Dear Athletic Support: I recently overheard my son’s travel-league baseball coach giving the team a pre-game pep talk. This speech started off fine, but then ventured into the “success-at-all-costs” sort of rhetoric that you see in sports movies. I was flabbergasted. Here was a full-grown man, shouting and slobbering to a bunch of 9-year-old boys about winning this upcoming Little League game as if their lives depended on it (he might’ve said that exact line!) This really turned me off. This sort of mentality should not be employed in youth sports. Period. We went on to play the game, and we ended up winning (thank goodness), but I’m starting to wonder if this is the right team/coach for my son.
— Take A Chill Pill
Dear Chill Pill: This sort of pep talk seems extreme, especially when directed at 9-year-old boys. Mastering the pre-game speech, however, isn’t quite as easy as it may seem.
I threw a chair once.
This happened before my second game as a head coach. I got so fired up, so excited, that I actually threw a chair in the locker room. I didn’t throw it at anyone. I just threw it up against the wall, trying to drive home whatever point it was I was trying to make. Probably something along the lines of what this coach was telling your son and his teammates:
We have to win!
But here’s the problem. All the energy a coach can dredge up in his players’ hearts before the game is gone the moment the game actually begins. By the first hit, everything evens back out, and the players forget whatever the coach said (or screamed) in the locker room.
Another thing to remember is that coaches are passionate. They’re invested in the team in a way that parents are not.
At the youth level, most of the coaches are also parents. This means that this coach is doing all the things you’re doing — hauling his kid to the tournaments, paying for travel expenses, etc. — but he’s also doing all the organizing and prep work for the team.
Generally speaking, travel-league baseball is much more serious than, say, a city league. Travel ball is a huge investment of time and energy. So if that energy burns a little too bright for your liking before the games, then maybe try to remember how much effort he’s put in just to get to that point.
More than likely, that coach was just nervous. I know I was nervous when I threw that chair. It was a silly thing to do. And looking back on it now, I wish I hadn’t done it.
Maybe your son’s coach feels the same way about his exuberant speech. Maybe he’ll change his motivation tactics for the next tournament.
If not, then maybe it’s time for you and your son to consider joining a new team.
Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to firstname.lastname@example.org