As our season is set to begin, we can’t help but think about the importance of sportsmanship in youth sports and how it affects so many parts of our game: youth baseball. The fact that sportsmanship is, once again, a Point of Emphasis in the NFHS (High School) rule book and the MBL rules is further evidence we need to focus on it throughout the season. Everyone who comes to a game has a connection to sportsmanship and plays a role in shaping the atmosphere at the field.
Our coaches play a crucial role in sportsmanship, as role models and teachers. No one has more influence on the tenor of a game than the coaches – specifically because players tend to behave as their coaches do. If a 12U player sees his coach yelling at a coach from the other team or complaining about a call made by an umpire, the player may also yell or complain. The player is also learning what is acceptable and what isn’t, for future encounters with opposing players, coaches, spectators, and umpires. Coaches are the leaders and they set the tone. The MBL asks coaches to be mindful of their actions and their competitive energy throughout the season.
Baseball is a fun, exciting game, and we are all fortunate to be a part of it. Of all the ways people are involved in youth baseball, participating in the game stands alone as a special experience. Rooting for your team and supporting your teammates is an integral part of baseball. The MBL encourages all our players on this front. All too often, though, players lose sight of these positive staples of the game and engage in negative, unsportsmanlike behavior. Making disparaging remarks to opponents, celebrating excessively, challenging the calls of our umpires – these actions have no place in our game. Unsportsmanlike behavior takes away from everyone’s experience at the ballpark. It comes down to showing respect for everyone involved in the game. Players, please respect your opponents, your opponents’ fans, our umpires and certainly your own teammates, coaches, and fans.
Much like our coaches, most of our spectators are parents and their role in sportsmanship is as important as anyone’s. Unsportsmanlike behavior from spectators can have a huge effect on the energy of a youth baseball game. The temperature of a game, as some say, can increase dramatically when several parents are yelling at an umpire in disapproval or making negative comments to opposing spectators. In most cases, engaging with opposing fans should be avoided. Like our guidance to players, rooting for your own team is a key part of youth sports. There’s nothing like the smile on a player’s face when spectators cheer for them. Our game wouldn’t be what it is without this kind of support. There is a line, however, separating appropriate celebration and excessive celebration. While one team celebrates, the other deals with failure; while these lessons are a valuable part of sports, we need to be mindful not to “rub it in” on kids who already feel bad. Parents, your support is crucial, and we ask you to stay positive, be role models for your kids and help your fellow spectators as competitive spirits rise.
Showing respect for our youth baseball umpires at all times is paramount to our game. The MBL – like nearly every other part of the country – is working through a shortage of umpires. This is of great concern because we don’t have games without umpires. It has never been more important to show good sportsmanship to our umpires. When umpire assignors are asked why we don’t have enough umpires, the overwhelming responses are sportsmanship and disrespect. Many people don’t want to become umpires because they fear what might happen to them should they make a mistake, or they associate the umpiring with arguments and being yelled at by parents, coaches and players. We all have a responsibility to change this culture. It is never okay to yell at an umpire. The damage that may be done to an individual umpire from being yelled at is bad in itself, but perhaps more damaging in the long-term is the scene young players and fans are witnessing and now associating with umpiring. Youth baseball umpires are learning – just like the players; they will make mistakes – just like the players. The MBL’s message to coaches, spectators and players: please respect umpires at all times, keep appropriate expectations, and continue to do your part in changing the culture around youth baseball umpiring.