Important Advice for the Dad Who Berated His Son for Dropping a Flyball
Updated: Nov 11
By Kevin Anselmo
I recently attended a neighbor's under 8 years of age travel baseball game. As I was standing along the right field fence, I was observing how a father from the other team was interacting with his son named Cash. Parents on the opposite side of the field could hear the father intensely screaming out orders with the same passion that an army officer would command soldiers in an intense, life or death war. Even though there was actually a team coach standing on the right field line to instruct the outfielders, Cash’s dad seemed to think that an extra voice would be helpful. A weak fly ball was hit to right field. Cash stood under the ball. The ball sailed over his glove. Error. Cash’s dad went nuts. He kicked the fence multiple times. He started walking around in circles, swearing at his kid’s mishap. He then screamed out everything his son did wrong to lead to the error. Poor Cash sadly looked at his dad and explained he lost the ball in the sun. “Don’t you ever talk back to me,” the father screamed. “I will come out there and kick the s*** out of you.” I felt so horrible for Cash. In fact, the next day, I tried calling this team’s manager to explain that the police should do a wellness check on poor Cash. Coincidentally, a few weeks later I started reading a book entitled The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life. Mike Matheny is a former player and manager for the St. Louis Cardinals. The book covers the guidelines he put in place with parents once he was named manager of an 11 year old baseball travel team after he retired as a player. I wish Cash’s dad would read this book and apply the lessons shared to spare his son of the public humiliation he endured on that hot summer Sunday afternoon in Sarasota, Florida. Actually, there were tons of golden nuggets for parents who aren’t as over the top as Cash’s dad. One of Matheny’s pieces of advice that resonated with me is that parents should attend a game and politely support their child by calmly clapping. Parents need to realize how our words and actions - even well-intended ones (not like Cash’s dad) - impact our kids.
He wrote: “Imagine yourself in the most stressful situation possible, with all your family and friends watching. Imagine being asked to do something so difficult that most people fail three times more often than they succeed. Now imagine that the people you love most in the world are screaming at the top of their lungs at you while you’re trying to do this. Sound tough? Welcome to the world of youth sports.”
Matheny explained how when he was a kid, there were never parents screaming like they are now. Several of his teammates and colleagues from the world of professional baseball - some of whom made it to the Hall of Fame - said their parents never did this either. He even warns against the parents yelling something encouraging, like “You can do this!” Matheny noted: “It actually adds stress! Here’s why: The kid is already under incredible pressure he’s put on himself, standing in that box or standing on that mound. He should be focusing on his teammates and his coaches and the task at hand. But then what if he doesn’t succeed? He’s already crushed because he has let down himself and his team and his coaches. But now you, too?”
Understanding Parent Behavior
So why did Cash’s dad act like such a fool? You probably will not be surprised to find out that I wasn’t interested to engage in a spur of the moment counseling session during the “heat of the battle” of a youth baseball game. My guess though would be that if a counselor did speak to him, the following could be uncovered:
1. High Expectations: Some parents have excessively high expectations for their children's performance in sports. They may see their child as a potential star athlete and believe that intense pressure and criticism will push them to excel.
2. Living Vicariously: Some parents may be living vicariously through their children, hoping to fulfill their own unmet dreams and aspirations. Their child’s participation in sports represents a second chance to achieve their own goals.
3. Social Pressure: With so many touting their kids’ athletic performances on social media, some parents may feel social pressure to see their child achieve as well.
4. Financial investment: Parents often invest a significant amount of time and money into their child's participation in sports.This creates pressure for them to get their “money’s worth” in the form of their kid’s wins and sparkling stats.
5. Lack of Perspective: Some parents may lack perspective and prioritize sports success over character development.
The Matheny Message
Matheny’s book has some very direct advice for people like Cash’s dad.
First, it is not about you - the parent. A message that repeatedly comes across in the book is that parents need to stop being selfish and looking to achieve their own goals through their kids’ performance.
Second, so many have placed performance over character development. Matheny does a marvelous job throughout the book in emphasizing how in youth sports, our primary concern should be kids’ character - not the number on the scoreboard. When this is the goal, it will alter the ways we communicate to our kids. I actually am thinking this through as it relates to my own son’s performance. This season he has struggled statistically as the youngest kid on the team compared to previous seasons. But he has made far more progress on the character development front.
Third, is applying the Golden Rule in sports. Matheny shares his faith throughout the book and writes how he tries to graciously instill Christian principles in how he approaches coaching. One of many ways this plays out is the verse Matthew 7:12 “treating others as you would like to be treated.” An application is dealing with conflicts behind closed doors instead of out in public.
Related to the Golden Rule, I also found Matheny’s take on competing for a spot on the team to be very interesting. In spring training, there are some 60 players competing for 25 spots on a Major League Baseball team. How does a kid with a big dream look out for everybody else when trying to stand out and be one of the 25 survivors? Matheny argues that counterintuitively, it is by proving to be a team player. Matheny also notes that the Golden Rule needs to be applied by how competitors treat opponents, umpires, fans, etc.
If Cash’s dad realized the baseball game was not about him, focused on character development over performance, and imagined for a second how he would have felt if a parent was publicly berating him for a mistake, I’d like to think he would have acted differently.
This story and the principles noted extend beyond the confines of a baseball field and one lunatic dad’s behavior. All parents have a profound impact on their children. By embracing the principles of selflessness, prioritizing character development, and applying the Golden Rule in our parenting, we can foster a supportive and nurturing environment to help our children to thrive and develop into well-rounded individuals.
Kevin Anselmo is the author of Reframing Career Success - Picture Your Significance at Work from a Christian Perspective. He is working on a new book on parenting and youth sports to be published at the end of 2024.