By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
I've written about youth sports parents and coaches and how they can become too emotional when dealing with other coaches, players and officials. And while some probably don't “get it” that losing their cool in youth league is wrong, others just may not have the experience or the tools to behave properly.
I was speaking with a business associate in a different state and the topic of his youth baseball team came up. He related to me, with some embarrassment, a story about the game he coached in which both his first base coach and his bench coach were ejected. Now, several parents were up in arms about the example this set for the 12 year-old kids.
Apparently it started when a coach began criticizing the umpire from the first base box. The bench coach joined in, Words were said back and forth and finally the official got tired of the bickering and tossed them both out.
I listened to his story and asked if he'd like some advice on how to handle the situation next time. It starts with calling time out.
In my experience, the easiest way to ensure that a disagreement is going to be escalated is to make it public. Here is an analogy, using Facebook: Imagine someone you know posts something you don't agree with, or that you believe to be inaccurate. You feel compelled to respond. If you make a public comment for everyone to see, what invariably happens next? The person who made the original post finds it necessary to add a rebuttal. Other people weigh in with comments, some backing you, some backing the other side. No one is willing to let it go, everyone wants the last word.
Now, imagine instead you simply made your case to your friend in a private message. Assuming you were not hostile in your comments, there is a much better chance that the back and forth will be cordial and won't ratchet up. It will also be much easier for you to make your point and leave it at that.
Arguing with an official out loud, when every player and parent can hear it, is the equivalent of the public comment on social media. Calmly calling time out and asking respectfully if you can approach the official is the private message.
I explained to my associate that when the first base coach made those comments, here is what probably happened: People in the stands said, “Oooooooo!” The umpire got embarrassed. Then the umpire shot back and there were more, “Oooooh's” and now the coaches felt they were being challenged. Testosterone started flowing. Sadly, all of the kids at the field were learning that this was the proper way to behave when there is a disagreement.
If, instead, the coach had calmly asked for time and approached the umpire for a conference, no one's pride would have been hurt or egos bruised. No one's manhood would have been “challenged.” The official would have appreciated the courtesy he was being shown. The other team's coach could have come out for the meeting as well so that he didn't feel his team was being put at a disadvantage. The coach could have expressed his concern without any parents believing they were about to see a Jerry Springer show. And, think about what this models to the most important people in the park....the children. They are being taught that conflicts can and should be handled with civil discussion, not angry shouting and abuse.
I realize that in some sports like soccer it is more difficult to call time out and talk with the referee in the middle of the game, but the same principles apply. Speaking quietly, with respect, avoiding anger and insults when addressing opponents and officials, all go a long way toward building an atmosphere of decorum, not hostility.
With our society currently in the midst of an unprecedented level of rage and meanness due in large part to online comments sections, chat rooms and social media, wouldn't it be wonderful if we coaches could use our children's sports as a model of behavior that might turn the dial back toward a more polite, empathetic and well-mannered generation?
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org