Baseball is hard enough to play when there is no stress.
I'm afraid that children's baseball success has increasingly become the life dream of their parents. Our children still manage to find pockets of fun, but Mom and Dad - not as much.
Here are three examples of parent conversations which illuminate how parent stress hampers a young players ability to play the game at his or her best:
1. "I am usually not that parent that does this, but I wanted to let you know..."
When parents broach a topic with this sort of introduction, they are in fact, the exact parent they claim they are not. I tend to wonder how many times and to how many coaches this comment has been made.
I had a parent of a college catcher start his conversation like this, also adding that he was a player himself and understands the game and the pressures involved, then asked that I, as a GM, change two passed balls charged to his son (who, "hasn't had a passed ball in years") to wild pitches.
The game video revealed that they were clearly passed balls. This was the parent of a high profile Division I program talking about how this summer league game was going to hurt his son's draft chances next year. This is what stress sounds like.
By the time a coach (or GM) hears this, it is highly probable that the child and parent have had constant tense discussions at home, on the phone, or in the car ride home. The child is usually less concerned about the issue then the parent, only getting heated because he or she just wants the parent to stop annoying the coaches.
Whether the parent has a valid concern or not, the tension created from a parent's involvement has long term negative repercussions. There is a phenomenon in sport and sport psychology called Background Anger. The quick definition is the noise generated between coaches and parents, coaches and players, parents and officials - basically all of the arguing that goes on in sports. This negativity is registered in the minds of impressionable young children, creating a mixed-up view of sports which leads to kids quitting, transferring, or belittling authority rather than working hard and challenging themselves to success.
It leads to a great deal of family tension.
2. "Johnny wanted me to ask you why he isn't throwing harder..."
This comment is usually generated from the parent, who has grown increasingly frustrated watching others of the same age who seem to be "far ahead" of their son. Sadly, this is a sign showing a lack of confidence by the parent towards their child. This isn't limited to pitching velocity, of course. It could be hitting power, fielding ability, any skill that their child isn't doing as well as others around him. Parents may feel that these thoughts are private between them and the coach, but it is a good bet that everyone knows "that parent" and what he feels.
Confidence is the key to helping players excel. When parents don't show confidence, the ability to self-generate confidence becomes more difficult and the work that coaches do to instill that confidence does not work effectively. The message for parents is to encourage their child to always have the confidence to work hard, knowing that the results will come at their own pace and time.
3. "Jacob is concerned about his lack of playing time. His mother and I are fine, but he is devastated..."
Playing time is the topic that touches all parents at all levels of baseball. College parents are as guilty as Little League parents. Little League parents may have a stronger leg to stand on when approaching a coach about playing time. Youth baseball needs to be about development and enjoyment first.
Another college story - we had a catcher from and prominent ACC program, who was dividing playing time with other talented catchers. This catcher was a weak hitter, out of shape, and didn't work very hard. He was going to stay with us all summer (we are here to develop players), but dad called and complained that he wasn't going to get any chance of playing at school next year if he didn't get more at bats and innings behind the plate. Long story short, the player was out of baseball that fall. I wonder if he was tired of dad pushing him. We will never know.
The older the players get, the more it is important for the player to approach the coach and advocate for themselves. The time for parents to do the talking has passed by high school - certainly by the varsity level. It is a great "real life" lesson for a student athlete to approach the "boss" and ask for a promotion. The answers will sometimes be tough to hear in the short term, but it will make them better people for trying and knowing they took control of their situation in that moment rather than waiting for help.
These three examples make this post because they are the most recent in my own experience in talking to parents. There are other similar situations out there.
Success is an individual pursuit. Comparing any person to another is great for historians of the game or maybe for college recruiters and pro scouts - but not for parents.
Stress has no age restriction. Young people deal with it daily more than ever. We all need to work together for the sake of our families and for the good of the game to curb rather than incite stress. It takes mental stamina from coaches, parents, and players to stay positive through victories and defeats, successes and failures. What we may think it is the end of the world, usually isn't as bad as it seems.