Coach’s Confessions: Sacrificing Common Sense
Little League® managers and coaches commonly choose to volunteer because of their children, and the fun they had playing baseball and softball when they were kids. From time to time, Little League receives stories from coaches, reflecting on their influence, their behavior and how they handled themselves during their time coaching in our program. While Little League managers and coaches are leaders, and have a role in molding the physical and emotional nature of a child, we all can learn from select stories some have chosen to tell.
I’ve been coaching my kids since they joined Little League more than 10 years ago, and have managed teams through Minors and Majors. I love it, and, even though my kids have aged out, I held onto my coaching bag. This year, I’m coaching Junior League baseball. Earlier this season, I did something on the field that I never, ever thought I’d do.
It was early in the season, and my Junior Division team of 13- and 14-year-olds had some players playing Junior Varsity for our high school. So, when the game started we only had nine players, but I had two players on their way because their JV game had finished.
In the second inning, a fly ball was hit toward the foul line in left field. The left fielder tripped and fell as he was running after the ball. After the play was over, and before the next pitch was thrown, the base umpire called “time out.” He had noticed that my player was holding his shoulder, and asked me to come check him out.
I knew we only had nine players, and the JV players had not arrived yet, so when I got to him my first words to him were: “You’re not hurt, so don’t tell me you want to come out.” He told me, “But coach, my shoulder really hurts … I don’t think I can lift my arm.”
All I kept thinking about was - we need nine players on the field or we forfeit.
I never took the time to look at this kid with his arm hanging at his side, obviously hurt. I was only focused on the “W” and that meant he had to tough it out until the “better” players arrived. I walked back to the dugout, thinking - that kid wouldn’t even be out there if there wasn’t a JV game tonight.
Two batters later, the inning ended and as the team came off the field, I told him to go behind the dugout and throw so I can see if he is “really” hurt. He did, and after a few throws, I could tell he wasn’t right. Still, my other players had not shown up. He had to hit third that inning. He struck out looking. On his way back to the dugout, he told me he couldn’t go out to the field, but, again, I refused to listen. Sitting on the bench he said to me, “Coach, you always talk about how important it is for us to have fun.” I nodded. “Well, I’m not having fun.”
My response was ignorant and awful, and even now I can’t believe I said to him, “The game is fun when I tell you it is fun. Don’t be a quitter and get out there!”
At that moment, I made a 14-year-old boy cry, but that wasn’t the worst of it. At the end of the game, the player’s father, not knowing what was said between us, or how badly his son was hurt, made the young man apologize to me for putting himself ahead of the team.
There are no words that I can say that would erase the insulting ridicule that I placed on the young man. Greedy, heartless, and neglectful is how I feel in my heart about those 30 minutes of my life. I have since apologized to him and his father. I sincerely hope that young man doesn’t have any emotional scars. I know I do.