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What can a parent do?

September 5, 2011

Baseball has an infinite number of stories about the players, personnel, coaches and fans whom are associated with the game. One thing that is common among all the unique stories is having parents during the path of participating with the game. I realize the common thread is obvious, but the job of parenthood is key to success as a citizen first and athlete second. There are multiple positions affiliated with the game of baseball throughout the many steps of participation on the field. Surely there are some instances of tragedy where a child loses a parent, or maybe both, but the relative or friend that steps up to help the child assume a very important role in their life. So what can a parent do to help their son play baseball? Try to take a walk with your kids in the game of baseball.

I will never claim to have all the answers but being the father of a current professional baseball player in the Kansas City Royals organization and a scout for the Florida Marlins I do have a small clue about the game of baseball. Routinely I’m asked questions about things associated around the great game of baseball. Some ask about youth ball, some ask about the high school challenges, some ask about playing college baseball, some want advice about improving their son’s skills and many more want to know about the path of their son playing in professional baseball. What is the most important thing a parent can do for their son around the game of baseball? What should a parent do about extra instruction? When should a parent leave the dugout and let someone else control their son’s participation on the field? The examples of questions go on and on covering a huge variety of topics. There all good questions but I’m reminded by a comment my grandfather made to me when I was very young… the only stupid question is the one never asked. It’s very obvious that many parents have no clue about the game and steps to play for a long time and that is fine. Sound advice for the baseball parent can be discussed in many ways, but for the purpose of this article I will address the key ingredients to help any parent with their challenges around the game. I have made mistakes during my walk of being a parent but hopefully some of these experiences can be beneficial during your journey. Take a walk with your kids in the game of baseball and you just might be pleasantly surprised.

Photo credit James Lamb

Wait for your son to ask you about playing the game. Take them to games and hope they catch the bug and desire to play. It will happen sooner or later if your son wants to learn how to throw, catch or hit. Don’t rush this step of the baseball career. If you already missed this important step, or ignored the obvious, it will eventually be exposed and unlikely they will be a fan of the game. Not the end of the world by any means but I see players in the high school level, and even college, that illustrate major resentments. The further I dig or see it becomes extremely obvious the player does not play for the right reasons. Way too much work is necessary for baseball success and the desire simply must be from within the person not someone else. The best approach to baseball starts early through desires from the player not the parent. Parents cannot do the work needed for the player’s opportunity to play the game at the highest level, nor can they write a check for their son’s chance to be in the show. Don’t force the game on kids!

Allow them to be kids. Let them enjoy playing the game of baseball. This directly ties into the previous point I know but if parents don’t have a sound grip on a foundation for the game of baseball there will be some serious challenges around the dinner table. Even if the only time you use the table is during the holidays. Kids need to be kids as long as possible and cannot be expected to be perfect on the baseball field. The game of baseball is failure based during half of the game. The offensive side is the glaring example of failure associated with baseball and must be accepted during the early years of playing. Parents that expect more hits, less strike-outs, more wins or higher expectations than the statistics of average big leaguers are setting their kids up for some serious challenges in baseball and in life. I can say that in retrospect I too was a victim of high expectations during my son’s playing youth baseball. I realize it is difficult to allow our kids to fail with dignity but if we, as parents, push too hard… our young men will likely have years of therapy in their future due to our high unrealistic expectations during their youth. The games your son plays during the ages of 5 to 17 will not impact their careers of playing for a long time, but the negative reaction to possible failure during those games could keep them from wearing a uniform quicker than necessary. If you allow them to fail with integrity, I guarantee you will see them succeed around the game. It is imperative that the kids are allowed to be kids during the early years of playing baseball. The longer they can play with fun in their hearts the higher the likelihood they will be in love with the game enough to survive the challenges ahead. Don’t forget their kids while they play!

Let them experience other sports during their youth. Don’t be in a hurry to have your son play 100+ games a year. Way too many kids are simply playing too much baseball during their youth. This approach to playing baseball is an epidemic now in some areas of the United States where the weather permits games and tournaments to be scheduled practically year round. The ideas of missing out on baseball development are driven by good marketing from a bunch of ill-advised people and corporations. Some players in the professional level are falling victim to a growing statistic of arm problems before their careers are complete and in certain circumstances a player’s career comes to an abrupt halt due to injury. Recently, I have struggled with this situation via hindsight of my own son’s amateur baseball career. John went down earlier this year in a Double-A level game with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the first inning against the third batter. Maybe he played too much during his youth, and maybe he didn’t, but this Dad will always wonder if the amount of youth games really contributed to the Tommy John surgery before his 21st birthday. Parents should force their boys to rest or simply play another sport to help occupy their minds away from baseball during the typical off-season periods of baseball. If you live in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas or Florida try to pretend there is snow on the ground during the winter months and you might not need to endure the agony of watching your son‘s career stop against a huge brick wall. My son played youth basketball and even flag-football in trying to rest from the game, but his desires to play baseball usually won the household battles especially the closer he got to graduating from high school. The hundred plus game schedules should be a goal for a baseball player not part of the process for obtaining the professional opportunity of the game. Plenty of other things can give their bodies the much-needed rest.

Keep being involved with your son playing the game of baseball. Having been a coach for many years now throughout all levels of youth baseball following my son’s desire to play the game, I am still blown away by the number of parents that treat their son’s practice, games or training as nothing more than a form of childcare. It’s not necessary to be at every practice or game but the more the merrier, at least until they become high school players. Pushing your son’s out of the car at their practice and running errands prevent chances of assuring he’s really learning how to play the game, or more importantly, having fun. If he’s not having fun he should be doing something else to find his passion and genius in life. I played for a few real crappy coaches during my youth but my love and desire to play the game was my personal driving force to work hard and compete for a line-up spot. You’ll never know about your son’s desires if you’re busy getting your nails done or working your brains out to help your boss pay his mortgage. By watching your kids practice or play you’re giving yourself a chance to make sure their desires to take part. Popping into a practice without announcement will give you a clear perspective of their experience and it will have enormous benefit when your son finds you there taking part of their enjoyment, or lack thereof. Your son’s may lose their desires to improve if you’re not part of the experience needed for them to improve and develop during their amateur days of playing the game. I realize the huge challenges parents have to mange time in our fast paced economy and lifestyles but you really should make an effort to be actively involved with the baseball stuff. If you’re too involved your son will let you know that you need to back off. Over involvement is really very common during the wrong stages of a boy’s baseball career, but that is another article for another day. Keep staying involved during their baseball until they make the high school team, at least.

What can a parent do? Try to take a walk with your kid in the game of baseball. The experiences from walking side by side around the game will be life changing for everyone involved. Although a potential love affair with the game may create other obstacles down the road of life all of which depend on the level of involvement with baseball, one thing can be said for sure and that is a true respect for the game will be created. If a relationship is fully allowed to blossom the benefits are unlimited by the amount of jobs associated in and around the game. Parents can have a profound impact on their kids both in and out of the ballpark. Being a good human being only adds to the true value of any ballplayer at any level. Talent, hard work, a dash of luck and tremendous humility can open many doors and reciprocal affair with baseball. I’m always looking forward to yet another unparalleled baseball story ingrained by all the individuality of the greatest game on earth.

Copyright James Lamb. All rights reserved.

This article was posted late last night by a friend and baseball colleague that runs the MLB Reports site. Thanks Jonathan for asking me to write about this specific topic!

One Comment
  1. Michelle Meade permalink
    September 14, 2011 18:33

    That was one of the best articles I have ever read. Wish James wrote it 15 years ago, it might have helped me to inspire my kids. James I wish you and John the very best!

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