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Little League is a learning experience for everybody

Editor’s note: The author of the column below, Doug Sarant, is a coach in the Oak Ridge Woodlands Area (ORWALL) Little League in Texas. Mr. Sarant’s column (”The Press Box”) appears in The Villager newspaper. It is reprinted here by permission.

Little League baseball season is upon us once again.

Over the last few years I've tried to let you inside the dugout and have a view of what it's like to coach at the Little League level.

All the while, I've learned quite a bit myself. Such as, no two kids are exactly alike. It did not surprise me that no two parents are alike either.

Another very valuable lesson that I've always really known, but sometimes forgotten, is that I'm not the ultimate guru of baseball. If I was, I'd be making a lot more money coaching baseball for a living.

Baseball is like the insurance business in that every day something can come up that you know nothing about. There are so many ins and outs of baseball it's impossible to relay all you know to the kids in a single season. Never mind all the stuff I don't know that they will never learn from me.

Combine all you know about baseball with the psychological aspects of coaching young athletes and what you have is probably one of the toughest non-paying jobs on the planet. It's a really humbling volunteer gig.

Having played the game through college, I once thought I might have a leg up on some other coaches. Unfortunately, that's far from the truth.

Just because you are good at something doesn't mean you're able to instill that ability in anyone. It takes a special person to remember how and why they learned something, then, convey that information to someone else in a manner they can understand.

That's why so many great coaches were marginal players. They were not instinctive players. They had to break the game down to its basics and be fundamentally sound. They were the ones who saw the entire field and actually listened to the coach.

A friend of mine back east whom I played high school baseball with is now one of the most successful coaches in Connecticut. This guy didn't see the field unless we were 10 runs up or down. By now, he's forgotten more about baseball than I've ever known or ever will. I guess the point is, being good at something doesn't suddenly make you a good coach.

Consider this my coaching mistakes column.

Not fundamental baseball blunders, but psychological missteps.

Up to this point, I've been the kind of coach who was brutally honest with players and parents, almost to the point of being tactless. I thought honesty was the best policy no matter how you go about it.

Having fielded my share and someone else's, of parents' complaints by e-mail, phone calls and in person, I became hardened and unsympathetic. In doing this, I'd forgotten that the game is about the kids and not to take anything personally.

Over the years, I've been given some pretty good lessons by parents. I'll share one with you.

There was a point a few seasons ago when I was having trouble with a couple of players. I felt I couldn't get anything done with them around and told the parents this in a less than tactful way.

One of the parents came back and was quite heated. I won't go into the whole scolding. But, this parent felt I was telling him his kid wasn't worth a blip. Not true. But, as tactless as I was, it probably came out that way.

To make a long story short, he told me, "You know, maybe my kid isn't a model kid, but not many Little Leaguers are. I'm not worrying so much about his actions now because we're trying to be good parents and I really believe our kid is a good person. Sometimes he doesn't act the way we want him to. But, I guarantee he won't be acting like this when he's 20."

This man said that and I was like, "WOW!!" That was so powerful to me.

There are times when parents come up with things that are way off base and out of line. But, he really hit the nail on the head.

Sometimes when these kids act up, you think there's no hope for them and they'll be like that the rest of their lives. At times, I even start judging the parents because I think they don't know what their doing.

That's when I know I've gone off the deep end. Although I think I'm an OK parent and I have a pretty good kid, I know I'm not even close to being the perfect parent and my kid isn't a candidate for the centerfold of "Wonderful Children Weekly."

The following is some advice I received from an insightful high school coach from Dallas.

"As far as dealing with Little League parents and their kids abilities, I think you have to be as truthful as you can without crushing them. You have to remember, a lot of times they don't want to know the truth and the parent starts thinking what does he know? He's just a Little League coach.

"Sometimes, the parents will get positive comments from a private instructor they have paid to work with their kid and he told them the kid is talented to keep getting money from them. The parent keeps getting this idea that their kid is special, he's real good. You have to remember that you're just one of many who are giving an opinion upon their son's talent. You may not always be right, but if you coach objectively you'll be right more than wrong because you're not looking at the players with rose colored glasses on.

"You've always got to be tactful and respectful. If you get a parent who wants [you to] tell them flat out, then you may be a little less tactful. However, you should never do that unless the parent gives you the go ahead."

At the Little League level, coaches make mistakes in baseball strategy as well as with basic life situations that arise. I'm willing to admit I'm close to the top of that list.

If I decide to coach again this year, I'll do what I always do, which is try to make it fun and make sure they learn as much as they can. I'll also try to remember lessons learned in the past.

Something I do think I know about is for a team to be successful, the players, coaches and parents must be somewhere close to being on the same page. A certain amount of chemistry has to be developed or it's just not going to work in the fun department, which will lead to an unsuccessful season.

Disagree if you want, but the facts support team chemistry. A team with a ton of good chemistry and a little less talent will beat a team with more talent and less chemistry.

One thing we can all agree on is we want the best for our kids. For starters, I guess we can start thinking before we react. Knee jerk reactions are almost always the wrong reactions.

Hey, I'm right there with you and I'll try to be a good example.

Have a great season!

Doug Sarant can be reached at dsarant@flex.net.

©Houston Community Newspapers Online 2005 (Used by permission)