FEATURE: Dad, what have you learnt?
We will learn more about ourselves from coaching the children than the children will learn from us.
This is one of the many insights posed in a recent contribution to Australian Baseball Alumni by Castle Hill President Mark Maguire, who has kindly supplied us with a series of his “Dad” features over the past twelve months.
This feature is the fifth (possibly last) of the series, and another that we know will challenge the thought processes of parents, coaches and mentors with an interest in the personal growth of our young people – including those many who have adopted baseball as their chosen sport.
We again extend our thanks to Mark Maguire for his contribution to Australian Baseball Alumni and we look forward to his continued engagement well into the future.
Dad, what have you learnt?
A few years ago, a baseball dad was at the end of his tether during his first year of coaching his son’s teeball team. He was frustrated and losing patience with the children in the team. He had played baseball at a very high level himself. He knew the game; he knew the skills and attitude required to become a very good player. He didn’t know coaching five and six year olds was going to be this hard.
I told him about my first year of coaching teeball to five year olds and although I didn’t know anything about baseball, I thought my good nature with children would make me a champion at coaching. I was very wrong. I thought I could teach these children something, however, what really happened was they taught me something about myself.
“We will learn more about ourselves from coaching the children than the children will learn from us,” I said to him.
This comment impacted him so much that many months later during the club presentation he mentioned it and how much it had helped him through the rest of the season.
Dad, what have you learnt about yourself?
You would have heard the phrase, ‘go into the room of mirrors and take a good long look at yourself ’. The good news is there are a lot of mirrors out there that are right in front of us and we don’t need to pay a lot of money to search for someone holding that one special mirror that gives us the answer to life.
While writing this ‘Dad’ series I’ve made some straightforward, sobering comments about us dads (and mums), and how basically, we need to get out of the way and let our children play ball. I’ve written about what my interactions with my son have taught me and what I have observed from watching ‘good’ parents and ‘bad’ parents at games.
In all my years growing up as a young soccer player (football to the purists), there is a memory that stands out in my mind and it is something I am not proud of.
Every time I played, all I could hear were the frustrated shouts of my dad on the sideline telling me what to do. He wasn’t the coach. The coach also yelled out. I was fine with that. I still remember my favourite soccer coach, a Scotsman by the name of George, rebuking me at half time when I pulled out from making a strike on goal, “Ya chickened out, didn’t ya? Never chicken out, Marky.” I smile, reflecting back on that dressing-down as if it was just last week. But I digress…
This was about my dad and how I responded to him on one particular day. I have no recollection of what he said to me from the sideline but most of the time it upset me. One time, at the age of twelve, I had had enough and responded back, “Dad, just shut up will you.” It hurts even as I write this. I am ashamed to say I didn’t even want my dad to watch me play because I felt so much pressure from him being there. There were other children, who had to combat their own dads back then as well. And today, in every sport, there are children who have the same emotional battles with their parents on the sideline.
From that day on, my dad never said much from the sideline. He is now old and loves coming to watch his grandson play baseball. He still calls a pitch, a ‘bowl’ and a catcher, ‘the wickie’. He’s learning. But he has learnt to cheer and not criticise.
I had to go through my journey of being a critical coach or parent on the sideline. I had to learn how to speak and teach five year olds and older. I spoke to them as if I was barking orders from centre back position in the over 35s soccer team I played for. This only made them cry. It upset me as well when some of the parents told me off for speaking to their children in such a manner.
My son often told me how bad it was when I showed my frustrations on the sideline when someone made an error in a baseball game. Whether I was coaching or simply watching, I would let out a loud groan.
My frustration could be seen; my frustration could be heard. My wife pointed out how obvious it was every time I gasped, turned around and almost keeled over, but it was my son who said, “Dad, you’ve got to stop. Everyone hears you, even in the outfield.” And I thought I was being subtle and holding back my emotions by not yelling out any criticism. However, my yelp and body movements showed my true self and I couldn’t hide that.
I sit still now and show more self-control. What have I learnt? That it doesn’t matter; it is not I playing, but my son. He plays for his enjoyment and not to make my insecure, competitive ego feel good. I’m learning my son needs me more when times have been tough out on the diamond with either the bat or the ball than when he has had great success out there.
I know a baseball player who has played at the highest level. He told me about the hard times and successes he had while playing in the US. He told me his dad would phone him to congratulate him when he had his successes. Yet, the son needed his dad to call and encourage him most when he was going through a bad patch, when things were not working out on the baseball diamond. He needed more than ever that refreshing, securing voice during the challenges.
Dad, what have we learnt about ourselves?
It’s nice riding on the coat-tails of our children. I like it. You like it. Whatever it is, baseball, football, academics or chess. It feels good. We feel proud. We daydream about it. We reflect on that special hit or play. We indulge in the possibilities of the future. We hear of the odds of making it to the top of the baseball pyramid… and don’t we like to think our child is going to defy the odds. We play it down. We don’t boast. We know we become a target if we proclaim our child is the next big short stop. But still we hope. Like a grandparent religiously buying a lotto ticket and promising to spread the winnings among the children and grandchildren, we invest time and money and extra training promising ourselves this has got to have a pay off one day and besides, we are only doing it for our children, right? This is just human nature. And may no one take away our dreams.
Dads, what have we learnt? Hopefully, you’ve learned the difference between your dreams and your child’s dreams; that you can’t instill your dreams upon them. You will see if your child is ignited for the game and owns a dream. Most junior baseball players figure out themselves where they are in the pecking order with fellow players and either settle for mere enjoyment of the game or strive to work harder to become better. It takes a bit longer for us Dads to catch up with this reality.
Dad, there is no panacea to restrain our singular vision and highly competitive nature. You are who you are. There is so much of you in you that you will never lose you. Be comfortable with that. What it simply takes is a different perspective. If you can see yourself, your child, and the game from another seat at the table, your eyes will be opened.
Empathy, self-control and courage are the keys. No matter who you are, you can apply these characteristics to your life. I am not asking you to change your life, but merely asking you to consider focusing on some healthy attributes that will help you enjoy being a parent and fan of your child’s baseball game. And this can’t be bad.
Dad, what have you learnt? If you wish, get in contact with me and I can give one-on-one assistance or I can speak to small and large groups. I not only help parents and coaches see the reality of their personal situation, but I teach practical steps to show you how one can be different.
Yours in baseball
Castle Hill Baseball Club