Down on the Farm: Creating whiners
The last thing a kid needs when he gets in a little trouble or doesn't get as much playing time as might seem right is to have his parents turn into his free defense lawyers.
"My kid would never do that," seems to have replaced "Well, you'd better go take your lumps," in the parental phrase book, even on the smallest matters.
The two phrases are worlds apart. The first develops life-long whiners. The second may create actual adults. Instead of getting parental support in their effort to develop character, teachers, principals, referees, coaches and school board members get attacked by parents who don't realize the damage their knee jerk advocacy does to their kid's character.
Of course, not all teachers, principals, coaches and referees make the right calls. Some make boneheaded mistakes. Even the best sometimes make bad judgments.
In extreme cases of unfairness, of course the kid needs defending. And bullying by other kids should never be tolerated as a "builder of character."
But small instances of unfairness such as a bad referee's call should be viewed as an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson. Welcome to the world, kid. Life is not fair. We love you, but you're going to have to take your lumps.
Thirty-some years ago, I attempted to play high school baseball. Despite my obvious talents, I was left off the varsity squad. I was certain a grave injustice had been committed. I went home and complained. My parents gave me a good ear. That's it. No call to the coach, no angry visit to the principal.
So I was put on the B squad. There, I sat on the bench. My athletic gifts rotted on the vine. I ended the year with six at-bats. I had three hits. That's a .500 average, better than Joe Mauer in a good year. Oh, the pain and bitterness! The injustice!
A couple of years later, I played again. The opposite happened. I was put in center field every game. And I stunk. I batted .167, worse than Drew Butera. I dropped more fly balls than I caught. It was clear I never did have much talent.
Through it all, my parents displayed the perfect attitude: Supportive indifference. We love you, here's your supper, see what happens tomorrow, baseball doesn't really matter that much anyway.
There are times when young people need a good lawyer. If I am threatened with prison for something I didn't do, I'll want a feisty one. But for small injustices with adolescents, it is more valuable to use the instance of unfairness to teach a lesson in character.
As much fun as it is to watch pro baseball managers lose their cool and kick dirt on the umpires, former Twins manager Tom Kelly, a genius at developing scrappy young talent, had it right.
Under Kelly's regime, players were not to argue with the umpires. If an injustice arose, Kelly would do the honors. And he usually passed. Kelly once went nine years without getting kicked out of a single game.
"You can argue with the umpires after you have become the perfect player yourself," Kelly told his team, knowing full well that the perfect baseball player doesn't exist. No player was immune from Kelly's rules.
The lack of on-field arguments made the Twins a slightly less colorful team to watch. But Kelly's rules developed an adult, team-first attitude which resulted in two championships in five years.
Tom Kelly was a tough, cranky old codger even when he took over the team at the tender age thirty-six. Prima donnas never stuck with the team, no matter how talented they were. Whining was a sure ticket to Toledo.
Not all players meshed with Kelly. Talented Red Sox slugger David Ortiz didn't blossom until he got out from under Kelly's thumb. The players who excelled under Kelly were the mediocre ones, players who needed discipline and practice to improve.
Randy Bush was probably the best example. Kelly knew Bush was limited, but also knew that when the right time came for Bush to pinch hit, he'd be ready and he'd play smart.
As a result, Twins fans have many good memories of Randy Bush. Bush could have whined about his lack of playing time. Instead, he accepted his limitations and put together a tidy little career.
For some reason, I doubt either Tom Kelly or Randy Bush's mommy and daddy ever ran to the principal to complain about lack of playing time.