As some people know, I umpired high school baseball for five years. I have now switched, and am coaching high school baseball. In our first game of the year, we scored the winning run on a play at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning. The thing is, our runner—who was called safe—was really out. Yet, we won the game, celebrated, and moved on with our lives. At our next practice, I talked to the guys about that play. They looked at me a little funny when I told them, straight up, our guy was out. I then attempted to teach them a lesson about baseball (and possibly life). The lesson is: we will have incorrect calls that go in our favor, and we will have incorrect calls that go in the other team’s favor. That’s life. Officials aren’t perfect. Neither are we. What defines us, is how we react to those calls. At the beginning of the season, I handed out a sheet of team “rules” of the conduct I would expect of the team. Included in these rules, it says: “Your job is to play baseball. If you argue a call with an umpire, you will be on the bench. I can guarantee you that our umpires will miss calls from time to time. Showing your displeasure in their call will accomplish nothing. I will have your back, and argue when it is necessary.”
I wish I could make the same rule for our parents as I do for our players. Strike that, I wish I could make the same rule for ALL parents. Between coaching baseball, umpiring baseball, watching my wife referee basketball, and attending basketball, baseball, football, and softball games for my five children—I can say without question that there is a large percentage of parents and coaches whose behavior is absolutely appalling. I’ve seen: the police called to a 7-8 year old’s football game, shouting matches in the stands, fights in the stands, threats of violence, fans and coaches following officials to their cars (while screaming obscenities), accusations of racism, the list goes on and on. In every case, the behavior is inexcusable and needs to stop.
The main reason it needs to stop—players learn from coaches and parents—as much as we sometimes think they don’t. Next time you are at a game, just watch the behavior. The players will take on the demeanor of the coaches and fans. If the coaches and fans are decent and respectful, I can almost guarantee the players are as well. The opposite also holds true. But, you may ask, what is the big deal? It’s just the heat of the moment. They are just being competitive. They just want to win. To that, I say: nonsense! Believe me, I want to win as much or more than anyone I know. So, why does this bug me so bad? Is it simply because I think it is reprehensible for grown adults to treat officials this way (officials who are doing this for the love of the game and the kids—mind you—not for the money)? That is certainly one reason. But the main reason I hate this behavior, is because of what it teaches our kids.
Back to my rule sheet. The number one rule states: “NO EXCUSES. We will all make mistakes. We will not make excuses. If you strike out, make an error, etc.—learn from it, let it go, move on, and be better next time.” Blaming the official is just an excuse. It’s lazy, and I don’t like it. Was the pitch two inches outside? Maybe. But guess what? You had two strikes, you should have been swinging.
I am just plain sick of watching players come off the field or the court after a loss and immediately blame the officials. As parents and coaches, we need to teach our kids responsibility and accountability—not to make excuses and look for someone to blame. We need to be an example of how to win—and lose—with respect. The lessons they learn on the field and the court, are lessons they will take with them and implement in all areas of their lives. Let’s make these lessons count.