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 > Little League Online > Learn More > Newsletters > The Parent Connection > 2015 > The Parent Connection - May > Exclusive Interview with St. Louis Cardinals Manager, Mike Matheny, Author of The Matheny Manifesto... A Must-Read for Little League® Parents

Exclusive Interview with St. Louis Cardinals Manager, Mike Matheny, Author of The Matheny Manifesto... A Must-Read for Little League® Parents

Volume 3 | Issue 5 | May 2015 | Archive
Exclusive Interview with St. Louis Cardinals Manager, Mike Matheny, Author of The Matheny Manifesto... A Must-Read for Little League Parents
In 2008, some local parents approached current St. Louis Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny about coaching their youth baseball team the following spring. One night, he wrote a long letter to the parents outlining guidelines and rules that would have to be in place if he were to manage the team, a team that would include his ten-year-old son. The letter began...Dear Fellow Parents: I’ve always said I would coach only a team of orphans. Why? Because the biggest problem in youth sports is the parents. The letter eventually became the book, The Matheny Manifesto, an eye-opening, honest look at the role parents should play in today’s youth sports. The Parent Connection recently visited with Matheny, a Little League® father, to discuss his popular new book.

The Parent Connection – What is the number-one mistake parents make in youth sports?

Mike Matheny – Putting their agenda in front of their kids. When playing sports becomes anything other than the kids, it’s wrong. Often times, parents view youth sports as a social structure. It’s important to them for their kid to play on a particular team, play a particular amount of time, and play well. They feel if their kid does well, it puts the parents higher on the food chain. It is not about the parents. Parents should be proud and be encouraging, but they can’t have an agenda.

Mike with his son, Jacob.
TPC – One of the more interesting “rules” you had for your parents on the team was for them to stay silent on the sidelines, not even yelling what they would perceive as encouragement. How difficult was that for them, and why was that rule so important to you?

MM - We were all lab rats in this experiment. I told the parents, I don’t want you to yell anything. It was difficult for them to do at first because they weren’t used to it. Parents need to show some empathy. Parents should try to put themselves in their kid’s place, and understand they are young, and just learning the game. Kids get overwhelmed, and there can be so much pressure on them. And, then the person they love the most is up in the stands saying: “You can do this.” It actually translates to: “You HAVE to do this.” It’s too early in their development for that pressure. At this level, you want to build passion for the sport and let them have fun. If not, they will go to video games because with that, they are not instructed or yelled at.

TPC – In the book, you mention pitching great Nolan Ryan commenting that the difference between the way kids play now and the way they played before is now they only play with uniforms on. Are you saying youth baseball is too structured?

MM – Little League is extremely important in developing people and players. My kids played Little League, but the love of the game should start before anything is structured. Parents should send their kids out with a glove, bat, and ball, and tell them to have fun with their friends. That builds passion for the sport early on. Every birthday, we allow our kids to pick what they want to do, and most times they want to play Wiffle Ball. So, me, my wife, and the kids go out and play. I’ll be sore for three days, but it’s always fun! My boys found the love of the game through pick-up ball. It’s often the purest form of the sport. There’s no instruction. It’s amazing, put a uniform on a kid and put them in the batter’s box, and they can look robotic. Let them play a game with their friends, and they look natural. And, they figure out things for themselves like run-downs, leads, cut-offs. One of the goals for my Catch Twenty-Two Foundation is to build Wiffle Ball fields for kids. No coaches allowed. Just kids having fun.

TPC – In The Matheny Manifesto, you mention that parents back when you were playing at a young age did not seem as intense with sports as they are now. Do you think the pressures, time commitments, and expense of travel ball have something to do with that?

MM – Absolutely. Parents make investments, and they cut checks for private coaches, tournaments, hotels. Middle-class America struggles to do all of that, and when parents pay, they expect a return, and that adds pressure on everyone involved. There are showcases after showcases, and it’s too much. Some see travel as the route to go, and for some, it may be. It’s important, though, to develop the person, not the athlete. Our goal was to not build that. We built a different model. I told my parents, if you have a better offer, take it, and some did.

TPC – Little League prides itself on not being a win-at-all-costs organization. How important is that at the youth level?

MM - Win-at-all-costs misses the mark. Again, it’s about building people. That’s what my youth baseball team was all about, and that’s what I emphasize in the book. For guys like Vince Lombardi, where winning is the only thing, maybe that works, but only at the professional level. That mentality is simply not transferrable to the youth level. We’re talking recreation versus profession. That’s a big difference. Coaches at the youth level should not coach like we do here. We get paid to win. It’s about fun and building passion for the sport at the youth level.

TPC - With so much emphasis on baseball and softball, some people are surprised that an organization like Little League tells parents to have their children put the bat and glove down, and play other sports. Do you agree?

MM – It’s important to take time away from a single sport. Our guys take time off at the professional level. We keep track of their activity, and we tell them they need to shut it down. For kids, it’s even more important. Research shows that one-sport athletes are more prone to injury. By playing different sports, you work different muscles. I mention in the book, Bobby Knight would recruit multi-sport athletes and would go watch his recruits play their secondary sport because he wanted to see them play a sport where they would not be the best, and needed to work to improve. With one-sport athletes, you risk burn out. I played three sports, basketball, football, and baseball, and went from one to another, but the changes made it feel like I had breaks. Also, when kids are young, they often don’t know what they want. And how do parents know what sports their kids may end up gravitating to? So it’s important to play several. My one son actually quit baseball, and went to hockey, convinced it was his future. Only when he was gone from that sport, did he realize he missed and loved baseball. He came back.

The Matheny Manifesto.
TPC – In The Matheny Manifesto you obviously talk a lot about parents, but also coaches. What advice do you have for parents and coaches in building a positive relationship?

MM –Both need to have a good, realistic definition of success for the team and individual players, and that needs to be communicated. Coaches can’t get sucked into what others may be shooting for. Coaches need to tell parents what they stand for. When necessary, there needs to be tough but fair discussions. Both coaches and parents need to understand the importance of kids having fun, but also in developing people. Coaches are teachers and mentors. They need to use their time to help build character. Coaches should have parents list characteristics they want their kid to have, and then work on those at practice. Coaches can help parents build character in their kids.

TPC - Coaches can help parents. Parents can also help coaches, right?

MM – Yes. Parents have to do their part in developing their child as a player. Coaches should give parents to-do lists like play three games of catch together before the next game, or play some Whiffle Ball. Kids will not only improve their skills, but it also provides time to be together.

TPC – Did you happen to see the speech Dave Belisle, manager of the 2014 New England Region Champion, gave to his team during last year’s Little League Baseball® World Series?

MM – It was great! We need more coaches like him. He understands it’s about the process and the experience, not the wins. As a coach, you should be a huge, positive impact on kids. Some coaches want to emulate those they grew up with or grew up watching. The Billy Martin way doesn’t work at the youth level. Coaches like Dave Belisle do it right.

TPC – What can Little Leaguers® teach Major Leaguers?

MM - To have fun playing the sport. Yes, there are big dollars at stake, but this is a kids’ game, and it’s okay to let their kid-side out. Their talent will come through no matter what. Major Leaguers need to remember what drew them to the game as a kid. They need to be reminded they were once like Little Leaguers now, and back then, they watched professional players’ every move. Professional ball players need to be positive and impactful to young players.

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The Parent Connection - May 2015 - Archive