Little Jimmy toes the rubber. Delivers…
“Bend over!” his dad yells.
Jimmy gets the ball back from the catcher. Takes a deep breath. Steps back on the mound. Fires…
“You’re dropping your elbow!” shouts his mom.
Jimmy gets his sign. Sends in his next pitch. Runner going…
The throw comes quickly back to Jimmy. He turns around. Then realizes he missed his responsibility. The runner at third was caught, but Jimmy forgot to make the throw.
“Don’t walk him!” his dad yells.
Jimmy takes his time. Throw a strike. Throw a strike. He delivers…
Ball four, in the dirt.
Jimmy glances at his parents, then drops his head in disgust. His parents moan in the background. Meanwhile, the runner at third scores as Jimmy fails to cover the plate.
Coaching From the Stands
I coach, but I’m also a dad. I get it. It’s hard.
But I need to help you understand. When you coach from the stands, you are doing more harm than good. And, when out of control, you are sending a message to the coach that you may not intend.
What is Coaching From the Stands?
Coaching from the stands is giving your child direct baseball instruction when you don’t hold a coaching responsibility.
This doesn’t include simply cheering for your child and his team. You should do this! Positive messages should be encouraged.
Coaching from the stands involves specific instructions. Most often, it’s related to what they should do at the plate, on the mound, or in the field. It could be mechanical (“follow through,” “bend over,” “shorten up”) or based on a responsibility (“cover second,” “back up the bag,” or “block the ball”).
It’s Not Easy!
I know this is hard. I coached my middle son for six years, and he just finished playing his first season of high school ball — away from me. It’s been an emotional challenge for me to sit in the stands and keep my mouth shut.
I pace. I fidget. I try to keep myself busy. But I do all I can to avoid coaching from the stands.
It’s a truly emotional and helpless situation. You desperately want your child to succeed. You feel their pain, maybe more than they do. It’s part of being a parent!
You fear that they forgot that one thing. You think that if you remind them, the chances for success will increase.
It may not even be rational, but parenting isn’t always rational. And I understand.
The Problem with Coaching From the Stands
Instructions from the stands can be problematic. Let’s talk about it.
What if your instructions are wrong? The classic parental instruction that means well but is misinformed is “Keep your elbow up!” Stop saying that. It doesn’t mean anything.
But maybe what you are saying is correct generally, but it contradicts what your coach has instructed. On a 3-0 count, I often want my hitters aggressive on their pitch, particularly with runners on base. If you’re telling your kid to take (or lamenting a swing in that situation), you’re contradicting my message.
Or maybe what you are saying is completely right and in line with what your coach has instructed. Even this can create significant issues.
Your coach yells out an instruction, though he keeps it simple. Mom or dad yells out a different instruction. The child is now thinking about two different things when the coach wanted him to only think about one.
This creates an environment ripe for confusion. While trying to follow through on the instructions that were given, he forgets something basic. The count. The number of outs. Something else.
Worse yet is criticism, or negative instruction that lacks value. “Don’t walk him!” “Throw strikes!” “Don’t strike out!” “Swing at good pitches!”
Stating the obvious isn’t encouragement. Do you think he’s trying to throw balls? Do you think he’s trying to strike out?
Young Players, Their Parents, and Emotion
Your son wants to please you. He doesn’t want to disappoint you. This is more true for his relationship with his parents than with his coach.
Now the player is wanting to please his parent. The pressure is mounting. The chances for success are dropping.
So, if he knows that his parents are upset or disappointed with how he is playing, it adds more unnecessary emotion to an already emotional situation. Overwhelm, tears, and distraction become a real possibility.
No matter the value of the instruction or intention, this added direction creates chaos, noise, and confusion. It does not create an environment for success.
The Message You May Be Sending
Ideally, your instruction is background noise. That’s not meant to be mean, but a player can’t be focused on what a parent is saying.
In between pitches, does your child look back at you for instruction or approval? From the mound, in the field, or at the plate? If so, that’s a sign of a problem that has gone way too far.
While it’s likely unintentional, you may be sending a message that you don’t trust the coaches. You don’t believe your child is properly prepared for this situation or getting the correct instruction.
Because if you trust the coach and how he’s prepared your child, why is the added instruction necessary? Why risk drowning out or contradicting his message?
This is almost never intentional. The parent typically means well. But it may send a message that you didn’t intend.
When to Coach Your Child
Many parents are knowledgable about the sport and work with their kids on their skills outside of games and practices. And often times, the instruction they are giving is reinforcement of what they’ve discussed before.
This is all great! But now is not the time. Look at it in a similar light to how I do as a coach on game day. Did you prepare him? Did he retain what you taught him? Now’s the time to find out.
After the game (ideally, not on the ride home), you can discuss and coach specific situations. What happened? What did you learn from it? What would you do differently next time?
Let him make mistakes in the game. Coach and teach later.
Relax and Trust the Coaches!
This may sound easier said than done, but let go! Sit back, and enjoy the game.
You are not responsible for your child’s performance. Your instruction during the game isn’t going to be the difference between his success or failure. It can wait.
The game may actually be easier to enjoy if you remove this responsibility from your mind. He won’t be perfect. He will make mistakes. He’ll have moments to celebrate. And it’s all part of the process.
Expecting all instruction from the stands to stop is unreasonable. My request for parents is to understand the potential negative that can come from it. Limit it. Keep it simple, and focus on encouragement.
What are your experiences, good and bad, with coaching from the stands?
Let me know in the comments below!