In my decade and a half being committed to amateur baseball as a varsity head coach, collegiate pitching coach, professional baseball scout, unofficial draft advisor, elite level amateur coach and organizational head, I have seen, heard and been asked about almost everything. In this post I want to discuss a topic that often comes up – the cost of becoming a good enough baseball player to secure an athletic collegiate scholarship.
The cost I am referring to here includes both monetary and time – by that I mean the commitment of a significant amount of time, both by the parent and the child, to the pursuit of baseball excellence and an athletic scholarship. These two related costs often lead to the child and parent team focusing exclusively on, justifying the expense of, and ultimately expecting a specific result (an athletic scholarship). As a result, far too often the enjoyment of the game gets lost for both parties. There are five main concepts that can ruin the experience for both the child and the parent – while by no means are these the only five, they are the ones that in my experience happen with the most frequency.
First, the player will feel pressure to excel because of the time both they and their parent have invested. This is normal and part of playing baseball, but if you apply too much pressure on yourself, your performance suffers. While this may be something most people know already, a parent openly communicating with their child about not feeling over pressured or overly stressed because of the amount of time invested by either (or both) the child and the parent is the best way to alleviate pressure.
Second, the unrealistic expectation. This may be the most well-known and most-discussed topic within amateur baseball. Far too often, a parent is convinced their child is absolutely, unequivocally, the best player out there. When the child does not perform to the unrealistic expectation, the parent looks for any and all possible excuses. The parent blames the coach, or believes that the child is simply on the wrong team, or that the child isn’t practicing correctly, or practicing often enough. In two parent families, I’ve even seen one parent blame the other parent for the child’s inability to meet an expectation that cannot possibly be reached by the child. The primary result is that the child feels more pressure to perform each time the “excuse” is “remedied” (for example, each time the parent puts the child on a new team as the previous team was part of the problem in the parent’s mind). Also, many parents with unrealistic expectations end up embarrassing the child – every coach in amateur baseball can recall countless times that a parent has confronted the coach regarding their son, only for the son to later apologize to the coach for whatever it is that the parent said.
Third, generally directly related to the second – parents, looking for any reason why their son isn’t the star, will hire specialists. While there are many outstanding specialists out there and in the right circumstances, a specialist working with a child can be quite beneficial, there are also many unqualified ones who prey on well-intended parents in order to line their pockets, with no tangible benefit to the child. It seems that anyone who has played the game of baseball at any level feels they’re qualified to instruct or train players – but only if they are well-compensated for such instruction. Before seeking out a specialist, the best advice I can give is to “do your homework”– both in terms of the specialist in question (compare different specialists, ask coaches or instructors you trust for recommendations, etc.), but also in terms of whether it is right for the child (for example, asking the question what can realistically be gained by working specifically with a specialist). Most importantly, if the player isn’t having fun in the first place, or just doesn’t have the athletic skill, then even the best private instructors won’t make any difference.
Fourth, even a parent who has realistic expectations and does not throw money at a trainer to get the player better can still ruin the experience simply by reinforcing that “winning is the only thing that matters.” In this case, “winning” does not mean winning a game or a tournament, but rather, obtaining an athletic scholarship, or often times, an athletic scholarship to a specific university. Baseball is already an incredibly hard game to play and excel at – putting additional pressure on the child to perform (even with realistic expectations for the child) can often times detract from their enjoyment of the game and their passion to play. Not surprisingly, this can and will hinder their performance. It’s perfectly okay to push, but there is definitely a line, and a parent must be aware and conscious when you are pushing a little (for the child’s best interest), and pushing too hard (often for the parent’s own interests).
Lastly there is the relationship cost between the athlete and their parent. The same way the parent often blames others, the athlete sometimes blames the parent when the desired result isn’t achieved. They blame their parent for their loss of passion for the game, their inability to live up to and achieve the expectations placed upon them and for all of the time they wasted trying to achieve this result. In my opinion, this is the greatest cost, takes the longest time to repair (if at all) and correcting the strained relationship and resentment can take years and years. The best advice to prevent this possibility is open communication between child and parent at all times as to expectation and also as to what the child wants.
The bottom line is that baseball should be played for fun by people who love to play. Genetics and natural development play a huge role in how good a player can ultimately be. Parents have to have realistic expectations as to their child’s chances for an athletic scholarship (or in some cases, a professional contract). There is no reason to alienate yourself from your child because your version of reality is different than what is happening right in front of you. Unrealistic expectations and significant time and monetary investments can also often build a major sense of false hope for the player. Some players are never able to recover when they don’t get that scholarship to their dream University because of the false information they have been fed by their personal coaches, trainers, anybody else who has fiscally benefited from their development, and also because of the amount of time and money both they and their parents spent in order to become good enough to receive such an offer.
There is nothing wrong with paying people to provide the right guidance, instruction and information to your child. But there must be an honest dialogue between all parties (the parent, the child, and any and all coaches) about that player’s ability and whether there is a possible future at the collegiate or professional level. If there is such a dialogue, then the money will be well spent because the child will build character and a strong work ethic, even if there may not be a future for the child at the collegiate or professional level. However, without such a dialogue, then the parent risks firing hard-earned money into a furnace and destroying his or her relationship with the child.