Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Inhumane Society

It’s embarrassing. Downright maddening. Sad. Pathetic. And, I am sometimes guilty of it myself. Perhaps you are as well.

I coach basketball and, right now, baseball. I love it. It consumes me, but I so enjoy the opportunity to help coach and teach kids that it’s worth the sacrifice.

But, I’ve seen a lot of ugliness on the court and on the field. Humans become monsters. Throwing tantrums. Lacking self-control. Unsportsmanlike behavior. Boos. Stomping feet. Ridicule. Emotions off the charts. And, guess what…it’s usually not the kids. It’s the coaches, parents, and grandparents!

As the head coach of several teams over the years, I have contested many calls that officials and umpires have made. I am pretty critical of them, and will not hesitate to express my bewilderment at a brutal call. I have never used profanity or made a personal comment to anyone. I am normally able to reign it in, but two years ago it got the best of me. The pitch got by the catcher, and I sent the runner from third base to try and score him. The catcher flipped the ball to the catcher in time to make the tag, but the pitcher reached for the runner, and tagged him high on the chest when he slid. He was clearly safe, but the umpire called him out. That run would have tied the game!

Instead of just saying, “Umpires are human, too. We all make mistakes,” I chose to run down the third base line and go all “Earl Weaver” on him. Maybe even a little Billy Martin. I got down on my hands and knees and pointed to the precise spot that the tag was made. I then cleared off the plate with my bare hands to demonstrate where my runner slid to beat the tag. I did everything but pull a Lou Piniella and throw bases across the field. Did it change the call? No. Did I look foolish? Likely.

This was 9 & 10-year old recreational baseball. Last I checked, there are no professional scouts in the stands. No high school or college coaches, either. Even if there were, it wouldn’t excuse that behavior.

There is a difference, however, between the head coach arguing a call, and a parent or spectator in the stands. The officials make it clear that they only want to hear from the head coach if there is a dispute. So, as a head coach, I am defending my players. I am working on their behalf to make sure the umpires do their very best. If there is an issue with another coach or player, it is my responsibility to address it with that coach. No one else should be involved in it.

But, it doesn’t always happen that way. Not in baseball, not in school, not in life. People are often undignified and accusatory. They do not speak in a civil manner to those with whom they disagree. They think the world of themselves, but see the worst in others. Umpires included.

We often utter the over-used, disingenuous phrase, “It’s for the kids.” But, the kids are the last ones we are thinking about when we are berating, insulting, or putting down another human being. In the end, is it worth it?

Recently, an umpire made another terrible call – actually several of them – in a game I was coaching. We had the tying run on third base, and he called a third strike on a ball that was at my batter’s neck when it crossed the plate. That ended the inning, as well as our chances of winning the game. I let him know I didn’t agree with the call, and eventually walked away and let it go.

But, one of our fans wouldn’t let it go. He continued to voice his displeasure. And, after the game, he told the umpire that he was the worst umpire he’d ever seen. I asked him, “What good did that do?” He said, “Well, it made me feel better. I had to get it out of my system.”

As adults, we need to do a better job of being the types of role models kids not only look up to, but emulate. If we do, then when we say, “It’s just a game,” that’s what it’ll be. And, it’ll truly be for the kids, not an opportunity for adults to act like two-year olds.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eye Spy

One of my kids’ favorite pastimes is to play “I Spy.” Not only is it a fun challenge for them, it also keeps them preoccupied when we are out to eat at a restaurant, and it allows the adults at the table to carry on a somewhat uninterrupted conversation. So, it’s encouraged.

It never fails that my kids – now ages 11 and 7 – can spot the most obscure of items, whether they are the “spyer” or the “guesser.” They are perceptive. They are quick. They can go beyond the obvious to discover the minuscule or insignificant if the task requires it.

Which begs this question: If my kids possess mad observation skills when they have to use brain power and patience, what do they see when things are in plain sight? How careful am I when I am around them? What about others, like teachers, friends’ parents, or coaches at the ball field, who have an immeasurable impact on shaping my child’s character? Do they realize – truly realize – that the spotlight is on them in a much more significant manner than a Broadway actor?

Our kids see. They witness our imperfections, our stumbles, our weaknesses, our tirades. They know when someone is being treated unfairly. They are keenly aware of adults who are “trouble.” They can pick up very quickly what is going on, as innocent as most of them are.

I am a dad to two boys, but I am also a coach to another 21 boys on the baseball field. It is a privilege like none other, and I do not take it lightly. I have the ability to shape – even just a tiny bit – who these young boys will grow up to be. The types of attitudes they will have, the type of friends they become, the kind of sports they will be in victory or defeat, and how they will respect and treat others. That is an awesome thing.

I was working with one of the kids on the team the other day. We were in the bullpen, and this young man was telling me about his experience on a team the year before. He suddenly said, “I don’t like Coach (insert coach’s name).” I had heard other parents and kids say the same thing, and all I could think about was how much of a shame it was that kids felt this way about a man who volunteers his time to coach. This was the same coach that I heard brought in a kid in the middle of an inning to pitch in relief. The kid who came in was allowed to throw one pitch – ONE – before the coach yanked him out of the game. Kids know. Kids see. Kids feel.

Eyes are on you whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not. We have the power, as adults, to encourage, love, teach, and invest in children and teenagers. What we say and do around them – especially in our roles as parents – will either do them a world of good, or will send them down a tough road of pain, confusion, foolishness, and discouragement.

Just as kids see the worst in us, they also see the best in us. They know the adults they want to spend time with. They know the coaches they want to play for. They know the police officer who gives them a high five, or the teacher who gives them hugs. And, most of all, they know their moms and dads. And, their eyes are searching – always searching – to find someone they can follow.