Open Letter To Youth Coaches
“I think there might be some great talent being
missed due to those pressures
and those players not having the
help they so desperately need. “
I'm 30 years old and I played baseball for 22 years of my life. I played little league, travel ball, school ball, Division 1 college, and professionally. Over those 22 years I had tons of different coaches. Some yelled, some didn’t. Some demanded, some were patient. Some encouraged, some discouraged.
I wasn’t the type of player who did well with screaming demands, yelling, or discouraging language. I was hard enough on myself. I constantly beat myself up internally. So when a coach began to verbally beat me up I resisted. Every single time. Not once did the verbal abuse of a coach motivate me or cause me to rise up and want to perform better for my team. It never boosted confidence, only fueled rage.
I do however remember one occasion where verbal abuse worked in mine and the team’s favor but it wasn’t because I wanted to do better. It was retaliation.
In 2012 I was cussed out by a manager for catching a pop up behind home plate in a way he disapproved of.
The ball went up behind the plate, I jumped up to find it, it was a shallow pop up, not spending much time in the air.
As I located the ball it was apparent to me that I wasn’t going to have much time to properly catch the ball as we are taught.
You know the drill, stand up, take your mask off, turn your back to the infield, throw your mask, catch the ball.
As soon as I located this ball I knew it was a drop your mask a go type of play.
So I dropped my mask and ran after the ball, catching it on the warning track close to the back stop, using a basket catch style like many infielders use when running to catch shallow pop ups in the outfield. A pretty standard procedure for an advanced baseball player. I have seen it done countless times.
It was the last out of the inning.
As I approached the dugout, pleased with the play I had just made and a big smile on my face, I was met by my manager at the top step and he had a few four letter words waiting for me.
“What the *bleep* was that?! Who do you think you are a *bleeping* big leaguer? Catch the *bleeping* ball the right way! Don’t you ever *bleeping* do that again! *Bleep*!”
I went from happy about the tough play I had just made to completely livid.
I was due up to hit third or fourth that inning.
One of my teammates actually made a $20 bet with the manager that I would hit a homer in that at bat because I was so mad about being cussed out. The manager took the bet saying he was stupid for making the bet. I was struggling at the plate at the time so it seemed like a good bet for the manager to take.
But he didn’t understand how angry he had made me.
He didn’t know me…
Earlier that year, I had gone through something really hard. My wife at the time left. My teammates all knew about it. My manager knew it had happened but didn’t know what I was going through the way my teammates did. The guys who I had deep conversations with on a daily basis about my struggles. They saw the broken person I was. They saw the tears. They saw the depression. My manager never saw that…
I was taking my shin guards off and putting on my batting gloves. I had made my decision, the baseball was going to be his face. I was going to inflict on him the same pain he had just inflicted upon me. Except I used the baseball to represent him. That baseball took on all my pain.
As I stepped up to the plate I was locked in and ready to absolutely demolish the baseball to let out my frustrations. The pitch came in, I swung the bat with all I had. The ball hit my bat then sailed more than 400 feet out towards left field, settling in the top of a 40 feet tall net set about 40 feet behind the left field fence. It was one of the furthest balls I ever hit and it was all because I was unjustly verbally abused by my manager.
This wasn’t a new thing for me, to use a baseball as a representation of a person. As a kid I was bullied, ridiculed, made fun of, laughed at, looked down on, you name it. I was the world’s punching bag growing up. Kids at my school were pretty hateful towards me. Even my teachers were pretty bad. I had an english teacher who would make me feel stupid in front of the class when I couldn’t answer her questions. She would throw erasers at me. She took me in the hall one day when I was 12 and yelled at me until I cried because I didn’t know an answer.
I can still remember the names of two of the boys who were really mean to me growing up. Their faces were spray painted on a punching bag I had won in karate when I was 10 years old and I used to hit it any time they would verbally hurt me at school.
In little league and travel ball I used to imagine the baseball was those two boys or my teacher.
In high school I used to imagine the baseball being my coach.
I was always angry. Anger fueled my power. I would hit the ball as hard as I possibly could in order to dump the anger. Inflicting as much pain on that baseball as I could. The same pain that had been inflicted upon me from the mouths of kids, teachers, and coaches. The verbal abuse I endured growing up was hard. And it made playing the game hard. It made enjoying the game hard. And it caused me to play from a very negative place, which made performing well hard.
A good example of just how much the psyche of a player can affect his game is what I did in high school. As a junior in high school I hit 10 home runs for my high school team. That summer I hit somewhere between 10 and 15 home runs for my legion team.
The next year my high school coach told me I had to carry the team on my shoulders. Some guys want to hear that and it makes them perform better. But not me. It crushed me. I couldn’t bear the weight of my entire team. I looked at it as a huge responsibility. And it paralyzed me. I only hit 3 home runs that season for my high school team and I felt like a failure. I didn’t hold up my duty to carry my team. I tried harder and harder every game only to be met with more failure at the plate. I kept getting walked too which only added to my desire to want to contribute so when I had a chance I would try to do too much. It was a frustrating year.
That same summer I went to play legion ball again. My coaches were very different. More laid back, more compassionate, more encouraging, positive, and more relatable with the players. They got to know us as people. That helped me. I was able to hit another 10-15 home runs that summer in legion ball, which was against better pitching than my high school season.
Why do I tell you all of this?
I don’t write this article to blame anyone. It’s nobody’s fault that these things happened to me. But they did happen. And I think you should be made aware of the internal battles kids face daily.
What happened to me is very real and it happens to way more people than just me.
There are kids all over the country being crushed under the weight of pressure inflicted upon them. They are faced with pressure left and right. Pressure to perform at home, in school, in sports, in relationships. Everywhere. There is a constant pressure to be the best. To be better than others. To not fail. Some people can handle that. And other can’t. And I think there might be some great talent being missed due to those pressures and those players not having the help they so desperately need.
Yes, baseball is physical. But the game is so much more than physical. So much of it is mental. And the internal environment of a player will have a direct impact on the physical game.
Coaches, know your players. Talk to them about something other than baseball. Read their body language. Do your best to understand what they are living. What pressures they may be facing at home, at school, in other sports, and at the baseball field. There is no “one size fits all” coaching style. To truly have an impact and get the most out of your players you need to get to know them. Encourage them. Help them be the best player they can possibly be. And if that means yelling then yell, and if it means putting your arm around a player then put your arm around him.
Everyone needs something different from a coach. Study your players. Figure out what they need from you and help them the best way you can.