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Don’t Let a Bad Experience Ruin Your Son’s Love of the Game

The following is an article written by father about his son’s experience with the game.  Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.

My son, Eric, likes baseball a lot.  I know that’s not exactly a profound statement to make about a nine-year-old boy.  But it’s a statement that I probably wouldn’t be able to make today, if we didn’t make a move to get him off a bad team.  By “bad team”, I am not referring to wins and losses.  I mean it was a bad team for Eric.  A bad fit.

You see, a couple of years ago, I made the mistake of not returning to a Cal Ripken baseball team that Eric really liked.  Instead, we joined a “select” team.  That move, which at the time seemed like a good thing for him, crushed his confidence and nearly ruined his love of the game.  I hope that by reading our story, you will be able to avoid similar situations with your son.

The Kid’s Pretty Good
Since he started playing t-ball, Eric has always been one of the better players on his team.  When he was seven, Eric had the chance to play for a “select” team. The team was moving to a kid pitch, 8-and-under league. I was really excited about this team, and so was Eric. A couple of his best friends were on the team, too.  So, all seemed well at first.

The Warning Signs
Like so many things in life, hindsight is 20/20. I should have known from my first phone conversation with his new coach that this team wasn’t going to be a good fit. I told the coach that I’d love to help out as an assistant coach. He basically told me that he didn’t need me because he already had a good group of dads helping out. That was my first clue that this coach was going to have control issues. What youth baseball coach of seven-year-olds doesn’t welcome any extra help he can get? Not to mention, I played baseball through college, so I know my way around the diamond a little.

Too Much, Too Soon
This team began having hitting and fielding sessions in January at an indoor baseballBad TEam Photo training facility. I thought it was a bit much for seven-year-olds, but went along with it anyway. It was at these indoor sessions that two of the players on the team decided to make Eric feel unwelcome. They’d laugh if he’d miss a ball, jump in front of him in line and take his hat off his head. Bullying like that, which I can’t stand. Eric is a sensitive kid, so that stuff got to him. He didn’t look forward to practices because of it.

Bad Habits Are Hard To Break
The indoor facility was good for batting practice. But it didn’t work for fielding and throwing. There weren’t any open areas. It was nothing but batting cages. Every week we rented out two spots. The kids practiced throwing while lined up across from each other inside one of the cages.  So, they were tossing the ball about 10-15 feet. The only thing this waste of time did was promote short-arming the ball. A terrible habit for a young kid.

Prior to these practices, Eric had a nice, fluid, left-handed motion. He had an above average arm. Tossing inside those cages ruined it for the entire season. I couldn’t break him of it. The same kid that used to be able to throw a dart from third to first was now bouncing the ball from second to first.

Coach Them Before Yelling At Them
Once they started playing games I thought the season would be more fun for Eric. Instead, it brought on nothing but frustration. The coaches yelled at the boys over things they never practiced or reviewed in practice. Things like, who covers second base on a ball hit to right field. I remember screwing that one up when I was in seventh grade. These kids were seven years old. You can’t expect kids to know fundamentals like that, if they’ve never practiced them. That was my breaking point. That’s when I knew for certain that we would not be back with this team the following season.

You Cannot Be Serious
The fact these boys were seven didn’t stop the coach from creating a batting order based on who the best hitters were. Eric started the season near the top of the order. In the second game of the season he was drilled in the back by a pitch from a kid who looked to be 12-years-old. (We were the youngest team in this 8U league.) It was one of those plunkers that makes a big hollow “thump” sound. You could hear it echo inside his ribcage. If you’ve been around the game for a while, you know the sound I’m talking about. From that point on, he was afraid of the ball when another kid was pitching. He ripped batting practice thrown by coaches, but as soon as another kid got on the mound, he was moonwalking out of that batter’s box. As a result, the coach buried him at the bottom of the order.

By this age, some kids understand the significance of a lineup. Of course, the two players who were bullying Eric understood. And they’d make negative comments. Nothing like instilling confidence in a kid by telling him at the age of seven that he’s not a good hitter. That’s essentially what the coach did every time the he consistently placed the same kids at the bottom of the order.

The Best Kids Will Play The Most
That season couldn’t end soon enough. I knew we weren’t returning for a second season, but just in case I had a smidge of doubt, the good ol’ coach cemented my decision. In an end of the season email he had an interesting way of motivating kids and parents. His idea of encouraging kids and parents to practice more was saying that next season, the best players would play the most. What? I’m telling you, this coach was delusional. I think he thought he was coaching 18-year-olds. Not 7-year-olds. I can remember laughing as I hit the delete button.

Should Have Never Left the Cal Ripken team (Should have listened to my wife)
During the last few weeks of that summer and into the fall, I didn’t practice baseball with Eric very much. I figured he needed to get away from the game for a while. I hoped that he’d be able to somehow wipe that season from his memory. Forget about everything that happened and return to loving the game of baseball again.

The following winter when it was time to sign up for baseball, I asked Eric if he wanted to play again.

He said, “No. I don’t like baseball anymore.” When I asked, “Why.” He said, “Because I’m not any good.” I really hated hearing him say that.

My wife and I both talked to him about going back to his old Cal Ripken team. After helping him remember how much fun he had on that team, he decided to give it another try. It was because of the coach, who always put the best interest of the players first.  He let the kids be kids and have fun on the field.  He “got it.”

From the very first practice of that next season I saw a huge weight lifted off Eric’s shoulders. He was at ease on the ball field again. And amazingly enough, he remembered how to cut loose and throw the ball. He wasn’t scared of the ball at the plate anymore. He wasn’t worried about making a mistake. It’s funny what a pressure-free environment will do for a kid’s confidence.

As with most decisions that affect our family, I should have listened to my wife. She didn’t think it was a good idea to leave the Cal Ripken team to join the “select” team in the first place. She was right. We should have never left.  I’m just glad Eric’s love of the game came back.

If Your Son Is Happy, Leave Him Be
That long season taught me a very valuable lesson. If your young son is currently on a team and he’s having fun, learning the fundamentals of the game, keep him there. There will be plenty of time for more competition as he gets older. The outfield grass isn’t always greener on the other side of that fence.

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