11 February 2015

Play Ball!

***This post was inspired by The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. St. Louis Cardinals manager Matheny shares his tough-love philosophy for children's team sports that translate to everyday life. Join From Left to Write on February 12th as we discuss The Matheny Manifesto. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.***

I had heard about this guy, and his philosophy before I had a chance to read this book, and I was, honestly, not totally convinced. 

A baseball team my son had tried out for got a new coach.  He emailed everyone on the team's email distribution list to introduce himself and explain his coaching philosophy, and this was it.  He attached the Manifesto to the email and I read it with a skeptical eye. As it turns out, my son decided to play on another team that year, without my ever mentioning anything about the new coach and his email. 

My athlete plays sports all year round, and if I made him choose one (which I don't), he'd choose baseball.  He also plays basketball and volleyball, and does off season training in basketball and baseball.  He plays rec baseball and select baseball, and he plays CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports.  He doesn't do all that because I make him or his dad makes him, he does it because he loves sports.  I mean, he really loves sports.  His dream is to play in the big leagues, and I hope he makes it.  I like to think I'm pretty realistic about my kids, and while he is a naturally gifted athlete and he works hard, I don't know if that'll be enough.  There are a finite number of Major League Baseball player jobs out there and every boy on the baseball diamond in my small town wants one of them. 

I would love nothing more than to see my boy reach his dream.  I am his biggest cheerleader.  And that, I think, is where Mike Matheny and I part ways, at least a little bit.  Mike wants parents to be quiet on the sidelines, to be silent support and not put more pressure on their kids, even inadvertently, by cheering or calling out what they think is encouragement.  I cheer for my player; I cheer loud.  I also cheer for the other players on the team, by name.  I don't try to coach from the sidelines, and I don't criticize.  But I CHEER. 

My ballplayer swears that he can't hear me when I cheer for him.  Even before this book was a topic in my house, he has always said that he is so focused on the game that he can't pay attention to the noise from the parents.  I wonder about that sometimes though.  My very good friend is a fellow basketball mom, and her son once looked up at her in the stands during a game and yelled back at her, "SHUT UP, MOM!"  I know I've seen my kid react to something another parent has shouted when he was on the court.  When I listen to other parents cheering, what they say and how they say it, I am forced to think about what other parents hear when I cheer, what the coaches hear from me. This book has made me reconsider how vocal I am when I watch my son play. 

I have been a sports mom for a long time and I am well aware and agree that parents are definitely a big part of the problem in youth sports. A lot of parents forget that sports are supposed to be fun, and that it's just a game.  Kids are learning more than how to throw or hit or kick a ball. Sports are full of life lessons, if you look for them.  How to be part of a team, how to respect the authority of the coach and the umpire even if they are wrong, how to both win and lose with grace, how to compete against others and yourself, how to persevere, how to run it out hard even when the first baseman already has the ball in his glove, and how to learn from players who are better than you. My son has been blessed with great coaches who have pushed and challenged him.  They know the game, and they like to win as much as the next guy, but they will put the boys up against the tough competition, saying "You will never get better by playing teams you know you can beat.  Play the teams you might not be able to beat and learn something new." His coaches have been at least as concerned with his growth as a young man, his emotional and spiritual growth, as they are with his growth as an athlete.  And that's where I applaud Mike Matheny for sticking to his guns and making character development every bit as important as throwing a really good curveball.  Most of the kids playing in youth leagues today are not destined for professional sports careers, and Mike knows that. All the hard work and discipline they learn from sports will serve them well, no matter where life takes them. The best compliment I've ever gotten on my son's sports performance is that he is respectful to his coaches and he is coachable. 

I don't know if I'll ever be able to be the "silent" support on the sidelines but I love watching my kid do what he loves most in the world, play sports. In the end, though, I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would, and my son is bugging me to read it next. 

If your kids play sports, do you cheer loud and proud, or are you the strong, silent type?