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Fathers and Sons: Keeping Baseball Fun

Originally published in 2001, this piece is from the Baseball America archives.

Keeping Baseball Fun

Rick Wolff is not the average baseball father. Besides having a son John who plays shortstop at Byram Hills High in Armonk, N.Y., Wolff spent 1990-94 as the Indians’ team psychologist and currently writes a regular column for parents in Sports Illustrated.

We asked him four questions fathers and sons might have about baseball:

Advice For Fathers

What’s the difference between helpful encouragement and pushing too hard?

Burnout is a real phenomenon, and as a father you have to understand that. You have to step back and make sure that the quest or the drive to get better is coming from the youngster, not from the father. That, to me, is the telltale sign.

What are the dangers of living vicariously through my son?

The question you have to ask yourself as the parent is, "Is my son playing the game for himself? Is he merely continuing to play to gain my approval?" If you find yourself coming home to a kid who’s 14 or 15 and you’re always the one saying, "Hey, let’s take batting practice or take some grounders," then you’re probably going over the line. The ideal situation is for the son to come to you.

How should I handle scouts and agents when the hurricane begins?

Just listen, and say very little. This goes for the sons, too. It’s amazing how much you can learn and take in by listening. There’s no reason why you have to say something or make commitments or promises. Just sit back and listen. If you feel pressured by a scout or agent, that’s when you say, "I’d prefer to have you talk to our family attorney."

How do I balance wanting to help my son without stepping on the coach’s toes?

First of all, you always respect the coach. I don’t care what the situation is; you have to show the proper respect, particularly if the coach is a volunteer giving up his time to help your son. What I suggest is to listen carefully to what the coach is suggesting, try it out, but of course always know that the player ultimately should have the right to accept it or reject it. It’s the rare coach that makes his technique mandatory.

Advice For Sons

If I need to, how can I tell my dad to lay off?

Work out an agreement with your father that he has only five or 10 or 15 minutes to discuss your game. Then you have the option to say, "That’s enough, dad." Most parents want desperately for their son to do well, but they can go too far and lecture endlessly. The kid just sits there and sulks. Better to say, "OK Dad, you have five minutes, then let’s move on." And PGA (postgame analysis) shouldn’t be done right after the game. Everyone’s too hyped up. Better to do it over dinner.

If my father gives me advice that contradicts that of the coach, whose should I follow?

You can’t go back to the coach and say, "That’s not how my father told me to do it." You have to have the wherewithal to say, "Can we discuss this?" Maybe have the coach and the father discuss it. It doesn’t have to be adversarial. Everyone wants the kid to get better. If there’s a standoff, you have to side with the coach. Beyond the respect he deserves, he also has the power over who plays. However, the good coaches will listen to the kid and the kid’s father before making a final decision.

Do I need my father’s permission to turn pro?

When you’re 18, you can get drafted into the Army, go to college, get a job and vote. These are life decisions. Your father’s job is to explain what your options are. But ultimately it’s your life and it’s your choice. Take some responsibility: What do you want to do? But understand you have to take responsibility for your final decision.

What do I do if my dad and I disagree about signing?

You have to tell your dad, "Let’s discuss the options and alternatives. What’s your opinion?" And go from there. A parent might understand the value of a college education more than you do. When a scout comes into your home and offers you $100,000 to play right now, it might not be all it seems. Always remember, a parent has seen and experienced more of life than you have.

Nelson, Mat (Photo Courtesy Of Larry Novey Florida State)

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