My school's head basketball coach wasn't a bad guy. In fact, he's a pretty great guy that I've known all my life. I know his wife and I used to babysit his kids. He wasn't a bad coach, either. His teams qualified for and even won the state tournament a couple of times. More importantly, he was a great influence in the lives of many players, including my little sister. But as great as he was, he ruined the game of basketball for me forever.
The sophomores that year were really good. Really good. And one girl in my class was head and shoulders better than the rest of us. So, deservedly, one freshman and four sophomores started almost every varsity game. That wasn't a problem for me. Those girls worked their tails off and earned their spots on the varsity team.
The problem was that those same girls also started every JV game. There was a junior who didn't get much varsity time either, so she played a lot of JV. That meant that the other freshmen and I sat the bench for not only varsity games, but also for the first quarter, and sometimes an entire half, of every JV game that year. By the time we got in the game, the score was so lop-sided that it was no longer a contest. It was depressing.
When the wrestling coach asked me if I would like to be his team manager the next year, I jumped on the opportunity. It wasn't a hard choice because I figured that since the varsity girls were still eligible for JV, Coach would play the same way and I'd work hard but still only ride the pine, even in the games that I was theoretically supposed to be able to play in. It turns out that the coach changed his philosophy on that by my sophomore year, but at the time, there was no way to know. I quit basketball at age 14 and haven't played a game since.
So far, three out of my four kids have had baseball/softball coaches like this. I'd like to say I always handled it well but that would be a lie. I've struggled. Big time.
My oldest had a rough start with baseball. His first couple years out of tee ball he didn't have coaches who believed in him. He only played the outfield, at time when that was seen as a punishment, not a result of your being able to handle the position well. He always batted towards the end of the line up, no matter how many times he connected and he was never given any positive attention. Later he had better coaches, who allowed him to work on improving his skills and he fell in love with the game. He has played every position on the field now and he's actually quite good at several of them. He's now a pitcher, catcher, and centerfielder. He can play every spot on the field with at least some confidence. He's become a leader on the field and was twice nominated for a USSA All-Star Showcase last year.
Another of my kids was on a team with 15 players in a rec sport that only plays 10 at a time. That's a hard place for a coach to be, I know, but it's not impossible. This coach played the same six kids in the infield every single inning. The other nine kids rotated in the outfield. This is not because they particularly liked the outfield or were exceptionally talented at it. This was because the coach thought they weren't good enough to even get to practice in the infield. Often, one or more of them, usually my kid, didn't play in the first game at all.
The batting order never changed and the same kids always batted at the end. This means that my kid, along with four or five others, often only got to bat once a night even though they play double headers. Some nights they didn't get to bat at all. The chosen six got to bat three or four or more times every night. They batted first in the first game, the one that counted for their record, and they batted first in the second game, the one that doesn't count; the JV game.
I don't think this coach is a bad guy. In fact, we've lived in the same town our entire lives, and while I wouldn't say we're friends, I would say we've always been friendly. I don't know if he's a good coach at all, because I can't see past the fact that he has ruined this sport for my child. My kid hated going to the games knowing that there was no chance of ever playing the infield and a high probability of not even getting to bat. My kid wasn't alone. Other kids on the team cried when their parents made them come. This coach ruined ball for my child and I don't know if my kid will ever play the game again. That hurts my heart.
That was a rough summer. That same year, one of my other kids also had a team with way too many players. His coach had a different philosophy, though, and moved the kids around a lot. He batted everyone, every game. He mixed it up and they all had real chances to play. There were a couple of kids who had only played a year or two of ball, some who had played a ton, and even one rookie. Every one of them left with more skill than they came in with and a love for the game. And for the record, they won more games than my other kid's team did. It can be done.
Another year, one of my kids was asked to play with a team but in the end, sat the bench while they brought in younger but more athletic kids to play. He wasn't alone either. One of his teammates didn't even get to bat or play the field. He was only allowed to pinch run. He was ten years old. It was ridiculous. It was exactly the opposite of what we had wanted for our child and his friends. As he cried into my shoulder, saying, "But Coach promised me I would get to play this time!" I almost couldn't hold it together. Winning (which by the way, they didn't even do) is not worth crushing the spirit of a ten-year-old.
I've talked to my kids and said things like, "Just because someone isn't a good coach doesn't mean they aren't a good person." "We're not going to be mad at or dislike your coach for the rest of our lives because of this." I had to talk to myself as much, or maybe more, when I said those things. Because I was mad. I was so mad. I felt like punching something every time I had to go to those games.
So, Coach, as we enter another season, please keep in mind that this is rec ball. It's supposed to be fun for everyone. No scholarships are given out based on the outcome of these games. You're not getting an MLB contract for you work with ten-year-old boys or with six-year-old girls. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU and IT'S NOT ABOUT WINNING! Rec sports are about improving everyone's skills, having fun, and learning to love the game. If you have different goals, maybe rec league isn't where you need to be. Find a travel team and have try-outs. Only take the best.
But if you take on a JV team, don't only play the varsity. Because nobody wins when kids only learn to hate the game.