October 15, 2016
(Excerpt from Chapter One of My Book)
Allow me to take you inside the current world of youth sports. If you are new to recreational and amateur athletics in America, the picture I am going to paint for you will be unsettling. However, if you have spent much time around the playing fields, pool decks, or gymnasiums that house youth sports nowadays, the hypothetical scenario that I present below will most likely come as no surprise, but may turn your stomach in a way that sparks a desire to seek rectification.
As someone who has been involved in youth and amateur sports for the past three decades, I have witnessed an alarming trend at all levels of athletic involvement over the past few years. What was once a proud domain specializing in the character development of our youth has spiraled into a chaotic mess of unrecognizable madness. As the focal point of my academic research and graduate school studies over the past two years, I have closely tracked the news and media on youth and amateur athletics, and how it relates to character development. Not a single day has gone by where one or more of the involved constituents across our country (i.e. coaches, parents, administrators, or players) failed to find a way to disgrace the sanctity and true intent of athletics at all levels of sports participation.
I want you to imagine that you are the head baseball coach of an 11 and under summer Travel Ball team (11-U). Your team is leading 8-1 on the scoreboard and the game is in the final inning. You have a player named Paul on your team who works extremely hard, but he is just not very good. However, Paul has a passion for pitching and he has been putting in considerable time and effort working to improve. You have been waiting for the ideal situation to present itself, when the game is not on the line, in order to put Paul in to pitch.
With this large lead you decide that it is the time to reward your player for his commitment to improvement and to the team, so you enter him into the game. What seemed like the perfect situation for him to taste a little success on the mound quickly begins to backfire. He walks the leadoff batter of the inning. Then he hits the next batter with a pitch. No big deal, you are still up 8-1. After a barrage of wall-clanking hits, the score is now 8-5 with only one out. All of a sudden, you begin to hear it from your team’s parents in the stands who are becoming restless and extremely nervous. I am not trying to downplay the importance of winning, but keep in mind that this is an 11-U game.
You hear a dad scream, “Get him out of there, Coach, before it is too late.” That comment incites another similar one, and then another that progressively get louder and more disconcerting. Your pitcher hears the peanut gallery in the stands, and now he becomes noticeably rattled by the runners on base and the fact that he could blow the game for his team.
You ask the umpire for timeout, and you jog out to the mound to relieve your deflated young pitcher. As you are making that 100-foot jaunt to the mound, the game starts to speed up on you a bit. You are now a little worried that your coaching decision could cost the team the game but, most importantly, you are concerned with the confidence and psyche of your 10-year-old pitcher, Paul. In a matter of two to three seconds – the time it took you to go from the dugout to the pitching mound – you have come up with a few words of encouragement to assure your pitcher that he will have another chance to get back out on the mound soon, and that you are going to have a teammate come in and relieve him to get the last few outs. As you extend your hand out for the ball from Paul, your star shortstop asserts himself and confidently states, “Leave Paulie in, Coach. We’ve got his back.”
(Read more from my newly-released book on Amazon: Character Loves Company-Defining the “Teachable Moments” in Sports).