Players have many options when it comes to playing baseball.  There are town teams, travel teams, and “elite” showcase teams from which to choose.  As coaches it is important to understand that kids are curious and parents, who are trying to find the best for their child, are apt to make a switch from a seemingly good program and playing situation to a totally new experience for many reasons but mostly for the allure of “something more” for their child.  This is not unusual nor necessarily a negative.

We learn from the many coaches and instructors we have.  Some bits of information are more helpful than others and the exercise of figuring what works best for an individual is part of the development process.  Coaches, keep coaching those who are in front of you and do not concern yourselves with those who are not with your team.  You may possess key advice that is the most important thing one of your players is going to learn that season… Stay on your “A” game and coach the kids.

It is a good time to take a refresher peek at what motivates young players to play sports:

Ages 2-12 – FUN  

Young kids are motivated by fun and less by records, statistics, and accolades.  Have you ever gone to a youth game and witnessed how quickly kids go from losing a game, crying, to asking for hot dog money? It may take five to ten minutes for children to move on to the next new experience.  Parents?  That may be material for another blog post.  For kids, the game is still fun and another lesson of  “there are winners and losers” has worked just fine.

Notice that this age range did not stop at age 8, 10, or 12.  It is important to find the enjoyment of sport through early high school. The middle school aged athletes are especially filled with energy -some may say they are hard to teach – and I can tell you from my own experiences that they are the most able to take in multiple bits of information even when they are fooling around!  I have had college players come back to me to remind me of a tip or comment I told them at age 13 of which I, of course, have no recollection – amazing to see.  

Lessons of discipline, accountability, and teamwork are critical during these fun years.  Fun does not mean the players do what they want.  Maybe they need to clean the dugout after each game, chase foul balls during the game, or simply have their eyes on the coach when they are spoken to.  The game itself will be challenging enough for them.  Failure on the field is going to be the time when fun is going to have to come to the forefront.  Let them know that they put a good swing on the pitch even if they miss or pop out with bases loaded.  If they do nothing else but hustle in and out of the dugout that is a fun thing to recognize in front of the team.  Baseball is a game of possibilities, the sooner a young player can understand and appreciate that there is always another chance waiting, the more he or she will enjoy the game for life.

I came across an article in one of the first papers I wrote toward my Master’s degree.  It came from the Michigan State University Sports Psychology department.  It was a research paper simply entitled, “Background Anger”.  Background Anger is the negative noise one may here at a sporting event, such as a Little League, travel team, or high school game.  Noise such as the parents yelling at officials, players, coaches, and even other parents.  There are also the scenarios coaches yelling at players, officials, and yes, even parents – a typical game for some of us, right?  Fans stick up for their team, parents support their own kids, right?  Michigan State researchers showed that this negative noise has adverse effects on children who are in attendance  – not just the players to whom comments may be directed but to anyone who is within earshot of the harsh comments!  They have shown that it effects children as young as 12 months old!  That baby with her mom sitting in the bleachers can hear you…

Interviews show that hearing such conversation has caused some players to quit playing and others to not push themselves to get to the next level (i.e. college or professional).  

The motivation changes when a player reaches his junior year or thereabouts.  The motivation becomes a little more self centered.  Now the question is whether or not I want to play at a higher level or am I content on enjoying the sport the way I grew up.  Both are good reasons to continue to play the sport.  The important point is that if we parents have done a good job this choice is going to fall upon our child and he or she will be well equipped and properly taught so as to make a proper decision.

Now we have the joy of watching our children compete – sometimes succeeding and other times heading back to work on it some more – while avoiding the background anger whenever possible.

 

I go back to the Mystic Schooners, my summer collegiate baseball team where I have been for seven years.  We have had some success over the years, most notably over almost anything is our ability to retain our players for the summer.  Summer baseball is notoriously known for players heading home will before the season ends – the excuses range from injury, to death in the family, family vacations, to a need to take a summer class before fall semester.  Whatever the reason the bottom line is that players are usually quick to leave when they have the opening.

 

But not so much in Mystic.

I was recently asked how Phil Orbe, my friend and our manager, and I (along with a list of other assistants) are able to keep most of the guys all summer.  I frankly was at a loss to explain why but all I could come up with was, “We just coach them every day.”  

If you look at the motivation process, the game is now a challenge.  Some seek a pro career others seek to prove they can play with the “major university” players if they are a small Division 3 school for example. For these guys the game is a “labor of love”.  The fun that our parents passed along to us has transitioned to an inner drive to continue improving.

I tell our college guys, “It’s ok to be selfish now.  You earned the right to go for it and if we get a team of guys trying to make themselves better while respecting each others right to be selfish we will have a great baseball team.”

And we have.

There is an old phrase, “life is too short”.  Some will say this and push harder to speed up the development process in pursuit of instant gratification.  It is  understandable, the allure of notoriety and early success is hard to ignore.  In some cases we witness young prodigies who go at it hard at a young age.  They are out there – there are not many, but they are out there.

Make sure they still like to play.