When my children came of age, I was glad to see them express an interest and join the local Little League. Because of this, I got involved with the local program and served it for ten years in a variety of capacities: as coach for both boys baseball and girls softball, as umpire, and as a member of the board of directors. I got involved because I saw it as a rare opportunity to be actively involved in the lives of my children, especially in something we all enjoyed.
As coach, I had modest success. Unlike a lot of my contemporaries, I never suffered under the illusion that we played in a World Series every weekend or that any of my kids would someday reach the Hall of Fame. Instead, I taught teamwork, the fundamentals of the game, and hopefully an appreciation for it. Frankly, we had a blast. I never made my kids run laps after a defeat, and we often had ice cream after a victory. But my signature as a manager was to line the kids up before the game and give the pledge of allegiance to the flag. Since baseball is truly America's game, I thought this was important. Interestingly, there were a lot of coaches who thought this was plain silly and refused to join us in the pledge of allegiance. I thought this was particularly strange.
The one thing I objected to as a coach was how parents tended to treat us as baby-sitters. They weren't so much interested in whether their child learned anything, as much as they saw this as an opportunity to occupy the kid's time. This never did set well with me.
As an umpire, I learned the importance of managing the game, being fair, and good sportsmanship. I only had one instance where I had to eject a manager for being a loudmouth. I guess I did such a good job at this that nobody dared challenge me thereafter. The lessons I learned as umpire followed me into my professional career, as well as my participation in other nonprofit organizations.
As a member of the Board of Directors, I produced the club's first web page, cleaned up the governing docs, and straightened out their finances. When I started on the finances, I was given nothing more than a shoe box with receipts and nothing else. This made me suspicious of how finances were being handled prior to my term.
More than anything, what I learned from my Little League experience was that it is run by well meaning people with some time on their hands, but haven't got a clue as to how to run a business. Little League is essentially no different than any other nonprofit organization in this regards, complete with politics, a lack or organization, and some power hungry fool trying to run everything. The scope of an organization like Little League is such that it is virtually impossible to try to micromanage everything, but that doesn't stop people from trying to do so. Consequently, they do nothing but alienate the volunteers and discourage people from participating. Instead, they should be empowering people and hold them responsible for their actions. As I like to say, you should "manage more, and supervise less."
Little League is nothing more than a forum for kids to get some organized physical activity, learn some fundamental lessons about teamwork and sportsmanship, and an appreciation for the game. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet there are those parents who go beyond this and teach cutthroat tactics and to win at all costs; If this includes cheating, so be it. Actually, its a shame parents have to get involved with something like Little League; the kids would probably have a better time without them.
Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant located in Palm Harbor, Florida. You can find his work on the Internet at: http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm, firstname.lastname@example.org
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