August 12, 2006

You're the Coach

You're the coach and have to make a crucial decision. What do you do?

Here's the set up:

You are the coach of a youth baseball team.
Your team is playing for the championship.
It's the ninth inning.
Your team is holding onto a slim one run lead.
The other team is at bat and your team is pitching.
There are two outs--one out away from the championship.
But, the other team has a runner on third base in scoring position.
And, their power hitter comes up to bat.

Here's what you have to decide as the coach: Do you pitch to the power hitter, knowing that he has a realistic chance to tie or beat you, or do you intentionally walk him to get to the next batter for an easier final out and the championship?

Think carefully about it before reading further.


Oh, there is one piece of information that I didn't mention...if you walk the power hitter, then the next kid up to bat, who should be an easier out, is "a cancer survivor who needs a shunt in his brain just to live."

Okay, now knowing that, is your decision the same?

Read more about this and see the related stories (and a poll) from the source where I found it. Visit our friend's post: DADavocate - Needing A Reality Check.

What did you decide and why?

Posted by Woody M. at August 12, 2006 03:30 PM | TrackBack

If you want to play noncompetitively, then why keep score? That's a perfectly legitimate way to enjoy games, just whacking around and pitching underhand to the little kids, but it's a different game.

In our local leagues, T-Ball starts out noncompetitively. In the first game, everyone gets on, no taking the extra base, each team goes once through the order each innning, everyone wins. They gradually introduce the idea of outs, extra bases, keeping score as the season progresses, and by the last game, it's pretty much legit rules. That's fine. That's instruction. No one expects anything different.

I can even see spreading that over a few years, if a town wanted to go in noncompetitive mode in general.

But once you start keeping score and playing by the rules, you move into different territory. You are now teaching what rules mean. You are now teaching what fair enforcement and fair interpretation mean. You are now teaching how much work it is going to take to improve, and letting kids decide if it's worth it to them.

I don't object to exceptions. Lots of times high school teams will have a kid who's worked hard but has some disability, they'll put him into the game for a few minutes, and the other team will go a little easy on him. There's sort of a code of honor that the better player won't just slack off insultingly, but will play the other kid about as hard as he thinks the other can take, pushing him to work hard as well.

But if you pull crap like that in a championship game, or in any game where the actual outcome is on the line, it is the team with the weaker player which is abusing the rules, and thus the spirit of the game.

Leagues get to design their own levels of intensity. If a church league wants to run an all-fun-and-pizza-after league, they can do that, and people who want more competition can go elsewhere. But you can't have it both ways, and force other people to go with your style when it suits you.

Another thought: The team deciding to walk one kid to get to the other could have changed the terms of the debate: "the kid's not going to have many chances to be a hero. I gave him one. I didn't give him any more than a chance, and I hoped he didn't beat us, but I gave him a legitimate chance to be the star. It's you guys who have insulted your own player by having no confidence in him." Or you could even say that real nice by explaining "I thought it would make a great story if he beat us, but I wasn't going to give him an inch."

Posted by Assistant Village Idiot at August 12, 2006 03:47 PM

I read about this yesterday in an SI article -- another instance of parental overinvolvement in childrens' lives coupled with the dogma of self-esteem run amok.

Unless the coach was violating a league policy about intentional walks (which no one has stated was the case), he played according to the and did what he believed was the best tactic to win this championship game (remember this was the last out).

The purpose of the game is to win, keeping with the rules and ethical conduct (e.g. no faking injury, no spitballs). This is an important lesson for children to learn.

Once your start bending your conduct for some extraneous reason, such as supposedly sparing the feelings of children, where do you stop? And what makes us adults think we know what is in the best interests of the children that we would bend the rules?

What's the message we're sending -- it's okay to bend the rules if you think your motives are noble -- or even, you must bend the rules for a good cause, as we define it. And if you offend our sense of what's best, we'll publically flog you. This is approaching lynch mob mentality.

Moreover, if you don't intentionally walk because the next better is an cancer survivor, where do we stop on the slippery slope? What about if the player is learning diabled? Or his parents just got divorced?

Or what about the same scenario if the cancer survivor was the one to bat? Should the coach have intentionally walked him in order to spare him the humiliation of being the last out? What if the next player is the best hitter on the other team?

Why should a coach even have to consider these things? It's hard enough to coach for the whole season and to make good baseball decision, teach the boys sportsmanship and playing by the rule, does the coach have to also have professional degrees in child psychology and situational ethics?

No wonder it's getting harder and harder for leaders to make the tough decisions.

In the end, though, the children know best. The wisest observer of all is the child at the center of the controversy, the cancer survivor (named Romney) who struck out....

By the way, the next morning, Romney woke up and decided to do something about what happened to him.

"I'm going to work on my batting," he told his dad. "Then maybe someday I'll be the one they walk."

Bravo Romney! And to the rest of the parents, would your really want to take this away from him?

Posted by civil truth at August 12, 2006 06:00 PM

I like the ending of the "Civil Truth's" comment. The coach of the other team has the batting order responsibility and the boy with cancer wants to play ball. Play the game with your team's best interest in mind as long as there is nothing going on against the rules and no one is being harassed.

A child's parents and his coaches have the responsibility for that child (whatever his physical condition is) to help him grow and be able to accept challenges, disappointments and learn what's required of him to succeed.

The child is already aware of his limitations and he knows how the game is played. He may have been proud of the fact that he's given a chance to "save the day." Thus the comment "Maybe someday I'll be the one they walk!"

Posted by chrys at August 13, 2006 03:46 AM

I had not heard the comments from the batter before. He exhibited much more class than those who attacked the winning team's coach.

Posted by Woody at August 13, 2006 08:46 AM

And if by some miracle that kid would have hit a homerun, we'd be talking about a great story happening.

Like the kid who missed his first three pointer, but hit everyone after that.... did I mention that he was also disabled playing with regular kids?

Great stories need great challenges. This kid would not ever had the opportunity to achieve greatness if people let their compassion decide he shouldn't have played.

Same thing with the ball player, would it made it a great story if the cancer survivor hit the winning run because the team never gave him the opportunity? It simply would never have happned. There would be no great story, all in the name of compassion. Compassion isn't taking opportunity away from somebody you don't think should get it, it's giving opportunity to people.

Posted by Jeff Blanco at August 17, 2006 07:47 PM

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