Much of what we deal with as coaches at Elite Diamond Performance is the mental side of hitting. A player may have a great swing mechanically but suffers with the mental side of the game. After all, there are few, if any, activities in sports where the failure rate is as high as it is swinging a bat. First and foremost, hitting is hard and helping players with the mental side of the game is paramount to helping them achieve success. With that being said, today I want to discuss the role of parents in helping get the most out of their child. I have worked with hundreds of hitters and seen parents all over the sports parent spectrum from extremely helpful to those who completely hinder their child’s ability to perform.
1. STOP APPLYING PRESSURE
When I first started coaching hitters, I thought that when kids didn’t grasp something, didn’t make adjustments or were under-performing it was that they simply weren’t putting in enough effort or lacked the desire to be there. However, as I discovered, these players are very, very rare. Most of the time, it was me as a coach finding different ways to connect to them. The vast majority of kids want to do well. When a player struggles, more often than not, they are trying their best.
When kids struggle, believe me, they are putting more than enough pressure on themselves. Adding to that weight that they are carrying never helps. I have had countless kids that tell me in private that they perform better when a certain parent or coach is not in attendance because they feel less pressure and can go out and feel more relaxed. On the other hand, of all the players that I have ever worked with, I have never had a player who has told me “Hey Jimmy, having my mom or dad or coach yell at me and put more pressure on me really helped me perform.”
I get it. As a parent when you see your child has an interest in something and talent in a particular area, you want to help them the best you can. However, placing more pressure on them is only a recipe for lowered performance and less desire on the part of the player.
2. STOP FORCING THEM TO PRACTICE
One of the most frustrating things as a coach is seeing players who have a ton of natural ability, athleticism and natural ability but lack work ethic. I have worked with many players who have this make up and I have learned something: the only person who can give them the work ethic is themselves. I have seen kids flip that switch for themselves, but have never seen the push of parents or coaches make it happen. What parents and coaches can do is lay out the truth: if you want to achieve something such as making the varsity team, playing in college or playing professionally, you have to put in the work. However, forcing your child to practice when they are averse to it will only cause them to lose interest and desire. Be there for them when they want to work. Throw them BP, help with their throwing program, video tape them if they ask, etc.
3. BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER AND HAVE AN OPEN MIND
I once had a parent sum up baseball as saying '“The problem with baseball is that every dad at some point put on a baseball glove and they think that qualifies them as an expert.” I thought this was very insightful. This is something that I see as a problem with a lot of coaches and parents. That is, they simply regurgitate what it is that they were taught. While the things that great hitters do hasn’t changed, we have more technology now to show what hitters do. This allows us to disprove much of the conventional wisdom that is taught to many players.
The best advice I can give parents is to listen to coaches, ask questions and really get a grasp on the what and why of what your kid is being taught. This allows the parent to help the player if they practice together or if the player gets into a funk. Parents who truly understand what is being taught also better understand that improving is a process and can help players better navigate any struggles they may experience.
All in all, baseball, especially hitting is unique in the amount of failure that is experienced. Every hitter experiences struggles and it can often be improved or worsened by parents. Every parent wants their child to succeed and do the best they can. I have been fortunate enough to work with hundreds of hitters across every level of this game and have learned a lot about what a parent can do to help their child succeed. The best advice I can give parents is to avoid placing too much pressure on your player and be there as their best supporter.