said.

He had just picked put his own catcher’s gear for his birthday. His summer team started practice the following Tuesday.

What should we talk about?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about personal victories?”

He looked at me and smiled a little. “Oh yeah.”

We had talked a lot about winning and losing and personal victories during the spring baseball season.
We talked about why it’s not a good idea to say things like, “I stink,” “our team stinks,” and “we’re gonna lose.” One or more errors does not mean you or your team stinks. It means you made one or more errors. You can make the play the next time, or the next game.

We’re gonna lose,” is a negative statement that might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why bother playing at all with that attitude?
Though we do know some people who think the only point of playing is to win – including the entire opposing side of the championship match up judging by their very serious coaches holding team meetings on the mound and very vocal fans coaching from the sidelines – we have talked a lot about the fact that games are supposed to be fun.

But what if you are midway through a game with more than one mercy inning and you haven’t scored yet? Well, it might not feel that fun and maybe you will lose. But at that point, you’ve got to start focusing on the personal victories that we had talked about.

For the catcher, it could mean no passed balls this inning. For the batter in a hitting slump, it could mean standing in that batter’s box with two outs and two strikes and continuing to hit foul balls until the pitcher is rattled, whether or not you get on base. Not letting the pitcher see you are nervous is a personal victory.

Personal victories can make things fun.

“So?” I asked my son.

“Well, we could talk about one of my personal victories today – it was about how I scored a run and ruined the other team’s shut out.”

“Okay, good, what about somebody else?”

“Well, J got that double play…”

“Yeah, that was awesome! And?”

“Oh, yeah, H was the one that knocked me and N in – twice.”

Enough personal victories coupled with rally caps can earn a win, but only if there are enough innings left. That happened once this past season, when the kids earned an exciting come-from-behind win to defend their at-the-time perfect record. But there weren’t enough innings in the championship game. Even though our team didn’t win, no one walked off the field heads down, either.

We spent the next few minutes reliving parts of that days’ game.

When the food came, we all held hands and my youngest volunteered to say the blessing.

“Heavenly Father, thank you for this day, thank you for this food, and thank you that we made it to the championship game…”

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...