Mike Matheny’s letter to parents has been the big subject this week on websites dedicated to youth sports chatter. Matheny is the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. The letter was written several years ago after he retired as a player and decided to coach his son’s baseball team. It’s rather lengthy so I’ll give the class a few minutes to read it.
Forgetting for a moment about the points that you agree or disagree with: Why the heck isn’t every youth coach in the country sending a pre-season letter to his team’s parents? If crafted correctly, it becomes a reference document for the season.
In the past, I’ve always made sure that our league’s coaching manual included a section called, Parent/Coach Communication. A Two-Way Street. Every aspect of it was outlined: how to put your coaching philosophy into words; a player survey; a parent survey; topics to discuss at the parent meeting; and other related topics.
Let’s get to Matheny’s letter. I love so much about it, and in scanning the Internet, it’s evident that it is being held in high praise by most. There are though, several parts of it that I will take issue with.
He says, “My Christian faith is the guide for my life and I have never been one for forcing my faith down someone's throat, but I also believe it to be cowardly, and hypocritical to shy away from what I believe. You as parents need to know for yourselves and for your boys, that when the opportunity presents itself, I will be honest with what I believe. That may make some people uncomfortable, but I did that as a player, and I hope to continue it in any endeavor that I get into.”
Sorry, but I’m very uncomfortable here. As detailed as his letter is, this statement leaves way too much to question. I think I know what he is trying to say. But you can’t be blurry about using your religious beliefs as a teaching tool without full disclosure here. Morals, ideals, and values can all be taught to a group of youth ballplayers without the inferences of religion.
Matheny continues, “I truly believe that the family is the most important institution in the lives of these guys. With that being said, l think that the family events are much more important than the sports events … If your son misses a game or a practice, it is not the end of the world, but there may be some sort of repercussion, just out of respect for the kids that put the effort into making it. The kind of repercussions could possibly be running, altered playing time, or position in the batting order.”
I’ve discussed this with numerous coaches over the years. Matheny is saying that family is more important, but if you miss a practice because your sister is getting married you are going to either run laps or play less when you return. Does that include funerals? I’m sorry I didn’t put the effort into making it to the game Coach, but Grandpa died. How many laps for that?
Matheny: “I will talk with the boys individually and have them tell me what their favorite position is and what other position they would like to learn about. As this season progresses, there is a chance that your son may be playing a position that they don't necessarily like, but I will need your support about their role on the team. I know that times have changed, but one of the greatest lessons that my father taught me was that my coach was always right ... even when he was wrong. The principle is a great life lesson about how things really work. I hope that I will have enough humility to come to your son if I treated him wrong and apologize. Our culture has lost this respect for authority mostly because the kids hear the parents constantly complaining about the teachers and coaches of the child.”
What a great idea. Talk to your players individually and ask them questions. I’d also like to propose that coaches get together with every parent and child at the halfway point of the season for a short midterm conference. That’s usually about the time when some parents get a little on edge. If it’s preplanned, both sides go in more relaxed.
Regarding the coach always being right — that’s fine, but if you are wrong and you don’t have the humility to apologize, everything else you’ve said becomes hot air trapped in a balloon that’s headed to nowhere.
I’ll end with Matheny’s opening line, “I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents.” And then later, “I have no hidden agenda. I have no ulterior motive other than what I said about my goals.”
Most youth coaches are also parents and I’ve watched former professional athletes coach their own children in the past. It’s tough to shove hidden agenda and ulterior motive into your back pocket without it trying to wiggle loose once in a while. Parents are parents are parents — regardless of their role.
There’s a lot of information to take away from Coach Matheny’s letter. Most will find it helpful in showing the need for better parent/coach communication. Others will dissect it to pieces. Either way, it becomes a point of reference from which we can discuss and advance toward a better youth sports environment.