July 25, 2005
Little League parents

TBogg writes about his and his daughter's experiences with Little League, in context of the debut of the remake of The Bad News Bears.

Having spent seven years toiling in Little League hell, there is so much that is accurate in TBNB. It seems like Little League exists solely to take all of the joy out of baseball for both kids and parents alike. I was on the Little League board for six of those years in various capacities all leading up to being league president, which I wouldn't wish on anyone. From t-ball dads who can't understand why five year-olds shouldn't play 24 games in twelve weeks to mothers calling at night because the coach hates little (Austin, Cody, Aspen, Garfunkel...pick one) and won't let him pitch in games, when I've seen the kid and he can barely make the throw from second to first. Then there were the parents who would drop the kids off at practice and practically peel out of the parking lot so that they can go to the mall for a few hours because they had a free babysitter and then would they show up late to pick the poor kid up while we waited in the parking lot in the gloaming (a word only used with baseball).

Even worse than the meddling overbearing gonna-make-a-star-out-of-my-boy types were the ones who didn't even show up to watch. I had no problem with the parents who had to work or, with quite a few of my kids, the ones whose dads were in the navy and were out to sea. But to see a kid get dropped off before the game and then watch that car disappear only to show up a couple of hours later used to break my heart. For an eight year-old to slap a single through the hole or make their very first catch in the outfield (no small feat at eight) and not have a mom or dad there to see it is, in my opinion, far worse than missing their very first steps. Because that small achievement is a moment that should be shared by both a proud child and a prouder parent.

I've no doubt that this is a normal experience for many. I'm glad to say that it wasn't for me for the two years that I was involved with the Timbergrove National Baseball League. I spent one season as the head coach of a team that went winless, and another season as an assistant coach of a team that finished in first place, and in neither year did I come across any obnoxious parents. Maybe it was the nature of the league, or maybe I just got lucky two years in a row, but the parents on my teams came to practices, cheered the teams on, and as far as I know never once acted like it was about them and not the kids. I didn't participate this year because Olivia takes up too much of my time, but I plan on getting back into it when she's five and eligible for T-ball. It really was a pleasure.

If you want proof (or maybe just reassurance) that even in a competitive atmosphere people can be levelheaded about the whole Little League thing, then I recommend you put the documentary Small Ball at the top of your Netflix queue. I saw it last weekend as part of the "Baseball as America" installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, and it rocked. Filmmaker Andrew Kolker was there to answer questions afterwards, and he confirmed when asked that he did not see any abusive or inappropriate behavior by the parents at the games he attended, either. See the movie and tell me if at least some of your faith in people isn't restored.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 25, 2005 to Just call me Coach | TrackBack

As a parent who has coached in three different youth baseball leagues in Houston,I must say that Kuff is fortunate that his experience was with Timbergrove National Baseball League. In other leagues, there are parents like the ones described. They somehow think that if they ruthlessly plot and relentlessly advocate for their children, that Sonny Boy will become the next Babe Ruth. In truth, all Sunny Boy become is a child who parents are egomaniacal asses. For many reasons, however, Timbergrove has largely avoided such problems. It is a very nurturing league, quite different from the norm.

Posted by: PapaJohn on July 25, 2005 1:12 PM

Glad to hear things aren't nearly as bad in your experience as they are with others. I've got a buddy who used to coach junior high football until the parents became too much for him to bear. The kids, he loved.

Posted by: Jason Stanford on July 25, 2005 1:33 PM

We don't see it much anymore, but Tim and I did catch an episode of "South Park" not long ago that deals with the kids playing Little League baseball. They hate the game. Stan's dad does nothing but get drunk and get in fights in the stands. The South Park team ends up in the playoffs and runs into other teams that hate the game at each level.

I'd like to hope that most kids playing actually like baseball, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them are there only because their parents insisted on it.

Posted by: Sue on July 25, 2005 2:34 PM


Your last paragraph is by no means limited to baseball. I'm sure most kids would rather be anywhere else than trying to do something that they know they do not have the aptitude to learn.

As a person whose experience with Little League left a very bitter taste in my mouth, I find it ironic that I can still watch the game on a professional level and enjoy it. There really was never anything in it for me, especially since I never actually made a team (I quit after I was assigned to a clinic at 12 years old, despite being in the clinic level for the past three years.). What may be even more ironic was that I actually saw the original and new versions of "The Bad News Bears" in their theatrical runs.

Finally, I leave you with this thought:

"I didn't participate this year because Olivia takes up too much of my time, but I plan on getting back into it when she's five and eligible for T-ball."

Man, I'm getting old. I remember when the youngest age to be in Little League was 8. :-)

Posted by: William Hughes on July 25, 2005 3:02 PM