Spring is coming. That means youth baseball is just around the corner too. 

This is THE time, the time all lovers of baseball LIVE for. I sure did. For me as a kid, there were two times of year; baseball season and not baseball season. Not baseball season was just the time to prepare for baseball season. 

But this year is different for me. This year I’m helping to coach my four-year-old son. My first born is playing t-ball. I’m coaching my son! Wow. What a different perspective I have now.

I always used to make fun of baseball parents who took the game too seriously. Didn’t they know it’s just a game? Didn’t they know it was just about kids having fun? Years ago I even made this video about psychopathic Little League parents.

But now I’m starting to feel just a little bit like those crazy parents in the video. It was easy to laugh at them when they were stressing about someone else’s kid, but now that mine is playing, I find myself getting a little bit crazy myself. I mean, shouldn’t these kids just know that after hitting the ball you run to first base and not to third. What’s wrong with kids these days?

So I’m writing this for myself as well as for you. 

Baseball is about having fun.

Some of the greatest professional players who ever played agree. For example:

Or how about this?

I mean, if a guy isn’t having fun, could he, would he, do something like this?

If we end up pushing our kids so hard that they’re not having fun we may think it is for their own good. But in the end we may end up harming them emotionally. And harming our relationship with them as well. Of course, we don’t want that. 

Trouble is, many parents don’t know where the line is between encouragement and force. As a parent or coach, how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?

Depends on the kid. When I was a child I always made my dad play ball with me. I wore him out. It was fun all the time.

As a youngster in Puerto Rico, Carlos Correa loved baseball so much that he used to make his dad hit him grounders where tree roots were sticking up out of the ground. That way he would learn how to field bad bounces. Of course, many of the bad bounces hit him in the face leaving bruises. It was so bad some people thought his parents were beating him. But that’s how much little Carlos wanted to be great.

Obviously, not every kid is that driven, and it isn’t reasonable for a parent to expect that much devotion. But some parents do. If you find yourself constantly wanting your child to practice more than he wants to, that you feel like you almost have to force your child to practice, maybe you’re killing his fun. By pushing their kids too hard, some parents actually cause their kid to hate baseball in the long run. This happens more often than you might think. Parents who do this seldom realize it until it is too late.

And that not only harms the young player psychologically, but it hurts his baseball success as well. Because no one plays any sport at the highest level unless he’s in a zone. A zone of fun. 

If you’re not having fun, you’re not playing your best.

Here’s what Joe Namath said about it: (For those of you who don’t know him, Joe Namath was the first AFL quarterback to win a Super Bowl. They called him “Broadway Joe.”)

Yes, to be good at baseball, or any sport, it takes practice. Without practice you can’t be good, and if you’re not good at it, it’s not that much fun. But if you’re not having fun, no matter how much you practice, you won’t be that good either. So, as parents, we have to find the right balance between encouraging our sons to practice so that they can be good, but not pushing too hard so that it’s not fun. 

Don’t let this happen to you or your team

Here’s a story about coaches pushing their team so hard they ruined a talented team.

The parents of the three best players in the league joined forces to co-manage the team that was so packed with talent they just had to become the champions of the all-important 12-year-old Little League majors league in their town. 

These boys were like an All-Star team. They were born to crush it.

But leaving nothing to chance these dad/coaches were going to push these kids to the limit. No pain, no gain as they say. Even though there were rules about how much practice time a coach could impose on his players, these coaches found a place where they could practice secretly every day. 

“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Only a championship was good enough for this group. If moderate practice is good, constant practice must be better. 

So they said.

The pitchers were pushed especially hard. Bullpens everyday. One hundred pitches a day. These kids are All-Stars. They can take it. You gotta want it, right? “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

The season started ok for this team, although it turned out there were some other pretty good teams in the league as well. But as the season progressed, first the pitching faltered as young arms got too sore. Then, as the team began to lose games and their hope for that all-important championship faded, team morale collapsed. This team of All Stars ended the season on a horrible losing streak, injured both physically and psychologically.

The kids didn’t care anymore. Their coaches had taken all the fun out of the game. Despite all of the talent these kids had, and all the hard work they had put in, when the boys had lost their enthusiasm, they lost everything else.

My Dad

I am eternally grateful to my own father that he never did this to me. Although he was a football player himself, when he saw how much I loved baseball he encouraged me to train, but he never forced me to. He made sure that baseball was never anything but fun for me. He taught me to be confident and how to visualize success. If a game didn’t go well, he would only gently point out my errors, but made sure to emphasize the positive. 

My dad who knew nothing about baseball raised me into being a pro. Because he made sure I had fun. I hope I can be as good a dad for my son as my dad was for me.

Work hard, of course, but keep it fun. Make sure you and your son find the balance that’s right for him.  

For more on playing in the zone, with confidence, and having fun, check out my training series, Confidence Booster.