Your faces aren't visible in this photo, intentionally, because although I am tempted to shame you for your behavior last night, I refuse to meet shame with shame.
First, let me say thank you for your willingness to volunteer for what can sometimes feel like a thankless job. You hustle home from wherever you've been all day, grab your gear, and head to the park/field/gym/court to coach my kid or a kid just like him. I know you are enthusiastic and you want the best for each player on your team. I really do know you are trying your very best.
This morning, my friend Anne's son Sam is on the front page of the Sports page of The Oregonian. I don't know him, other than knowing his big smile and his endless patience with my son's starry-eyed fan antics, but I know pieces of his story from his mom's perspective.
Playing baseball at the collegiate level is Sam's childhood dream come true. His coaches recognized a difference in the way he approached the game and worked with him to allow him to grow toward his dream. I am willing to bet the coaches he remembers with the most fondness are those who held high expectations, because they knew he was capable, but also cared enough to not use public shaming in an attempt to make him work harder. His streak continues today and the coaching staff at his school is making space and the right conditions for him to bloom.
It was my honor to attend his signing ceremony last spring and watch his big, village beam with pride. They all had a part in his success but at the end of the day, Sam is the one who made it happen. He did the hard work and remained focused on his dream during years and years of ups and downs.
Sam made it. He pitched six scoreless innings for the Oregon State Beavers last night.
Back to you, enthusiastic youth sports coaches everywhere, and in particular the four responsible for the players on the team my boy's team played last night, take a deep breath. If you have the next Sam Tweedt on your roster, he has to make the decision to improve. He has to put in the extra work and absorb all of the wisdom available from all of the interested adults around him and he has to choose. No matter how often you yell at him, no matter how many times you verbally kick dirt onto the umpire's shoes in disgust, your actions are not what will make a kid pull ahead of the pack.
What your actions will do is crush a player's soul.
When a kid makes a mistake, they are really tough on themselves. Your job isn't to affirm the negative thoughts they have about their abilities, your job is to make sure they don't believe the thoughts in their minds. That player who fumbled what should have been a routine grounder has a narrator in his head saying something like, "come on! you have to catch that! get your glove on the ground! how could you make such a stupid mistake?"
Rehashing the error while loudly narrating your pantomime serves no purpose other than to shame your target. Even if your words are theoretically positive, when accompanied by veins in your neck bulging as you yell while towering over the player, they do not feel positive. They reinforce all of the worst thoughts young players have about themselves.
And, when a player comes off the field crying because of your "positive coaching" and you push them into the dugout while saying with derision something like "toughen up" well, let's just say you're lucky my kid isn't on your team. And, if that shove gets any harder while I'm watching, I don't care that I don't know you. I will march my high heels into your dugout and make sure you know someone is always watching.
I'm not saying you can't help them improve. As a coach, I know the feeling of frustration when my players don't display the skills and talents I know they possess. Games can be heart-pounding disasters. And when that happens I plan drills to address the challenges I saw for the next practice. Games are not the time to teach. Games are the time when our players, our kids, walk out to compete with dozens of pairs of adult eyes focused on their small backs. They put their hearts and souls into each move they make. We have the responsibility, and the honor, of doing everything in our power to protect both.