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Melanie Johnson , M.A.
Melanie Johnson , M.A.

Controlling Your Inner Coach

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So now that baseball is in "full swing" I have mixed emotions as a parent.  My younger two sons decided after a family meeting not to play as we agreed that football and basketball were enough for the year.  We would do some one-on-one instruction to help the 11-year- old pitch better, and for my 8-year-old, just playing catch in the backyard would have to do. 

I had envisioned a summer in which I was not living in my car, dealing with bickering kids in the back seat because I missed something, calling a teammate's mom for scores while I was at work (though to be fair, I only did this during Little League District tournament play), but most of all I envisioned just devoting my time to my 14-year-old, who has had personal instruction on batting and can hit off fast, fast pitchers.  However, he also wants to be a pitcher. 

Now I must say that being the parent of a baseball pitcher is not an enviable position.  This is probably why last year was so rough, being that two of them were pitching and my oldest was struggling with it.  While the sibling rivalry is gone, it has been replaced by an "all the eggs in one basket" phenomenon.  Even with all the stress last year, I could count on at least one child to do something grand in a game, never did all three lose a game in the same day.  If someone was in a batting slump, someone else wasn't and so forth.

Suddenly my eyes were opened to what it would be like to have only one child or only one athlete in the family.  This realization though, admittedly, only came after the first practice I attended, because 14-year-olds do not expect their mothers (or their fathers) to sit in on practices and, indeed, I was only one there for the first hour.  By hour two, I had gotten angry at the coach.  Did he not see that my son was snoozing out there in left field, while everyone else on the team was rotating?  What did he know about baseball?  What did he mean "pitchers never go for the ball?" Why the "easy out" when they could have turned two on a play?  Everything he was doing was wrong.  My younger two looked like they were enjoying themselves, since, for once in a long time, they where not a part of it.  Then, when I was ready to leave and expressed my impatience, the coach called my son in from the outfield to pitch.  After a few wild warm-up pitches, he announced, "I guess I have run out of pitchers."  I then tried to give my son some coaching advice from the sidelines through the use of a series of obvious and not so-obvious hand signals about where to put the ball, which probably only helped only to the extent my son realized that the coach was not nearly as scary as I could be when it came down to it.

It was only after reflection that I realized that I did not want to be "that parent" and being "that parent" was only a result of not having two other children to watch play, which made it easier to resist the urge to constantly criticize the coach's decisions.  Then again, on some more dystopian days last summer, I was criticizing all three of the boys' coaches.  Now sans psychodynamic therapy, it is clear to me that this is not about my need to see my kids play the positions they want (I mean having two not play at all seems testament to that).  It is the age-old battle of the sexes in which I have found myself engaged ever since my divorce put me in charge of these things.  It is about my need to compete with the coaches for no other reason than they are men and because I have a hard time thinking that, in the back of their minds, they think I am clueless about how to teach my boys how to do the hard stuff (like pitching and quarterbacking - which, thankfully, was a short-lived experiment after I realized that their personalities were more suited to defense). 

I have to give thes coaches some credit.  Even having been shrugged off as the mom who was simply trying to protect her children from the realities of life and losing while I was not doing that at all, I can't expect this to happen with every coach.  I don't know what he is thinking and I can't read minds.  Maybe he will make mistakes, maybe he will try to pacify some "booster parents", but in the end I cannot engage in a gender war, which at best has led to boys to believe that women can do most things men can do, and at worst has caused me to ratchet up my behavior to bahaving like the worst of the worst fathers ever encountered.  This is all very schoolyard stuff and now that I know of it, I know I can grow from it.