Competitive Spirit (A freeform rant)

Competitive Spirit

Sorry, but I must get this off my chest :slight_smile:

Are we failing to instill the competitive fire in kids? Is being competitive even allowed or valued any more? When I played the game as a child, whenever I stepped out on the field, I played with maximum effort. I wanted to be the one who won our team the game by not making the play on the ball hit my way. I hated striking out with runners in scoring position—striking out at all, for that matter. If I couldn’t be the hero, I surely tried my hardest to avoid being the zero. I’d imagine that if a kid were to be jokingly called the zero today, he would probably emotionally fracture and be institutionalized on heavy anti-depressants.

Kids, on average, have no emotion one way or the other about the game today. They just trot back to the bench after a strikeout and don’t have any interest in finding out what the next batter will do. They make a bad decision in the field and are totally oblivious to the fact that what they just did was wrong. I didn’t want to make a throw to the wrong base and potentially allow a runner to grab an extra bag or a run or even the game. I was constantly playing the “what if” game in my head between pitches and begging the batter to hit the ball to me.

I was watching a SS and 3B yesterday, shuffling laterally on a slow roller toward the hole. Both kids were looking to each other while they gave half-hearted efforts to track down the ball. Neither kid charged the ball or took charge of the situation. No desire to make a play. None. Outfielders chase down a single hit directly in front of them and then, with their head on a swivel, wonder where to throw the ball. That should have been the 1st or 2nd scenario they considered between pitches. They are not being taught to use their heads. They just react to the ball and to the movement of everyone else on defense and try to listen to the voices from the field, dugout, and bleachers for direction on what to do. It’s pathetic. Middle infielders line up cuts to second base with a man on first instead of third.

With an eight run lead and a runner at 3rd base, the 3rd baseman is holding the runner on. No one says a thing. No one recognizes that’s a bad decision. Runners on 1st and 2nd; 2B is keeping the runner at 2nd close, but the first baseman is not holding the runner at first. That runner is getting a huge primary and sickening secondary. The players don’t notice the opportunity to pick him off. The 1B is not even drifting in behind him after the pitch for a potential throw from home. A coach then tells 1B to hold him on. Now the opportunity is lost. That type of thing is repeated far too often. Their bodies are on the field, but their brains are somewhere else. The kids don’t recognize the blatantly obvious.

Kids do not specialize enough today. The positions are assigned like some sick game of musical chairs. The kids can’t learn how to play any position effectively when they rotate positions each inning. My son has never played or practiced first base in his life, but that’s where he played an entire game. Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to put him there during a practice and go over all the footwork and responsibilities at least once before putting him there in a game? He made many mistakes in positioning and got very frustrated with not knowing the best way to get from A to B. This happens all the time. Many kids are put in positions they are ill-prepared for and the coaches are oblivious to what that does to their mental attitudes and their self-confidence. “Go play first base…and have fun!” is the approach taken.

I am the first to tell a kid to shake off a mistake or a strike out at the plate, and get’em next time. However, if the kid makes the same mental error 2-3 times in the same game, I’ll sit them down until they tell me they understand the proper way to make that decision. I think learning how to play the game is taking a big back seat to just having fun, and it’s killing the game. I think back to my knowledge of the game and the knowledge of most of my friends when we were 12, 13, and 14 and I contrast it with today. Not one kid on the field knows as much as my least knowledgeable friend did in our day. I fully understand how that can sound to granola, crunchy, sandal-wearing parents of today. They will think that my vision of the past is embellished reality.

Our coaches knew baseball. I’ll admit, looking back, they may not have been up on the latest and greatest drills or the specifics of great pitching mechanics, but situational baseball, they had it down cold. Today, most coaches never played beyond the recreational level. These were not the athletes in school. Coaches are picked because they are “good with kids” or they are simply available. Their knowledge of the game they are supposed to be teaching is not even a minor deciding factor. It’s essentially like the kids are playing a parental-supervised pick-up game with umpires. I hear things like, “They’ll learn it when they are older.” Meanwhile, they are getting older every year and not learning anything.”

Too many coaches are preaching, “It’s just a game.” Has your child’s coach ever said to the kids, “The last thing I’m concerned with is the score.”

Yes, it’s just a game, but I think they miss the point that it’s the BEST game ever created.

At this age level, they need a more strict coaching style. These kids are in for a rude awakening next year when they try out for a high school team. Believe me, that coach does care about the score, mental errors, and, yes, even the physical errors. He will also be a lot more vocal about them than these kids are used to. For kids who have never had a voice raised to them, many will shatter like candy glass in a spaghetti western saloon brawl.

As a coach, the score often dictates how game decisions are made. I saw a coach last night coaching 3rd base. He’s watching the ball while his runners were looking to him for guidance. His arms were crossed and his mouth was closed. Kids were turning around to find the ball and decide whether to score or take 3rd base on their own.
Do we put too much focus on having fun and not enough on playing to win? Do we even remember what playing or coaching to win feels like?

When we go to watch a game, don’t we want the kids to win? Do we care?
I see many parents talking to each other and commiserating about their busy schedules, and not watching their children perform. Is just being in attendance at these events enough? After the game, by default, they just tell the kid, “Good game!” They have no idea if it was good or not. I don’t want my kids to look for me on the bench or in the stands only to see me chatting away and not watching. If the parents don’t seem to care, why should the kids?

What is motivating these kids? The idea of team sports is to contribute to the success of the team–working together toward a common goal. This is a valuable life lesson for group projects in school, for getting into college, landing a job, getting a promotion. It’s mostly a mindset, and these kids are lacking grit, determination, and ‘intestinal fortitude.’ I heard that phrase more often than I can count from my coaches over the years. I have not heard it once come out of any other coach’s mouth. Sports are not simply a venue to get together with your friends and have a few chuckles. There are many other things that would accomplish that simple goal.

The last time I checked, it was a lot more fun winning than losing.
A coach in our league traded away their best pitcher to my team just to get his son’s best friend on the team. It was not what I would consider an even trade, so of course I accepted. That team is now 0-8. I’m sure they are having lots of fun on the bench spending quality time with their friends. When we play that team, I always pitch that kid I acquired in the trade. We’ve beaten them both times…badly. What is that entire roster and coaching staff thinking about when they get beaten by their own drafted pitcher? As a coach you have a responsibility to every kid on your team, not just to your child. Friends have plenty of time to hang out between games. That coach just tossed away his team’s season, so his son could have a chuckle-buddy sitting with him on the bench. Am I the only one who sees a problem with any of this??

No…but baseball is like the canary in a coalmine…just symptomatic of a very un-well society.

Nice rant Coach Paul.

I can relate to most of what you’re saying.

This.

Coming from a prospective of kid playing travel & league I believe coaching is a big part of the problem. Last year was first back in league since 10 yrs old and made me remember why we left. May be different elsewhere but here we are sorely lacking in quality coaches (many are very good people but lack coaching skills/knowledge). Many of the kids in league have a great deal of potential but have either never been properly coached or not consistently properly coached. Each year there is a new draft and totally new teams. No trading after draft so what you get is where you’ll be for the year. Have a coach this year that is a great guy with great intentions. He’s coached for years and always been a “cellar dweller”; he consistently drafts a lot of the same kids year end and year out. Won’t get into a lot of details but will say my son has not had a fielding practice since a week before the season started; as expected our team does not field well. Many of his instructions my son is aware are incorrect; son has offered alternatives but in the end he does what he’s told while he plays on this team. Travel has been a much better alternative for us; he’s been fortunate to find a team with quality coaching and I firmly believe he’s a much better player than if he’d stayed in league the entire time. I am grateful for those who give their time & truly believe many are doing the best they can; we’ve seen some really good coaches in league but they are few & far between. As far as emotion showing on the field; see some kids really showing butts on field & dugout after strikeouts, etc. Doesn’t really show me they care only they know how to show their butts after they screw up. I’d much rather kid keep his cool and dealt with on practice field.

CoachPaul,

Self discipline, personal pride, self starter, self finisher, leader.

You don’t get those kind of traits by being handed everything on a silver platter. What you are describing is the enabling of a generation of under achievers. It is not their fault…it is ours (collectively and individually).

I recognize it. I don’t lament it though. I have three children who understand that because of this it has never been easier for them to succeed in any endeavor.

There just isn’t that much competition. I taught them that nobody gets in their way…nobody. I also taught them that their resources are to be shared. Don’t bother worrying about whether they deserve it or not. Just give.

You have to be driven. Otherwise, you can just sit around and be satisfied with the status quo. And that is getting to be a lower and lower standard. Everything has a ying and yang. You see the losers. But look around and you will see the winners.

Just my take on it. Not necessarily politically correct.

:roll:

Well said Dino

Steven Drew said, last night in a post-game interview that, “We’re having fun right now. Everyone just wants to win and do their part.”

I think you can have fun with a winning attitude. Neither are mutually exclusive. Neither should be minimized. To have fun without the right attitude is a complete waste of time. To have the attitude without having the fun makes for a stressful situation.

Coaches can not be successful preaching only one side of the equation.

Consider Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.
He’s one of the best second basemen in the major leagues. He plays hard, makes all the plays (and makes them look easy), and has the time of his life doing it. It isn’t often that one sees a top infielder—or any other player—with a Cheshire-cat grin on his face that lights up the whole playing field. He’s just having a ball, no pun intended, and he has his infield mates behind him all the way, with similar facial expressions.
And contrast this with the kids who obviously aren’t having such a good time on the field. What does all this tell you? :?:

…The Sandlot doesn’t pay nearly as well MLB? :wink:

""You have to be driven. Otherwise, you can just sit around and be satisfied with the status quo. And that is getting to be a lower and lower standard. Everything has a ying and yang. You see the losers. But look around and you will see the winners.

Just my take on it. Not necessarily politically correct.""

Well said Dino.
PCism, even if it is well intended, ends up snuffing out honesty. Like most young players my son has seen more bad coaching than good. When he started playing for his travel ball team the coach was good and very honest. “Not good enough”, “Need more effort” “Gotta be better”, these were common refrains. When he made his varsity high school team as a 15 year old his travel ball coach said, “Congrats. Enjoy it, but, dont be satisfied. Outwork the older guys, force your way onto the field.” He did.
When he made All-District as a pitcher he said, "Im proud of you…you need to figure out what you need to work on to get to the college level."
Recently, when he made a decision about which college he was to play ball for next year this same coach said "Feel good about it, feel good about where you are, but, again, dont be satisified. Whether you play 2 years or 4 years or maybe more is up to you. Enjoy every day of it, but never stop grinding. Work, work, work. The temporary pain of being disciplined is much less than the pain of regret."
Is it kind of corny advice? Sure. But, it is carries so much more value than the “participation trophy” mentality that seems to be everywhere in our culture now.
I remember having a “your not special” talk with my son when he was about 13 or so. I wasnt being down on the kid at all. Just being honest. He (of course) is very special to me, but, to the world he is just another kid. Like most people he is going to have to work and fight for his space in life. Sports can certainly help prepare young men and women for that experience…or it can give them the illusion that they are special.

Two quick stories about kids on my sons high school team this year:
One is a good player (All-District first team ect.) who I would grade out as an average outfielder and an above average hitter. But, where we live is not a baseball hotbed and most of the competition is average. I like the kid fine but he is arrogant. He has been told since he was 8 that he is the bees-knees when it comes to baseball. This has been validated by making every All-Star team at every level. It does not change the fact that the competition is average. He has illusions about playing at the very top level of college baseball (LSU, AZ St. ect.). The reality is he a solid 5’ 8" high school player with solid speed and a good batting average with not much power. When I told him there are plenty of great smaller D1 programs and D2 programs he deemed me “a hater” and walked away. When it came time for the seniors to get a card signed by their teammates (a team tradition) he refused to sign anyones card.
Kid two is a lefty who tops out at maybe 65 mph. He made the team probably because he is a senior. The kid is from a poor family and he is razor thin…his uniform doesnt even fit properly. When it was discovered he didnt have lunch to eat many days kids on his team started buying him food, bringing him food or having him over at night for dinner. When he takes the mound (rarely happens) you can hear people laugh, parents from the other team, other teams coaches and players. But, he just does his thing. I pointed out to my son that this kid is the toughest kid on his team. At any moment, being hungry, being tired, being smaller and weaker than all of the other guys, not having great talent and trying out 4 years before he made the team…hearing other parents, players and coaches mock him…at anytime he could have quit. But he never did. He was there for himself and his teammates.
Both of these guys have learned very different lessons from their youth/high school sports experience. One has learned to be tough and have resolve one is in for a rude awakening.

I have a kid like that whom I have picked every year. “Coach, I’m on your team again.” I respond, “Yeah, funny how that keeps happening.” He has very little talent for the game, but has turned into an average outfielder after tons of work on his part. He always hustles on and off the field. He always cheers on everyone at the plate. I can always hear his chatter from left field supporting our pitcher or other defenders.This might seem basic, but it’s harder to get kids to stay focused on the game. Every year he asks me if he can pitch. I use him in practice when I can, but many years it’s too tough to watch. This year he did well enough to use him for one inning of a scrimmage against another team in town. He has only what he calls his fastball and something else that is slower than the fastball. The defense was shocked that I put him in, but he had worked hard and deserved a shot, even if it turned out to be an epic fail. He gave up two walks, followed by an infield pop-up, and two ground outs. After the inning, I think his feet touched the ground only once getting to the sideline and the entire defense swarmed him as they came off the field. It was the 3rd inning. An observer would think we had just won game 7 of the World Series.

He lifted the whole team and we went on to crush the opposition. It’s moments like those that make all the time coaching worth it.

This same kid had not gotten an RBI in four years. Last night, he hit a single down the 3rd base line scoring a runner from 2nd. He was on cloud nine.

My nine hiiting, left fielder with 1IP, 1 RBI, and the heart of a champion would be my choice for team captain if the position existed. I’ll pick him every year until I’m out of coaching.

CoachPaul:

Good work with that young man. A lot of coaches dont see the value of that kid as a player, a team guy. More importantly as a person he will carry those experiences with him forever. The lessons he has learned by turning himself into an average outfield “after tons of work on his part” is really the best lesson sports can teach a kid. I think sports hold more for kids like this than it does the kids with talent or blessed with good coordination who roll out of bed and make the all-star team…usually complaining all the way.
Keep up the good work.