Through the years we coached dozens of boys, all the way through middle school. As with many other areas of life, we found that the apples didn’t fall far from the trees. The boys with the bad tempers had parents with bad tempers. The boys who threw their bats in frustration had the dads who cussed out the umpire when there was a bad call. As coaches, we felt we had a responsibility not only to teach our own kids about appropriate behavior on the field, but also to teach those values to other kids who were not learning them at home.
It’s a tricky thing figuring out how far to let kids go in expressing their emotions on the field — their “passion,” as Richard Sherman calls it. We are firmly in the “there’s no crying in baseball” camp and wanted our kids to be tough and resilient. Play hard. Get dirty. If it hurts, rub a little dirt on it. Don’t be the kid running to the dugout for a band-aid or an ice pack twice a game. (I confess that once Ryan played baseball with the stomach flu and actually threw up on second base. Bad parenting moment on my part. But seriously…who throws up ON second base?) Play your heart out and leave it all on the field was our motto.
But at the same time we also demanded that that our kids be respectful to coaches, teammates, officials, and opposing teams. That means you don’t throw things in anger, you don’t complain to the umpire (leave that to the coaches), you don’t trash talk the other team, and you shake hands at the end of the game, whether you feel like it or not. It wasn’t always easy. One son took his games very seriously and struggled to control his emotions. He had to learn to channel that into hitting the ball harder, running faster, or, sometimes, just stewing on the bench for a while. Those were the moments that he learned self-control — where he learned that part of growing up and becoming a man is learning to control your emotions and to use your strength appropriately. Sure, there were plenty of hour-long car rides on the way home from games when we had to listen to him complaining about something that happened on the field, but he knew better than to go off on a coach or an umpire and was able to keep his anger in check on the field. (Fortunately, it only took being grounded from one game to teach this lesson.)
Because we saw the value of teaching self-control, it always frustrated us when a coach left a kid in the game who was having a hissy fit on the field. It doesn’t matter if he’s your best player; if he’s flinging his bat at the fence in anger, there should be a nice spot for him to warm on the bench as he contemplates his bad attitude. It’s part of the responsibility of a coach to teach self-control, character, and good sportsmanship, not to mention explaining the relative insignificance of a youth sporting event in the whole scope of life. The same kid who flings bats in 3rd grade will throw bats in high school if he’s allowed to get away with it. The boy who mouths off to the coach with impunity in middle school will continue to do so unless and until his attitude problem begins to impede his ability to play the game — unless a coach tells him “no” and applies consequences to his behavior.