I played the game of baseball for 14 years. I coached it for another 15 years. And, if 29 years of being on the field wasn’t enough, I’ve now been umpiring for three years. I’ve now seen the game from four different perspectives: as a player, a parent, a coach, and an official. And, each has offered its own unique vantagepoint of the game.
I shared with someone recently that if I could do it all over again, I would umpire before I coached the game. Coaching the game certainly helped me in my knowledge of the game when it came time to umpire. However, when your primary motivation is truly to do your job to the best of your ability and positively influence kids, coaches, and parents – without any pressure to win – you’re eyes and ears work differently!
I am constantly surprised by what I witness on the field. Coaches dogging kids. Coaches dogging umpires. Coaches dogging other coaches. Parents dogging other parents. Parents dogging their own kids. Parents dogging the other teams’ kids. Sometimes I am able to just shake my head and move on, but other times I have a responsibility to speak up and try to keep coaches, players, and parents in line.
Here’s a small sampling:
- A player attempts to steal third base and collides with the third baseman as he slides. He is initially “safe” but he begins writhing in pain on the ground, and his foot comes off the bag. The third baseman applies the tag, and now the runner is out. The coach helps the player to his feet, then says, “Next time keep your foot on the bag.”
- A 10-year old player strikes out. A woman (parent) in the stands for the other team yells, “Yeah! Sit down!” If that wasn’t bad enough, when the mom of the player who struck out expresses her displeasure at how the woman is acting, the other woman comes around an begins to hurl obscenities and makes crude hand gestures. (I had to call both head coached to the plate after this)
- A 10-year old player – the best player on his team – reaches base on an infield single, but fails to score a run. After the third out is recorded, his coach jogs over to him and exclaims, “Next time hit it to the fence!”
- A 13-year old pitcher is shutting out the other team. His team is up 9-0 in the 4th On a 3-2 count, his pitch falls inside, and the batter walks. The pitcher walks toward home plate, signaling with his hand that he didn’t agree with the call. He then says, “Blue (umpire), that pitch was on the inside corner.” His time on the mound – and in the game – came to an abrupt halt.
I can tell you in all honesty that the area I struggled most as a coach was being positive and encouraging to the kids I coached. I coached them well, and I gave them my all, but I was a perfectionist and likely dropped the ball in the helping them feel good about themselves. I have come home from umpiring baseball games, and walked directly into my son’s room and said, “If you ever felt like you didn’t measure up, I apologize.” I’ve said, “I am sorry for all the times I yelled at you during a game when you made a mistake.” I truly am sorry.
When you have the ability to step out of the emotion of the moment (the game, the performance, the competition) and see the opportunities you have to positively influence someone, it’s a game-changer. I am still a work in progress when it comes to being a positive force in the lives of those I care about the most. But, I recognize the importance of expressing words of affirmation.
Kids are dealing with more anxiety than ever before! And, so are parents, coaches – and umpires! If I can help pour water on the fire rather than gasoline, that’s a win!
If you struggle with putting pressure on your kids (or players you coach), I’d challenge you to find a way to remove yourself emotionally from the situation and get a different perspective.
Kids may not remember everything you taught them, but they’ll certainly remember the way you made them feel.