12 Things Not to Yell at the Game
“12 Things Not to Yell at the Game” was originally published on this blog a little over a year ago. It has been retweeted and “liked” and shared as much as any post I have written. In addition, I have received feedback from youth league games all the way through the college level:
- “Heard most most of them this weekend.”
- “Just heard #7 at a college game!”
- Counted 10 out of 12 at our tournament this weekend.”
- “Thinking about going to a game and randomly shouting all twelve of these!”
I am two weekends into a four-month research project on the 12 things not to yell at the game. (Translation: The Little Fella has played two tournaments so far and has about eight more to go over the next few months.) So here goes: 12 things not to yell at the game and WHY:
1. “It’s not your fault!”
Baseball is a game of adjustments.Umpires are inconsistent. Players make errors. Weird things happen. The players who adjust best to a constantly changing game are the ones being best prepared for life outside of baseball.
Instead of crippling your kid by playing the blame game, help him work through it and accept responsibility for how he can improve. This takes time, even years, but the value of avoiding victimization is tremendous.
2. “You should have __________!”
That’s rearview mirror “coaching from the stands.” Your son probably knows he didn’t stay down on that ground ball that just rolled between his legs. We can give them all the instruction in the world, but they must experience success, failure, and improvement for themselves.
If you don’t know what TO DO, don’t tell what your kids what NOT TO DO. (If you do know what do do, teach privately and in neutral situations, not during the game.) Some of the best post-game conversations I have had with my sons have happened on the drive home from the games. I’ll ask them if they want some feedback. If they say no, I stop there. If they say yes, I tell them a couple of things I saw them do well and usually just one way I saw that they could improve. (I can’t expect them to drink from a fire hose.)
3. “These refs are terrible!”
Simply, baseball “referees” are called umpires. By letting your kid know that the “refs” are terrible…see #1. Most umpires are not nearly as terrible when your son’s team is not involved. (Took a while for the guy in the mirror to get this one.)
4. “Way to watch!”
It takes no more talent or discernment to watch a strike than it does a ball. No one yells “Way to watch!” when a hitter watches a strike just as effectively as he watched the ball the pitch before. “Good eye!” is better but still annoying to some. Just let Junior bat.
5. “Get your elbow up!”
This one seems to be dying a slow death…and none too soon. Most coaches and parents who have told their miniature hitters to get their elbows up through the years have no basis for their instruction, other than it’s what their coaches told them in Little League.
The originals premise of teaching “elbow up” was to get hitters to avoid popping the ball up. However, “elbow up” actually produces more pop-ups and swings-and-misses. If the hitter’s back elbow is up when he starts his swing, laws of physics demand that it drops before he can finish his swing. When this happens, the top hand on the bat drops below the bottom hand, more than likely producing a pop-up if contact is made at all.
A better teaching point is to start the swing with the hands at the top of the strike zone. That way, anything above the hands is a ball. To hit anything below the hands, the hitter would more likely move on a more downward plane toward the ball. (Unless he’s “chicken winging.” Even if he is and you know what that means, don’t yell that at your kid. Pretty good odds that would draw you a few perplexed stares.)
(A couple of years ago, I heard a Little League coach instruct one of his hitters to get his elbow up. The hitter responded by getting BOTH elbows up. The coach never corrected this “adjustment” and likely spent all year wondering why this kid couldn’t hit.)
6. “Swing level!”
Again, think physics here. Consider: A pitcher is throwing the ball on varying downward planes and at various speeds toward the plate. A hitter is sequentially locking and unlocking numerous body parts in preparation for a small section of aluminum almost two feet away from his hands to travel from a position near his head to varying segments of a strike zone of several square feet in order to arrive at precisely to right time to produce a well-struck ball that avoids the nine players attempting to stop it.
Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult individual skills in all of sports. Hitters who made it to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame failed much more often than they succeeded at the plate. Telling your son to “swing level” or “just make contact” oversimplifies a most difficult task, even at his age.
7. “Straighten it out!”
Parents used to yell this after a long foul ball landed just foul. Now, I hear it on more foul balls than not. I heard it recently at a high school-level all-star tournament on a short fly ball to left that landed just foul. Two pitches later, the hitter obliged the overzealous fan with…a routine flyout to left.
An encouragement to “straighten it out” assumes that the same pitch will be thrown at the same speed in the same zone once again. As pitchers mature, they see long foul balls as an opportunity to exploit a hitter’s exuberance to “straighten it out” by throwing a different pitch or to a different location.
8. “Choke up!”
The knob of the bat offers some leverage that often proves advantageous to a hitter. Those two inches he chokes up on the handle are also two inches on the outside of the plate where he is now not as likely to hit the ball. And pitchers are taught to throw the ball to the outside part of the plate more often than any other location.
For the most part, if a kid needs to choke up on the bat to be able to swing it, he needs a lighter bat.
9. “Way to hang!”
This common exhortation should be used when a hitter already has two strikes and fouls a ball off, avoiding a strikeout. It doesn’t make sense to say it on strike one or strike two.
10. “Just throw strikes!”
(Of all the 12 things not to yell at the game, this is the one I have heard most often from frustrated coaches and parents to begin this season.)
Nothing is more frustrating in baseball than watching helplessly as a pitcher just can’t find the strike zone. Even more so when he pitches for your son’s team. Even more so when the pitcher IS your son. To tell a pitcher to “just throw strikes” or “don’t aim it; just throw it” or something similar infers that he is not trying with all his might to throw the ball in the strike zone. That helplessness that you’re feeling in the stands and magnifying to the little guys on the mound can’t even begin to compare with how he feels.
I was this helpless parent when Older Brother, who historically has had good control, either walked or hit six consecutive batters in a high school summer league game one year without recording an out. I watched the Little Fella last summer pitch to quite possibly the biggest strike zone I have ever seen and still struggle to find it. (He even went all Craig Kimbrel to the last two hitters but to no avail.)
When your son has one of those days on the mound, maybe think about a time in your life when you gave your best effort but ultimately failed. That might produce a teachable moment that will do both of you some good.
11. “Don’t lose him!”
Please don’t yell this every single time a pitcher throws a ball. The time to say it is when he is in imminent danger of walking a hitter. Even then…see #10. Sometimes, believe it or not, pitchers throw balls out of the strike zone ON PURPOSE. Those are called “waste pitches” and are thrown when the pitcher is trying to get the hitter to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. (If you are serious about boosting your baseball IQ, you need to understand that pitchers can be evil like that. Baseball folks just consider it part of the game. The longer you stay around baseball, the more you will understand just how diabolical the best pitchers in the game are.)
12. “Don’t look at the ball!”
Yes, your small fry may run a little slower while he’s staring at the ball that he just hit. But to instruct him to not watch the ball at all is highly counterproductive. For instance, that ground ball that he hit between the third baseman and the shortstop might result in a close play at first, or it might get through to the outfield. A quick glance can let him know how to approach first base, and it’ll only cost a millisecond or two.
Okay, there you have it, 12 things not to yell at the game. I have attempted to instruct and not demean anyone’s lack of knowledge of the game. After all, baseball is a game I’ve loved as far back as I can remember. I want everyone else to experience the same enjoyment from it that I have. The better you know the game, the more you can enjoy it.
Coach Dave Season Two: All-Stars is just days away! Be sure to read the first in the series (click link above) and get set for Season Two.
About Al Ainsworth
Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell. Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel (and 52 Other Re-Told Childhood Tales), Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and Coach Dave: Season One. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.