Make no bones about it, I've never been a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Having grown up about 90 minutes north of Pittsburgh the Redbirds have broken Pirate fan hearts plenty of times. I was a bit skeptical with a bias opinion going into this read. However, I do enjoy a good coaching book.
Right off the bat, no pun intended, I liked Mike's approach to handling parents when he went into youth baseball coaching. He asked the kids to play the right way and to have fun learning the game through repetition. Youth baseball simply isn'y about winning or losing, it is about learning to play baseball the right way. Having grown up playing baseball you find out pretty quickly that baseball isn't for the easily distracted or the easily frustrated.
Matheny sat the youth player's parents down and handed out his "manifesto" that among other things that parents shouldn't be overbearing. They should support their children, but not constantly yell out their frustrations or cheers. I can speak first hand that as a youth player you often are on pins and needles about what other people think. It takes a long time to go out there not really caring what people in the stands think.
Mike grew up in a hard-nose baseball program and learned to play the game the right way. As much as anything Matheny wanted to teach the mental part of the game to his players. In many ways, that is the most challenging aspect of learning the game. There are so many different scenarios and possibilities to think through, but Matheny wanted his players to be mentally prepared.
With proper time and buy-in from not only the players, but the parents to work with their kids at home, the team started to win a lot of games. When Matheny got the opportunity to manage the St. Louis Cardinals he brought much of that same philosophy to be the big league club. Obviously, you're working with professionals, so there was a certain level of golden rule influence brought to the clubhouse. If you're a veteran player, make the young guys feel welcome. If you're a young guy, keep quiet but ask questions to better prepare yourself.
What did I learn reading this book?
1. I really enjoyed how Mike Matheny focused on fundamentals. I feel the American culture focuses on winning way too early in youth sports. It was refreshing to see a perspective that prioritizes getting reps and learning new position.
2. The idea of setting a good example for kids is brought up in the text. Even if you don't agree with an umpire or referee's call you should still respect that they are out their doing their best. Personally, I spent a summer as an umpire and it made me respect the gig. It can be difficult to not only get the proper angle, but also see 2 or 3 things going on at the same time and make the right call.
3. Games are really about the kids. I think in many instances a parent's ego gets in the way with youth sports. They want their kid to have every opportunity from Day 1 rather than letting them earn it. As an undersized player at every level I hit in baseball in year 1, each level should be humbling. If my parents pulled me out because I wasn't starting from Day 1 I probably would have stopped playing baseball by age 10.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.