The jerk factor
Generally speaking, I have made a concerted effort to keep Life in the Fastpitch Lane positive and informative. But every now and then something just gets to me and I have to speak out. Tonight is one of those nights.
I was teaching lessons when the mother of one of my students, a 10U girl I’ve been working with since September came in with a horror story — her third in three weeks. You see, about three weeks ago they joined a travel team. During the “courtship” phase everything was wonderful. They said all the right things and really made it seem like she had found a home.
Since that time, however, the experience has been anything but good. Part of it stems from the head of the organization who apparently fashions himself a pitching coach and general softball guru. He told the mom that all the girls in the organization are taught by him, and essentially said my student should be too. The mom resisted, as she is happy with the progress her daughter is making and can see the value. She also saw that what this guy is teaching the other pitchers is not what you see in high-level pitchers.
He wants them all to touch their shoulders with their hands after release (both pointless and dangerous to the elbow), and bring the right foot past the left, stepping through (pointless and detrimental to speed and control). Worse, when the 19 girls he has lined up for pitching don’t do those and other stupid things he screams at them.
When she wouldn’t kowtow to him, the abuse started. He began telling her that her daughter was the worst pitcher there, that she couldn’t throw overhand, and basically that she is a terrible player. Her daughter was segregated out with a couple of other new kids during defensive work, so that while the rest of the team (returning players) were working on defensive team drills, the newbies were just fielding ground balls. I don’t work with her on that part and haven’t seen the others so I don’t know where she fits in skill-wise, but you would think that at 10U everyone could use some work on ground balls, and all the kids need to learn team defense. This was apparently more punishment for not getting with the program.
Now, understand this girl is about as enthused about softball as any kid I’ve ever met. For Christmas she asked for (and received) a Club K pitching mat and some other softball training items and was thrilled! She couldn’t wait to tell me about it. But her mom told me she asked if she could just skip team practice. That’s not like her at all. In three weeks, the a** clowns for coaches they have in this program have managed to destroy her spirit. Nice job, jerks.
I talked to the mom about it for a while, but of course I do have a personal stake here. Fortunately, my next student experienced a similar situation a couple of years ago, so I asked her dad to talk to this mom, give his perspective as a neutral observer, and generally see what he thinks. He could care less where she plays or what else she does, so it’s about as neutral as you can get. His advice? Run. Run as fast and as far as you can from this program before they destroy her daughter’s confidence completely and drive her from the game. He told me later that as she described the experience, he was able to finish her thoughts and she his. It was the same thing, although his was a different program. And his daughter pitches for one of the top programs in Illinois, not to mention the US.
The final nail is the difference in this girl between our sessions and her practices. At her last practice, her mom said 48 out of 50 pitches hit the ceiling. When she was with me tonight she threw far more strikes than balls, and never hit the ceiling once. It’s the difference between a positive atmosphere and a toxic one.
I don’t get it. I don’t get why people like that go into coaching. I don’t get why people sign up to be coached by them, or don’t run from them when they see what they are. It’s not like there’s some great payoff. This program is a bottom-feeder — they go into low level tournaments and leagues so they can rack up wins and talk about how good they are. I’ve never seen any of their teams in tournaments I’ve coached in, and neither has the dad.
There is simply no reason to put up with behavior like that, or the abuse that comes with it. Coaches like that give the entire sport a black eye. Hopefully others will wise up and move on to better situations. We really don’t need girls getting turned off to the game by jerks.