Volume 19 Issue 51 | May 4 -10, 2007


League coaches and parents get coaching of their own

By Jefferson Siegel

Youth sports are supposed to be fun for the players who often imagine themselves worthy of the major leagues. For parents, watching their offspring can be fun but also, unfortunately, sometimes downright mean.

Anyone who has attended a youth sporting event is familiar with the parent yelling encouragement just a bit too forcefully or crossing the line and openly criticizing their child’s performance.

The Downtown Little League is trying to change that with more meaningful and positive experiences for the players. After observing some instances “that were very counterproductive to the experience,” the league decided to go back to school, literally, said Marshal Coleman, the Majors Division’s coordinator.

“We felt that the league was moving in the wrong direction,” Coleman said. “We felt the kids weren’t getting enough out of the experience.”

On the first spring-like Saturday morning in mid-April, as games got underway on the Battery Park City playing fields, across the street in P.S./I.S. 89 several dozen parents were settling in for a two-hour seminar.

The seminar, “The Second-Goal Parent,” was presented by the Positive Coaching Alliance, a non-profit group for parents and coaches, based at Stanford University. The group ran two previous sessions, one for league officials, and one for coaches.

“My sons’ participation in the Little League has been very good for them,” said Paul Manheim of the Financial District, his comments underscoring the importance of the seminar. His 8-year-old sons, Mak and Tai, who play for the Twins and the Cardinals in the Junior Minor Upper Division, “have learned the importance of good sportsmanship.”

Eric Eisendrath, who led the seminar, was chatty and knowledgeable as he mixed lessons with humor. “Children are not born knowing how to play in Little League,” Eisendrath reminded the group, noting the built-in “error” factor in baseball, “as in runs, hits, errors.”

“When a child makes a mistake, the first place they look is to their parents,” he noted. “It’s best to give them a thumbs-up,” or some other sign of approval.

The seminar promoted the importance of fun, teamwork, making friends and building self-confidence. Winning is important, Eisendrath said, but teaching life lessons is more important.

Another goal is not to berate your child for poor performance. By age 13, 70 percent of youngsters in sports quit. Of those, the majority cite not having fun as the main reason.

The seminar outlined three stages of talent development; the romantic, technical and mature. Parents and coaches were warned not to cut off the romantic stage too quickly, as its goal is for the child to have fun. Moving on to the next stages, involving focusing on playing correctly and performing at a high level, can be done at a more measured pace.

Parents were also advised to offer unconditional love and support so as not to confuse real life with life on the field.

The coaching group emphasizes effort, learning and mistakes — “the tree of mastery is an ELM tree,” the course book reads.

Eisendrath told stories of his own two children’s experiences in youth sports, reminding the audience that a child’s memory of a bad game can vanish as soon as the family stops for pizza. Avoid the dreaded post-game analysis, he warned. Quoting Bill Parcells, “Players play, coaches coach,” Eisendrath then offered his own corollary, “parents pay and parents drive.”

In conversations with youngsters, the seminar recommended adopting a “tell me more” attitude, asking open-ended questions so that children can learn by talking.

A list of game day tips suggested reminding your child you are proud of them regardless of their performance on the field and avoiding the urge to offer advice during the game.

Daniel Gluck of Greenwich St. liked the suggestions. “It sounded sensible and interesting. It seemed to make a lot of sense.” Gluck’s son James, 6 1/2, plays on the Astros in the Rookie League. “I think my kids can walk out of athletics with a lot of life lessons,” he added.

Eisendrath offered a final bit of wisdom the Baby Boomer audience could identify with. He recalled his son quoting a line from a Jimi Hendrix song; “Knowledge talks, wisdom listens.”

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