Back Coaching for Fun: Water Beetles to the Rescue!

Most of the stuff you hear about parents and youth sports is not particularly positive.  I have had my share of very unsatisfying experiences with parents without perspective (PWPs).   This is the cult of parents who believe their son or daughter is destined to such greatness that they have already drawn up floor plans for the mansion that son or daughter is going to build them on the beach in the Caribbean.   These same PWPs have no way to see their child as part of a bigger thing.  They blame their child, the coaches, other kids, referees, umpires, the weather, the sporting good manufacturers, and/or Saddam Hussein every time their child fails to live up to their expectations on the field or on the court.  (Or the “pitch” for those soccer parents who somehow believe soccer in the USA is ever going to be big enough to generate revenue so players can build their parents mansions on the beaches of the Caribbean.)

Coaches, of course, are always misusing their budding super star.   PWPs actually resent when a coach, who they already think is unworthy to work with their child, spends time working with other players or dares to give playing time over their prodigy.   The concept of winning games the right way and building athletes with character is not on their radar.  In fact, these things are just roadblocks to be negotiated on their child’s rise to stardom.   How many truly talented players have had their potential careers ruined by PWPs?   How many young people have simply given up trying to be better because whatever effort they make is not good enough to fit into the trajectory mapped out by their PWP?

This isn’t the time to document all the insane actions of parents in defense of the crumbling dream they have been trying to force their child to live.  Beating up coaches, threatening and assaulting officials, badmouthing good-hearted volunteers, ripping other players in front of peers and parents, driving their own child into drug use and worse are all part of the PWPs repertoire.

I might even have been a PWP myself at one point.  I thought one of my sons was going to really make it as an athlete…maybe even all the way to a college scholarship.  But unlike most genuine PWPs, I grew up and looked at the evidence staring me in the face.  I came to understand that it was unlikely that he was talented enough to get where I thought he was going to get.  It was at that moment (and I can remember almost exactly when that was) that I started to REALLY enjoy his exploits on the field.   The entire experience was a lot more fun for both of us and as all my children start creeping toward 30 years old and beyond, I can honestly look back at what they did on the fields or in the pools with a lot of satisfaction.  They learned from me to make their own goals and to pursue them with whatever level of vigor that made sense in the scheme of their own lives.  They knew they had genuine support from their parents for whatever that level might turn out to be.  At least that’s the way I look at it.  (I suppose I might hear from them after they read this.) Dropping the “WP” was the best thing I ever did for my kids.  But it takes some common sense and maturity to drop those two letters, and clearly not every PWP is willing or able to make that change.

I bring this all up today because I just returned from Frankenmuth with a travel baseball team I put together last year.  The truth is I almost let some PWPs drive me right out of coaching.  After over thirty years of coaching baseball (and perhaps BECAUSE of over thirty years of coaching baseball) I no longer had the interest or energy to deal with PWPs.   For the first time in my life I failed to honor the mantra instilled in me by my high school history teacher, Glenn Ruggles.  Glenn looked a wild-eyed 18-year old in the face during a particularly intense conflict at school and said “Illegitimi non carborundum”.  Then he walked away.  Without an internet back then, it took me a few days to figure out that I was, in fact, allowing the bastards to grind me down.  Glenn’s advice has served me very well for many years, but as both he and I aged, there was a chance the slogan was getting rusty.

So when a group of PWPs actually provoked me to lower myself to their level and argue with them some years back, instead of remembering Glenn’s words, I actually thought of walking away from coaching…knowing that I still loved every minute of the process that didn’t involve trying to be diplomatic to PWPs.

Ok, so what does this have to do with Frankenmuth?  I mentioned that I started this travel team last year and we named it the Emmet County Water Beetles.  We drew players from around the county that either had never been asked to play on a travel team, or had bad experiences with other teams and just wanted to play some challenging baseball without all the hassle.  We picked the Water Beetles name because we wanted something unique to our area that wasn’t a Petoskey Stone.   My older son went to work and came up with the Hungerford Water Beetle which is on the endangered species list and is native only to EmmetCounty.  It seemed to perfectly match so much of what our team was all about.

My intent was to play in one tournament last year, and move on.  I was trying to keep my high school coaching career alive and Little League and travel baseball are real time drains.  I really saw the Water Beetles as one-and-done.   So in August, 2012, we travelled to Frankenmuth and the boys played on bases longer than 60 feet, with pitching mounds longer than 46 feet, with lead-offs, and pick-offs, and all the other things that look like “real” baseball.

I can’t even tell you for sure exactly “how” we played.  I know we won our last game just ahead of an amazingly violent thunderstorm.  We lost an earlier game in extra innings.  The players, who for the most part had never played with each other, came together and had what many of them called the best baseball experience of their short lives.  It was as I was driving back through that ferocious storm that I silently smiled at the end of my long career coaching youth baseball.

But come January the phone started ringing.  Players and parents wanted to know where the Water Beetles were going to travel to in 2013.   There is no way to describe the uplifting nature of those calls.  I already knew all the parents weren’t PWPs, but sometimes that is very hard to remember when the bastards are trying to carborundum you.

It didn’t take long to get a schedule together, sponsors, uniforms, equipment, etc., and the Water Beetles 2013 were off and running.   Our first tournament in April was rained out, and while were practicing, we had to wait all the way until the end of May to try again.  As luck would have it, we returned to Frankenmuth for their Memorial Day Classic.  This time I do remember “how” we played.

We had the identical record as last year, but we came away knowing we could play with the big boys.  Parents and siblings spent the whole weekend sitting at the ballpark and rooting on their team.  Not one single question/complaint about playing time from any player or parent.  Not one single incident of bad sportsmanship from players.  (In fact after the final game, the umpire came up to me and said I had the best group of young men in the entire tournament.  I thanked him, wanted to tell him that I already knew that, but kept silent and savored the moment.)

So I couldn’t be happier that those calls started coming in January and I couldn’t be happier that I work with a group of players with great character.   And it is not a coincidence in any way that there’s not one PWP in the whole group of families that joined us in Frankenmuth.

If more PWPs would give the gift I gave my own children and grow up and gain some perspective, there’d be a lot more Water Beetles around the country, and a whole lot fewer stressed out kids. And parents.

You can follow the Water Beetles here.

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2 Comments on “Back Coaching for Fun: Water Beetles to the Rescue!”

  1. Dawn Cartwright May 28, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Great, well written article. I see my husband and I in it! Good news, we have relaxed and developed the ability to laugh at ourselves on and off the field….that was not the case a year ago. I know we are not alone………….

  2. Richard Scott,D.O. May 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    Nice essay. Great to see a coach with perspective and insight. Coaches are of all sorts. When my kids were in youth hockey, two decades ago, there were great coaches and awful ones. And yes some parents who were sure their five year old would be in the NHL.
    My musician son was not a gifted or challenging player. A lefty, as right brained musicians often are, he lost some teeth when hit in the face by a burly eleven year old who had not pitched before , was fast and uncontrolled and had never faced a lefty. He came back and faced pitching at the end of the season…requiring great courage. He also played youth hockey as he noticed his younger brother skating easily. It wasn’t. He was a gritty left wing but only scored once, the last game of the season and was toted on the shoulders of his team…the other boys saluting him for his effort.

    On the reverse side I was asked to lecture to the high school coaches in my first year in practice about knee injuries. Then, my sentiment about the interest they had reminded me of their interest as students. They sat in the back row and read the newspaper. Reminded me of how our high school football coach treated those kids who got hurt.

    More recently I had a young patient with a sprained knee, MRI neg and told himTo rest. At five seven he was sure he was going to be a defensive back in the NFL. I tried to counsel him in a sport where his potential more and risk less. He came in with his helmet and proudly displayed the clear plastic face protector his dad got him..even in the eleventh grade the kids poked and gouged.

    All in all, families and kids need to follow,your advice


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