Major League Baseball’s Mike Matheny thinks the biggest problem in youth sports today is parents – parents who yell at their kid, parents who curse at the ref, parents who fight with the coach about playing time.
Matheny, current manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, wrote a 2015 book, The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life. It was the Christmas gift my daughter, now living in St. Louis, gave her sports-loving brother, and it’s generated some interesting dinner table discussions at the Toler house. Matheny gave a recent interview to NPR’s Dave Davies, which you can read and/or listen to here.
Before I dive into the subject of parent participation in youth sports, I need to share a confession. I’ve been thrown out of two youth soccer games for cause. One was a Classic League soccer match at Richland College. One was a Wildcat soccer game at Berkner High School. More about that later.
Matheny is a former big-league catcher who spent 13 years in the majors and won four Golden Glove Awards, but his legacy in sports may come from the code of behavior he wrote after he retired from playing and agreed to coach his son’s youth baseball team. Parents on the team were itching to have him coach, of course, but he had some conditions.
If your child is going to play on my team, Matheny said, there’ll be no shouting from the stands – not even words of encouragement. We will receive bad officiating, he assured parents – after all, the students serving as referees aren’t much older than our players – but you will not protest. And you will trust my decisions about playing time.
Matheny believes his techniques can and should be implemented throughout the spectrum of youth sports.
Several Wildcat athletes agree.
“My parents never yelled, but other parents did,” says William Haskins, quarterback for the Wildcats this season and third baseman in the spring. “I played football, baseball, basketball, soccer and swam as a kid, and I know, for the kids that had parents yell, they were very embarrassed. When I am a parent, I will be quiet and not say anything during the game.”
“I’ve seen parents hollering and arguing with the referee, but it’s usually because they don’t know the rules,” says Brendan Bouldin, a 3-sport athlete for Lake Highlands High School. “They think something is not allowed, but really it is. They are yelling for no reason.”
Brendan is a slot receiver on the football team, plays center field in baseball and is a member of the wrestling team. As a child, he played soccer and basketball.
“Mostly, I figure it’s no big deal. I just think they are really into it.”
“I think when parents yell at their kids, it can be really confusing for them,” says Riley Smith, soccer player for the Lady Wildcats, “especially when the parents think they know more than the coach. We still have problems with parents yelling at kids at the high school level, which seems a bit bizarre to me. I think it is perfectly okay to yell when your child does something good, but if people wanted you yelling at their kid, you would be the one coaching.”
Riley began playing soccer at 4 on a team called the Barbies. By age 7, she and her Highlander classmates were calling themselves the Hurricanes.
“If you want to tell your kid something, save it for after the game,” adds Riley. “Many times when kids hear their parents yelling at them from the bleachers, there is a sense of panic that what you are doing is wrong. In Matheny’s case, those kids are only 10-year-olds, and the whole point of the game is to 1) have fun and 2) instill a love for the game in kids. When parents become more obsessed with winning, it takes the fun out of playing for the kids.”
Kyle Crain, senior outfielder on the Wildcat baseball team, agrees.
“I didn’t like hearing a parent yell at their kid when he messed up – no one does,” says Kyle, who played basketball, football and soccer when he was little. “When a parent yelling interferes with the coaches, the coaches get angry. That’s annoying. Usually the coaches let it go, but I remember one time when a coach went into the stands and asked some parents to stop. And I remember a kid telling his parents, ‘stop yelling at me.’ I even remember one kid who ran away from baseball practice.”
Encouragement, he says, is another story.
“When parents give words of encouragement, it does help. It boosts kids’ confidence. I remember my parents encouraging me before I went up to the plate. That was nice.”
“I think it would be fun to coach my own kids,” adds Kyle. “I think I would have a meeting first, to say, ‘let the coach do their thing. That’s what they’re here for.’”
Now back to my Parentzilla story.
There were just minutes to go in the Wildcat JV soccer game, and the stands were full with an overlapping set of parents – all of the JV and all of the varsity. As the clock counted down, a Ram player pinned a Wildcat from behind with one arm and repeatedly punched him in the face with the other. Blood gushed from the Wildcat’s face (doctors at the ER later determined his nose was broken). As the ref looked on, motionless, just feet away from the melee, I stood and shouted, “Referee, do something!” (Okay, I yelled that repeatedly.) He turned and pointed at me. I then hollered, “Ref, this is your fault!” He then pointed at the uniformed security guard, also near the attacking Ram player, then pointed at me. The security guard then left the field, climbed the stands and escorted me to my car.
Yeah, that wasn’t the “something” I had in mind.
The Wildcat student athletes’ reaction on the pitch was universal, “Whose crazy mother is that?”
Confessions of a Crazed Soccer Mom.
The Wildcat football season kicks off this Friday night at 7:30 with an away game against Mesquite. Our first home game is Sept. 2 against. Lewisville. You can view the full schedule here. Season tickets are mostly sold out, but individual tickets may be purchased at the gate or in the LHHS foyer from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on game day. Go Cats!