The Role of a Parent

By David List 

david_list.jpgAfter ten years of teaching, coaching and giving lessons I feel like it is about time to share what I have noticed and analyzed over that time frame. Some of what I am about to share with you comes from my experience in a classroom and other parts as a coach and now parent. I also realize that in about ten more years, that I may do a 180 turn on what I am about to share with you. Please take this for what it's worth and at least think about how you approach your son's baseball career. I was inspired to write this to help you do the best thing for your son as I am sure that you always attempt to do. 

Ten years ago, I started teaching middle school after a career-ending injury in baseball (Tommy John). I had already spent a year teaching lessons in Texas and coaching an 18U travel team as a 20 year old. The game of baseball was not high on my favorite things to do because I was bitter about the injury that ended it. I hadn't watched baseball on TV or gone to a game. My only contact with the game was conversations with an old roommate who was on the fast track to the "Bigs" and that just made me even more bitter/jealous. I had no use for the game even though I loved it so dearly. Soon though, I was thrown back into it because I couldn't say "no". 

The middle school coach where I was teaching had been dismissed from his duties because of an argument with the high school athletic director. The PE teacher at the school knew I had played ball and asked me to do it. She told me that if I didn't do it that she would have to. She wasn't very excited about that possibility, so I did it. By the end of the season, I was back in baseball in a different form as a coach and instructor. It was time to give back to the game what I had learned playing it. 

Over the next 5 years or so I moved up the chain as the Head JV coach and then the Varsity Head coach at a 4A High School. Things were good and I learned a lot "being in charge". Soon though it would be time to say goodbye to coaching high school baseball as a third son was about to make his arrival at the "List" house. I didn't know what I was going to do and then out of nowhere came Diamond Prospects and the South Carolina Diamond Devils. 

Travel ball was a learning experience and put me in touch with a majority of the best players in the state. During this same time I was also honing my "scouting" skills.  After 4 years of travel ball and scouting, it was time to spend some time with my own boys at home and start coaching at the lowest levels of baseball: T-ball and Coaches Pitch. Here are some of the most important things that I have noticed over the past 10 years- some good, some bad. 

  1. Let's start with a positive. Good players are a result of good parenting and talent. If your son has passion and love for the game, give him the opportunity to play it every day that he wants to. That may mean playing catch with him for 10 minutes and other days that means hitting off the tee, taking ground balls, etc. If you ask the best players in the state about how much baseball their parents played with them as a very young child they will say "all the time". Baseball is a skill sport that must be repeated often, if not daily, in order to be consistent. I see so many parents in the school setting and on the baseball field that think it's only the coaches/teachers job to make them a better player/student. The coach/teacher should know what to do to fix the problems, but the player/student is going to have to do the work. Don't be too busy to play baseball with your son; if you are, you need to find him another sport to play. The best players I have ever coached had parents that would wait until after the game to tell them that they really messed up or that their performance was unacceptable. They always did it quietly and firmly. Those same parents never said anything to me or other coaches about baseball either. 
  1. Good coaches will tell you what to do to help little "Johnny" get better without you asking the coach. That doesn't mean that every time out that the coach should come to you and tell you what you need to work on with your son. He may even tell your son what to do if he is age appropriate. Most of the time it should start with a skill and when your son has mastered or perfected that- they will tell you the next step. If the coach never says anything to you or little Johnny about how to improve, he either doesn't know or your son lacks the ability to improve much in his mind. If you ever get to a point where you can't help your son with what the coach is asking for him to do, find someone that can if you are serious about baseball. (All of this is assuming you have selected a coach for your son that knows baseball and knows what he is doing- which brings me to my next point). 
  1. Play tournament or travel ball if your son has the talent. This is a hard one for parents to grasp because we all have daddy and mommy goggles on. Asking people that you trust will tell you the truth how "good" your little guy is. If you don't think that someone will tell you the truth, here is what you can do on your own. Enroll your little guy in a recreation program. If he is the best player for his age on the field, then he may be a good player. If he is one of the best, then the coach probably has him in key positions. These differ by level but are usually short-stop, 2nd base, 3rd base and 1st base in coaches pitch. Minors level and up are short-stop, pitcher, catcher positions. If your son can play these positions, he may be a good player and have some tools that are important in the game. In that case, have him try out for a travel ball team in your area. It will be the best thing for him to progress in the game. Please let me make this clear- I think recreation ball is good for some players and not others. My one son will be a career recreation ball player while the other will benefit greatly from tournament ball. One is athletic, the other not so much. Either way, they love playing and I support them in any way that I can. 
  1. Believe that your coach will do the best thing for your son. If you don't believe that- find him a coach to play for that you do believe in. It will be the best thing for the team you are leaving and for you. From the parent perspective- if you don't believe in the ability of the coach, he may not know what he is doing. On the flip side, from the coach's perspective, you may be the crazy parent that we all have dealt with and no matter whether the coach is Bobby Cox or not, you aren't happy. Make sure you look hard at yourself and what you are doing before you pull your kid off a team because the "coach" is crazy. 
  1. Don't yell at your son from the bleachers or the dugout! Try to control yourself. Don't live your life through your son. Here are some examples of things that I have witnessed personally as a scout/coach at the lower levels of baseball that make me sick. 

•a)    The coach or the parent that yells from the stands/dugout to the pitcher- "Throw Strikes". Seriously, I was a pitcher and I never went to the field trying to throw balls. There is no need for this comment. It is frustration by the parent/coach and shows a lack of being able to control yourself as an adult. If this is all you can say, it also shows that you don't know how to fix the problems your son is having. Coaches, either take him out or go show him what he is doing wrong. If you aren't able to do that, you probably need to find someone to coach the team that does. That is a little harsh, but I wanted to make sure that my point was clear. 

•b)    The coach or the parent that yells from the stands/dugout to their son because he isn't making plays that you think he should. Example: 10U tournament- teams are stealing bases all over the place. I have watched 5 different games during the day and only one catcher there is physically able to throw out runners. One of the "coaches" is screaming at his son on the field (the catcher) about him not throwing out the runners. Everyone in the park hears it. After multiple yells from the dugout from good ole daddy, the son finally throws off his mask and yells back. Wow, this is the worst situation in baseball. I really liked the kid behind the plate. He was athletic, worked hard and will some day be a good catcher. Well, that is if he doesn't quit because of his dad. He had everything going for him but an arm that wasn't quite developed yet and I believed that it would. I have a feeling though that this kid won't make it in baseball and it's not because of a lack of ability. 

•c)    All-Stars. I don't know a high school coach that has even the slightest clue who made all-stars in your son's recreational league. They choose kids that can progress in the game (have tools) and they can win with. All-Stars are more of a popularity contest and politically motivated thing anyway. You don't know how many parents have called me and told me that their little boy didn't make the high school team. They go on to tell me about how he always played all-stars every year and how stupid the high school coach is. Well folks, 90 percent of the time the high school coach made the right decision and picked players that he could win with. 

•d)    Little Johnny can do no wrong. Don't be the parent that always blames your son's screw ups on his teammates. Baseball is a game of failure and he will fail more than he succeeds. Every time you pat him on the back and tell him it is not his fault, you are putting him one step closer to him being a failure on the baseball field and in life. You can also teach him to always blame others for "team" losses if you discuss other player's shortcomings. There is a time and a place for the pat on the back but most of the time it's not warranted. 

  1. As your son gets older, find someone else to coach him and someone that will be harder on him. He needs to learn to play for someone else and to learn what others have to teach him. If you don't want your son to be yelled at or challenged, then he can't play college baseball for sure. He may not even make it through the high school ranks. I can tell you that I have played for vicious coaches at the college level. It was hard at the time, but it has really helped me be strong through tough times in my life. Don't be hasty to be upset with a coach who challenges your son in one way or another, unless it's just not age appropriate. Again this goes back to finding a coach to play for that you trust. 
  1. Gathering up the Posse! Some of you probably have a good idea what this means and others are waiting for me to explain, so here it is. Some parent outside the fence is always upset about something. Usually they wander around and try to find "friends" to talk to about it. They tend to try to get other parents upset and to follow their lead. The more this happens, the more it affects their son and the team. On one occasion this parent got a grandfather all worked up over a two inning span. His grandson had played every out of every game over ¾ of the summer. He had sat the first two innings because he was going to have to pitch a few innings later in the game and we had to win this game. The grandfather came into the dugout (huge mistake) and started in on one of the coaches. He got an ear full back from the coach and the player was as close as you get to being removed from the team. The player was 16 years old and knew why he wasn't playing and didn't think twice about it. Luckily the player's mom diffused the situation quickly. Coaches call these parents "cancer". Coaches have a cure for this cancer and it's called removing your son from the team. If you see this parent coming toward you, the best thing you can do is get as far away from that person as quickly as you can. You don't have to be rude, just make sure you don't fall into their trap. Personally, I have dismissed 3 kids because of this at the upper levels (high school age). The sad thing was that the player wasn't the problem, but the parent was. In each instance, the team was better for it in the end no matter how good the player was. Be careful and don't get caught up in these dangerous webs that others weave. 

Surely there are other things that could be addressed, but in summary here is a quick check list. 

  1. Play catch, hit with him, hit him balls when he asks you to. 
  1. Research the coaches that you can choose for him to play for. Find one that knows as much about the game as possible- these guys usually have lots of playing experience or have produced many good players. 
  1. If in doubt, keep your mouth shut. Don't embarrass your son- don't hurt his chances of progressing because you have a problem. If something needs to be addressed to a coach, have your son do it first. I have had a 7 yr-old ask me why he didn't get to play on the infield during a game because his dad wanted to know. I respect that parent for making his son responsible for that question. 
  1. The second you think the coach is crazy or is an idiot, do a self-check and see if it isn't the other way around. If you chose the best coach for your son and did research on it and now all of sudden you think he is crazy, it may just be you.

The best players have parents that give them an opportunity to play at the highest levels and then back off and watch. They encourage their son and the rest of the team. Be that parent.

To view David List's bio, click here.