A Solution for “The Parent Problem”

As I’ve traveled around talking to teachers and coaches, there’s one refrain I hear over and over: The kids are great. The problem is the parents.

I think this is deeply true, most prominently in youth sports, but also in other areas, like music and the classroom. It’s not because parents are dumb or ill-intentioned — though, okay, some are — it’s rather because a lot of parents genuinely want to help, and don’t know how best to do it, so they helicopter around and that makes things messy (I’ve been there, done that).

With that in mind, check out this letter written a few years back by a new Little League baseball coach to his team’s parents before the season began. And what makes it slightly more meaningful is that the Little League baseball coach happens to be Mike Matheny, who’s gone on to be the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals (he coached Little League just after he retired from pro ball).

If you’re curious, I would recommend clicking this link to read the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts:

I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. I think that it is best to nip this in the bud right off the bat. I think the concept that I am asking all of you to grab is that this experience is ALL about the boys. If there is anything about it that includes you, we need to make a change of plans. My main goals are as follows:

(1) to teach these young men how to play the game of baseball the right way,

(2) to be a positive impact on them as young men, and

(3) do all of this with class.

We may not win every game, but we will be the classiest coaches, players, and parents in every game we play. The boys are going to play with a respect for their teammates, opposition, and the umpires no matter what.

Once again, this is ALL about the boys. I believe that a little league parent feels that they must participate with loud cheering and “Come on, let’s go, you can do it”, which just adds more pressure to the kids. I will be putting plenty of pressure on these boys to play the game the right way with class, and respect, and they will put too much pressure on themselves and each other already. You as parents need to be the silent, constant, source of support.

I am a firm believer that this game is more mental than physical, and the mental may be more difficult, but can be taught and can be learned by a 10 and 11 year old. If it sounds like I am going to be demanding of these boys, you are exactly right. I am definitely demanding their attention, and the other thing that I am going to require is effort. Their attitude, their concentration, and their effort are the things that they can control. If they give me these things every time they show up, they will have a great experience.

I need all of you to know that we are most likely going to lose many games this year. The main reason is that we need to find out how we measure up with the local talent pool. The only way to do this is to play against some of the best teams. I am convinced that if the boys put their work in at home, and give me their best effort, that we will be able to play with just about any team.

The thing I like most about this letter is how it so clearly establishes the relationship, and does so in a big-picture, friendly, personal way. As a parent, I wish I would have gotten more letters like this. As a former Little League coach, I’m wondering, why the heck didn’t I send one?

Why don’t more teachers and coaches use this technique? Could it be possible to use letters like this as a tool to change the dynamic, so that parents might stop being a problem and start being more of an asset?

(Big thanks to John Kessel and Jennifer Armson-Dyer for the heads up.)