Right in the middle of a lesson, I told a relatively new student, “If you look over at dad for approval again, we may have to end this session”. Let me put this in context.
We involve parents extensively in lessons, making sure they understand every single point so they can continue the work at home. They stand right beside us. We want to create partners. But, in this case he had created dependency. I love the kid. Dad is awesome. However, their constant exchanges were stifling her progress because he was taking all of the responsibility.
There are times I will ask a kid to feel something very specific in a movement and stand back to see if she can make the adjustment. Before she can figure it out for herself, mom feels the need to step forward and explain it again. It creates dependency. A good opportunity for a kid to grow is wasted.
Often I will receive a text from a parent in panic. The kid can’t find the strike zone or the curve is no longer jumping. They need to see me right now, even if they live several states distant. Of course we can get together, but first I calm them and ask them to send me a video of the problem. I also require them to try to identify the actual cause of the issue, and to suggest a couple of ways to fix it. You have no idea how many times, because I put it in their hands, they solve it before I even get the video. The problem is that so many kids were not taught things they should have been taught in the past, parents were not involved properly, so their old pitching coach created dependency. If you need me that much, if you constantly call in a panic, if you don’t know how to diagnose and fix most things, something is wrong with one of us! Yes, the first few lessons, we know there may be rough spots as we get to know one another, but that should change. If it does not, ask yourself questions.
Very recently I stopped everyone at an event and “called down” a dad who was giving hand signals to his daughter. I was working on one thing, and he was expressing his disapproval with something else she was doing. She was so focused on his feedback that she could not concentrate on our agenda. He later apologized. I confessed my own tendency toward creating dependency in our early years. A similar incident happened a couple of weeks later. The guy got off the bucket and came walking toward me. I was not sure what to expect, but he pulled me aside and very sincerely asked for better ways to help his daughter. I put my arm around him and asked him to look at the young lady. She is an absolutely wonderful person, mature, articulate, driven, and excited to learn. I commended him on what a fantastic job he has done raising her, and expressed that now it’s time to give her room to grow. A few weeks later they returned and I was absolutely stunned at the improvement. The kid is fantastic because dad is truly fantastic, but he just needed affirmation that she was ready to take flight.
I see 14-year-old kids stop and let mom tie their shoes, mom obediently sprints to the concession stand for drinks, she carries the bat-bag for the kid, and mom tries to do all of the communicating for the kid. Here is the problem. Dependency begins early. I went to a 10U game and every member of the team was wearing wristbands. Every single decision was made on the wristband. If a catcher dropped the ball, the baserunner had no idea that it was okay to steal. That number had not been called on the wristband. The coach had created a culture where kids were not encouraged to think and learn the game, but simply to “do what I say when I say to do it.” If she wants to go to the bathroom, they probably have a number on the wristband for that too.
We meet these kids for the first time. We ask, “Can you feel the back foot plowing the ground? What do you think causes that?” They look mystified because all they know is a wrist-snap. “Can you speed up your legs?” The kid looks down as if just discovering that she has legs for the first time. Before she can answer, mom will jump in and repeat the question. We ask, “How can you create twice as much spin on your curve?” The kid looks at dad and waits for him to answer. “Where is your notebook?” Oh, they never had a notebook because how many times do you need to write down bad ideas like wrist snaps? They were never given homework, never learned to feel anything, and were not encouraged to take new techniques into practice or to individualize them in superior ways.
My goal is to create independence, to bring exciting new things she discovered to the next lesson, and to constantly challenge me to stay ahead of her. Many of my best pitchers live in other states so we cannot do frequent lessons. We focus on feeling the movements, understanding the concepts, and helping them discover ways their bodies can do things they never dreamed. These are things we start at 9-10 years old. We set goals, establish benchmarks, and get them involved in our strength programs so that they can make rapid progress. If she needs me less, we have accomplished more. When she returns, she has a plan and tells us exactly where she needs to go.
Isn’t that our goal in everything when it comes to raising our kids? Less dependence, more responsibility, making a plan, and finding a way to get there. Without question, some of the things we teach them in sports can be life lessons as well.R