Little League season is upon us with opening days scheduled throughout the area on Saturday.
Having experienced the joy of Little League some 20 years ago and covering youth (and other) sports around here since the mid-’70s, I consider myself somewhat of an authority.
So, with that said, I offer up some advice not for the little boys and girls who are playing the sport, but for the mothers and fathers who are watching. Especially for the novice parents who are entering this brave new world.
I’ve witnessed overbearing Little League parents and coaches, and trust me, it’s not pretty. Little Johnny and Jill deserve better from Mom and Dad. Don’t let their memories be ones of embarrassment years from now.
I offer this bit of advice up front: Get involved. Little Leagues run on a volunteer basis. If you’re not willing to be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem. There are a lot of ways to help, from coaching, to scorekeeping, to groundskeeping, to concessions and even to umpiring.
You may think you’re not qualified to do any of that, but I guarantee there’s a job for you. Just ask.
What I’ve found was my involvement showed my son this was an important venture for him. I wanted it to be a great experience for him and his friends. We wanted to win because, after all, winning is more fun than losing. But Little League is there to teach about winning and losing. Life isn’t always fair. We don’t always win.
If you don’t have time to volunteer — and with the pressures of today’s work world that’s understandable — make time to work individually with your son or daughter. My fondest memories of those days are the sometimes hours of catch in the back yard. They’ve written books and made movies about the simple act of playing a game of catch. Not a word needs to be said between participants, but the experience is one you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
What we wouldn’t do for another game of catch with our fathers. Make sure you start making those memories now.
There’s a difference in working with your child and expecting him to be the next Brandon Webb. Lower the expectations. Give it time to develop and see what happens. The more time you put into your son or daughter, the better the skills will become and the more fun Little League will be for him or her.
Respect the coaches. You may not like it sometimes, but the coach’s word is the final word. He signed up for the job and you didn’t. If you have a problem with playing time or treatment, choose a time to speak with the coach away from your son or daughter. Talk to a trusted friend before you set up that meeting. Be calm.
Different coaches have different philosophies. You may understand his philosophy better in a private setting than yelling at him in front of other players, including your son or daughter. These young players are just now learning to respect authority figures and a coach is just that. You should respect him, too.
Be there for your child both at games and practices. Too many times I’ve seen parents drop off their children and leave. They need your encouragement during good times and bad. Watching practices will also help you understand the philosophy of the coach. You’ll be less likely to criticize.
Would you not show up for work and then tell the boss what’s wrong with the company? Of course you wouldn’t. Don’t do that to your child’s Little League coach, either.
Baseball is a game where you fail more than you succeed. It’s a mental game and the best players are the ones whose parents aren’t constantly berating them for striking out or missing a fly ball. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s a game. They’ll forget about it five minutes after it’s over — unless you won’t let it go. I’ve seen players whose confidence is gone because parents constantly harp on the negative. Don’t be like that.
If you have to talk about the game on the ride home, make it about the positives. Don’t talk about the coach or other players in a negative way, either. You are teaching your child life lessons whether you know it or not.
Meet the other parents and don’t create rivalry situations. This is your family for the next two months. Get to know them and their problems and offer an ear or support if they need it. Sometimes people just need someone who will listen. Be that person. You may just find yourself a lifelong friend.
Most of all, enjoy it because the time passes far too quickly. My experience with Little League was a fantastic one, from fun-filled practices to Watermelon Day at the park when we supplied both dugouts with freshly cut watermelon slices. We didn’t win the league every year, but we had fun.
My wish is it will be the same for you.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.