Thursday, June 11, 2015

Matheny Manifesto

Got a guest blogger today, my very own Hubby. From time to time a book comes along for me to review but it's more along the lines of his interests. Since this book was about baseball and youth sports I thought he'd enjoy it.

Years ago while managing a youth baseball travel team, Mike Matheny (current manager of the St. Louis Cardinals) wrote a letter to the parents of the kids who signed up to play on his team. The gist of the letter was:

* Parents are the problem with youth sports
* Myself and the other coaches are in charge, so shut your mouths and let us coach
* I’m a Christian and I’m going to share my faith so drop the PC act and deal with it
* I’m going to teach the kids the fundamentals of the game, push them to get better, and teach them how to play the game with dignity and class
* Not everything is going to go the way you (or your kid) likes it, but trust us coaches
* If you don’t like anything I’ve said in this letter, there’s the door

The letter went viral because it struck a nerve. It resonated with a lot of people who have been disillusioned with contemporary youth sports culture and because it caught on like wildfire, someone came up with an idea to expand the letter into a book-length “manifesto” about how to fix youth sports.
Matheny’s tone throughout the book is much more nuanced than I just made the letter out to be, but he certainly doesn’t pull punches. It comes across as firm and well-thought out. I loved the book for a number of reasons.

I found his argument that parents are the main problem with youth sports culture to be spot on. (Although I would add that media driven stuff like recruiting coverage and high school games being broadcast on national TV are as much of a problem.) I’ve refereed and coached youth sports and from both positions I’ve seen parents ruin the experience for their kids. I loved Matheny’s fix for the problem: for parents to trust the coaches and not get involved.

I also appreciated his approach to integrating his faith into his work. As a Christian, Matheny has a mandate to share the good news of Jesus with whoever will listen and to do so in a way that balances truth and grace. He strikes that tone in Chapter 10 and I have no doubt that Matheny practices what he preaches.

It was also wonderful to read about how he teaches the boys on his team to play the game the right way, to be respectful, to not argue with umpires when they blow it, to show toughness, and to be thankful. I coach in a youth sports league that emphasizes sportsmanship, skill development over winning, equal playing time, and fun, and I resonated with Matheny’s take on how to turn youth sports culture into something enjoyable for players and their parents.

The last thing I enjoyed about the book was a pleasant surprise: the personal stories Matheny told about his time playing professional baseball. As a catcher, Matheny had an interesting experience of what happens on the field. His chapter about respecting umpires was fascinating, particularly when he explained the relationship the catcher has with the home plate umpire. Those kinds of priceless inside stories are found throughout the book and give the reader a view of the game that can’t be had from the bleachers.

This book should be required reading for anyone involved in youth sports: league administrators, coaches, assistant coaches, and especially parents. I plan on passing it around to some of my friends who coach youth sports. The Matheny Manifesto is for anyone who enjoys a challenging, insightful, and engaging read.

No comments: