Mark Shapiro, president of the Cleveland Indians and National Advisory Board member of the Positive Coaching Alliance, has worked in professional baseball for 23 years. He’s reached the pinnacle of the sport, and has seen it all. However, it wasn’t until he started coaching his 11-year-old son, did he realize just how important the role of coach and parent are in developing children beyond the diamond.
The Parent Connection (TPC) – Why are baseball and softball such great vehicles to develop children both on-and-off the field?
Mark Shapiro – I’ve worked in professional baseball for over two decades, but really had an awakening after seeing the sport through the youth baseball lens that my son’s play provided. Like no other sport, baseball, as well as softball, provides the opportunity for kids to tangibly deal with adversity, setbacks and challenges. There’s no way to hide from an error, a strikeout or standing alone on the mound. Through supportive coaching and parenting, kids are allowed to understand how to handle these challenges, and then respond with determination, and perseverance, as well as coming up with ways on how to improve, without looking at experiences as a failure, a limitation or a weakness. Baseball allows kids to develop life-forming values.
TPC – What’s the true purpose of youth baseball and softball?
Mark Shapiro – Baseball and softball provide two very important things for kids. First, they develop a life-long bond with the sport. That bond provides the chance for kids to learn a fundamental way to play the sport, which builds passion for the sport, and being passionate about something is important in life. Second, baseball and softball provide a great opportunity to utilize both sports to develop values and character, as well as have a lot fun with friends.
TPC – What would you like to see changed in youth sports?
Mark Shapiro – I’d like to see a more scalable opportunity to help develop a better grasp of the goals coming into youth sports. Coaches and parents need to have a clear understanding going in what youth sports offer their kids, and that’s a fun, active opportunity that will provide important life-lessons. It’s not about making it to the big leagues because that’s not going to happen for most. Parents having unrealistic expectations is often a misfire from the beginning.
TPC – What advice would you give parents of children who play youth baseball or softball?
Mark Shapiro – Start with the assumption, right or wrong, that their child is not going to play college or pro ball. If parents knew that heading in, they would ease into the opportunity, and help their child properly develop. Parents need to be realistic in what they want their child to achieve, and that should be to have fun and improve. If parents believe in that goal from the beginning, it will ground them, and lower expectations, which will provide for a much more positive experience. From a coaching perspective, don’t equate success with wins or losses. Understand your role as a coach, and that is to provide a great experience that kids will remember for the rest of their lives. Competing and winning is an outcome of providing that experience. Focus on the process of developing kids, and building a bond and relationship with them. Teach what it means to be a good teammate, and to respect the game. Winning is a byproduct of those.
TPC – Many Little League® volunteers would like to manage or coach. What further advice would you give them?
Mark Shapiro – Look at your role as a mentor, advisor and teacher, not just coach. From my experience, coaches tend to just focus on the game, and the decisions within a game. The role is much more pivotal because coaches help kids develop emotionally, mentally and physically. If managers or coaches use that mindset, they can use their teachings and the sport as a platform to teach life-forming skills.
TPC – How should parents interact with their children after the game?
Mark Shapiro – They shouldn’t talk about the game! Parents should not replay and evaluate the game, and use it as a critique with their child. Instead, talk about getting some ice cream, or who is sleeping over that night. If the child brings up the game, reinforce the positive aspects, and remind them to respect the game, their teammates, the opposing team and the coaches.
TPC – You’ve reached the highest level one could achieve in professional baseball, but you seem to have equal amount of passion for youth baseball. Why?
Mark Shapiro – I never realized the power of youth baseball until seeing it through my son’s experience. It showed me examples of how things should not be done, and how things should be done. It allowed me the opportunity to realize that if coaches coach correctly, and parents parent correctly, youth baseball can be incredibly influential and inspiring. And, as someone who has been in professional baseball for 23 years, I’ve been able to use my resources to help make youth sports even better. The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) gave me the platform to do just that.
TPC – What is your involvement in PCA, and how important is that organization?
Mark Shapiro – When I first got into youth baseball, I wondered where the tools and resources were. I kept coming back to PCA, and the more I understood their goals and mission, the more I realized my own philosophies were aligned with that organization. They provide such an important platform to help coaches, which in turn helps kids, and keeps our sport relevant. PCA not only offers great lessons, but they also provide ways to scale and apply those lessons. I reached out to Jim Thompson of PCA, and congratulated him on what he and the organization are doing. That led to an invitation for me to be part of their National Advisory Board. From there, I helped to launch a PCA chapter in Cleveland, where I serve as Board Chair. All parents and coaches should take advantage of what PCA has to offer. http://positivecoach.org/
TPC – In your experience in professional baseball, is it ever possible to see a player, a rookie or veteran, and know by looking at the way they approach the game that they came from an influential baseball program, perhaps one from their youth?
Mark Shapiro – Very interesting question, and the answer is yes. I can quickly tell when I watch certain players that they are the product of a great coach, mentor or parent. They have a respect for the game, and their teammates, and they conduct themselves professionally and responsibly. They work hard, have strong values, and look for ways to improve. It’s not across the board, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but I can tell when some program or some person, be it a leader, mentor, parent or coach, made a huge impact on a player. That reinforces to me the power of a great coach, a great program or a great parent.
TPC – Little League is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year. What impact has the organization had on youth sports, and the development of children?
Mark Shapiro – Little League is synonymous with youth baseball and softball well beyond its parameters and structure. It’s an inspiration for kids, not just watching the World Series in Williamsport on TV, but in local leagues, too. It ensures that kids will get quality learnings and that fundamentals and values will be taught. Little League helps build that important lifelong love of the sport, and provides fun times with friends and memories that won’t fade. Anytime you reach a benchmark like 75 years, it’s a time to celebrate. Everyone in baseball owes a debt of gratitude to Little League, and I’m especially proud of Major League Baseball for working with Little League to help celebrate by providing Little League Days at MLB stadiums throughout the country this year.