My son's been playing organized sports since he was four. He's had amazing coaches, so-so coaches, and lame coaches. And tonight I finally had to become "that guy."
This season, he went into it loving baseball more than anything in the world. But these coaches were different. I noticed it first when they'd shout vague directions given to 9 and 10 year olds. LET'S SEE SOME HEART OUT THERE! What the hell does that even mean?
"I don't know if I want to go to this week's clinic, dad."
The assistant coach was brusque, I'd heard he played for Georgia, I'll call him Bulldog. Bulldog was brusque, yelled a lot. Sometimes gave good notes but mostly along the lines of "C'MON MAN WHAT'RE YOU DOIN'?" It was clear Bulldog was in charge, even though he was only the assistant coach.
"I guess I'll play soccer next fall, dad." I explain that you can't always have the greatest coach in the world, and it's important to try and learn form all different types of coaches, even if they don't feel like a perfect fit with you. But deep down, I want to call it all off.
Last week's game, both Coach and Bulldog were simultaneously yelling at the catcher to move up closer to the batter. MOVE UP MOVE UP! When it was my kid's turn to catch, he was snagging every wild-ass pitch that Bulldog's son was tossing out of the zone, but they both kept yelling MOVE UP MOVE UP from two different directions, until he started dropping them all. MOVE UP MOVE UP. Finally the umpire intervened and yelled HE'S FINE! ANY CLOSER AND THE BAT WILL HIT HIM.
Every game, every practice is like this. My wife and I talk about it almost every night. It sucks. We hate it. We'll see where he gets placed for spring ball and if he gets this coach again, we'll pull him and won't pay the fees. Maybe we'll try a different league. If we want crappy coaching, at least we can go closer to home.
Tonight they resumed a rain delayed game, our boys were up 8-3. For a million reasons, maybe because they didn't have enough heart (what the hell does that mean?), maybe because they're a bunch of spazzy kids, maybe because I never once saw them practice fielding as a coherent unit who back each other up properly, they blew their lead and lost.
The the last inning, second to last batter before they lost, my son was playing second base, his best position. Everybody's frustrated. Bulldog's kid threw another wild pitch, the catcher missed it, the guy on first started to steal. Catcher fumbles around and throw it to second way too late. My kid catches it, runner slides, tie goes to the runner. Safe. Bulldog screams at him "COME ON! YOU GOT TO GET DOWN IN FRONT OF IT AND TAG HIM!"
An infinitely long pause. And then my kid, for the first time in his life, starts to cry and walk off the field.
Coach calls time and walks out, talks him down and sends him back out to finish the game. I go down to the fence to watch more closely. They screw up a few more times and finally lose. The had their little post game pep talk, and I let everyone clear. And then I went out onto the field to the coaches.
"Gentlemen," I start. "Thanks for everything that you're doing. I'd just like to make a small request about tone. My boy is starting to hate baseball now and I'd just like you to know that if that happens again next time there's a botched play, we're not coming back."
Bulldog looks at me. "Ok, see, now let me tell you about what I'm doing. I'm tryin' to coach at a certain level. And if he can't deal with that, then I don't know."
I stare at him for a moment. I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that as a response. A certain level? They're losing!
"I appreciate what you're doing," I say. "But all I know is we came into this season and he loved baseball more than anything, and now he doesn't."
"Just because of this one thing? I mean if..." Bulldog rises, he wants to argue. Coach motions to him to stop "let him finish."
"I appreciate what you're doing," I say again. But at this point I'm realizing I'm so angry I can't even form a coherent thought anymore. "It's not just this. If he ends up hating baseball... that's just all I had to say." And I turned and left the field. Totally ineffective.
Walking to the car, my boy is totally falling apart. And walking near us is one of the people on the board of the little league, and I finally just thought: screw it. I've never had to intervene with a teacher or a class, I've never once had to make a call or a request, I've never once helicoptered, I've always let things play out and let my son figure out the situation and make it work. But I just couldn't leave it, and I had to become "that guy."
I called her name and she turned. "What do I have to do to move him to a team with less verbally abusive coaches for the last two games? Because I'm not bringing him back to those guys."
Great. Now I've done it. Now it's all complicated. I just hope I haven't made anything worse for anyone, or uncomfortable. But I couldn't let it sit. I can't let some jackass whose entire philosophy of sport boils down to "MAN UP!" destroy years of cultivated athletics and sportsmanship. This guy is out there, thinking I'm some helicopter parent with a kid who can't take any heat, when the fact is that their entire method of coaching was vague bullying. Bulldog is everything that is wrong with sporting and sport culture.
And you know it had to be bad if I was starting to think "you know, maybe soccer's not such a bad thing..."