Communicating with Middle School Athletes
Steve Krasner has been motivating young athletes and communicating effectively with middle school (and younger) kids for more than three decades, both on the field and in the classroom. The long-time sportswriter, author, educator, and youth coach joins Chuck Wilson to share his experience coaching and teaching kids, 12-and-under (U-13) for the benefit of youth sports coaches, teachers, and parents.
Chuck Wilson on Sports™ features professional and amateur coaches, athletes, officials, and others, sharing insight and perspective from the playing field while discussing issues that impact the game.
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Episode Quotes, an Audio Timeline, and an Episode Transcript can be found below.
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This Chuck Wilson on Sports™ Episode
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On what it takes to communicate effectively with middle-school-age kids
“You have to listen to them…You want to respect their opinions, as well. It’s a two-way street.
They’ll respect you more if you respect them, but you can’t make it phony, either. It has to be real. I mean, you have to really want to hear what they’re saying. And talk about why. Why do you think this? And get them to think it through.”
on the value of developing a thought process for playing a sport
“When I would coach baseball, what I would always tell the kids is you don’t “play “baseball. You “think” baseball. You have to know situations.”
on dealing with the fear of failure
“Too many kids are perfectionists. They’re afraid to take chances. And so they need to be shown that they have the permission to try things. And if they fail, “That’s okay. Why did you fail? What do you think you can do better next time? Not a big deal. Relax, okay? Because everyone fails.”
Youth coaches should avoid making assumptions about the athletic ability of kids at early ages
“That kid may have done nothing all year. But every year, there’s a year of development, depending on what ages they are, and they mature and they grow physically and things change…You never know. And that’s why as a coach, you never want to turn them off at 12 years old, 11 years old”
on the importance of spotting examples of sportsmanship and team-first behavior
“…those are the little things that build character, and that you can point to and say, “You know, I’m impressed with the way you handled that.” And that’s all you have to say. You don’t have to make a big speech out of it. That’s it. Because that gets processed and that’s meaningful to the kids, but you have to recognize this as the coach and/or the teacher.”
Episode Audio Timeline
- Steve’s approach to teaching and coaching (2:22)
- communicating effectively with middle school-age kids (3:29)
- two-way conversation engages kids and gets them thinking (5:15)
- fostering self-discovery and self-confidence (5:28)
- helping kids to understand “Why” makes them smarter players (6:08)
- measuring results beyond immediate outcomes (7:22)
- the parent-child relationship in youth sports (9:17)
- too much instruction can be counter-productive (10:12)
- encouraging kids to embrace challenges (11:25)
- on kids being afraid to fail (11:56)
- building perseverance and grit at early ages (13:17)
- avoiding “false praise” while holding kids accountable (14:21)
- playing games vs. development (15:07)
- keeping kids from quitting a sport at a young age (16:01)
- on building a quality teacher-student, coach-player relationship (18:55)
- the value of “selective hearing” (19:31)
- on handling behavior issues (20:34)
- the role of empathy in teaching and coaching (21:32)
- modeling the behavior you want to see in your players (22:23)
- bringing the best out of a player (23:51)
- kids benefit from the experience of playing different positions (25:11)
- an example of youth coaching going off the rails (26:02)
- what Steve would like to see in youth coaching (28:51)
- on young players emulating what they see from MLB players (30:30)
- how kids view “character’ (31:37)
- the impact of Rhode Island Write on Sports (33:43)
Episode Audio Transcript
Ways to Better Communicate with Young Athletes
Steve Krasner is a veteran sportswriter, author, educator, and youth coach.
Those experiences have provided him with valuable insight on how to effectively motivate and communicate with elementary and middle school kids, both on and off the field.
- Sportswriter for the Providence (RI) Journal for 33-years
- Covered the Boston Red Sox from 1986 until his retirement from the paper in 2008
- Coached Little League, AAU baseball, girl’s softball
- Award-winning children’s author (including: The Longest Game, Play Ball Like the Pros, and Play Ball Like the Hall of Famers
- Presents Nudging the Imagination interactive storywriting workshops for K-12 students
- Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit Rhode Island Write on Sports
- Wanted to be a professional baseball player
- Was a team captain and MVP at Columbia University
Steve Krasner: guest
Chuck Wilson: interviewer
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
As we began our conversation, Chuck Wilson asked Steve to describe his approach to coaching and teaching.
Steve Krasner: You want to impart messages, but you want to do it in a way that it will be received well, so whether you’re coaching baseball as I did or you’re in the classroom teaching writing, you need to engage the students and players.
They’re like your co-conspirators when you’re coaching, when you’re teaching. Obviously, you have the last say. You’re going to decide who’s hitting fourth and who’s playing right field, but you want them to know that their opinion is valued.
It used to be the coach would say, “Listen. You jump.” And you ask how high, and that was it. But now, it’s a little more give-and-take, and that’s okay. I mean, you still can retain control, if you will, but by engaging your students and or players, you give them that sense of ownership and they buy into it more, to use a cliche. And so it’s easier to impart the lessons, again, whether it’s which base to throw to, or how to use two hands to catch a fly ball, or what adjectives to use.
Chuck Wilson: What have you learned about what it takes to communicate effectively with middle school-age kids?
Steve Krasner: Well, you have to listen to them. Again, as I said, you know you’re the one that’s going to make the final decision, but, you want to respect their opinions, as well.
You know, it’s a two-way street. They’ll respect you more if you respect them. But, you can’t make it phony, either. It has to be real. I mean, you have to really want to hear what they’re saying. And talk about why.
Why do you think this? And get them to think it through, because certainly, from a writing point of view, one of the lessons you give students is that just because you write it once does not mean it’s done. I mean, the toughest thing about writing anything is writing it the first time. Once you’ve written it the first time, you go back over to give a little polish, a little massage, a little revision, a little editing.
It’s not as difficult as you think, but you get those ideas out there first. But now, you have to think them through.
So my writing philosophy is that it’s really a simple process when you boil it down. It goes from idea to angle to research, to write/revise, and then write/revise and edit.
No matter how old you are, no matter how long you’ve been writing, basically, that’s what everything boils down to. Whether it’s writing an email, whether it’s writing a novel. It doesn’t make any difference. It’s the same process. And to get them to slow down. We talk in athletics all the time to just slow it down, relax, take a breath. Let the game come to you. Let it slow down.
Well, writing is the same way. Relax. You’ll get there. Just get the ideas out there. And to know that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Some ideas will work better for you than others in certain circumstances, but the only way you find out what’s going to work is to get them all out there and talk them through. “Well, if I do this, how’s this going to happen? And then this, what do I need?” And that’s what you want to do.
Same with sports. It’s like, “Why would you throw to third base on a play and not second base? Who was running? What’s the score? What’s the inning? What did you do last time?”
So you’re asking all these questions, and when you ask the questions, you get more depth.
Chuck Wilson: You’re fostering self-discovery, which is huge. One of the things we talk about so much is that rather than tell kids things, have them come to that conclusion themselves because it sticks. Right?
Steve Krasner: Yeah, again as I said, that sense of ownership. “Ooh, I’m an author. I’m a writer. Ooh, I made this play.” And what were you thinking, and why did you do that? That’s it. That-a-way. That’s how to do it.” You know, a little positive reinforcement or guidance.
But you’re right. I mean, it’s all about thinking for themselves and getting to that point themselves. And once they’ve done it once or twice, that confidence is there. So you’re able to say, “Well, you’ve been through this before, it’s not a big deal. You can do it.”
When I would coach baseball, what I would always tell the kids is you don’t play baseball. You think baseball. You have to know situations. Okay?
It’s knowing, as I said previously, how many outs are there? Who’s batting? How fast a runner is he? How much time do you have if you field the ground ball and are they going to run on the play? And what’s the score? And what’s the inning? And, what did he show you in an at-bat if the pitcher throws a fastball? If he’s a right-handed hitter and all of a sudden, he hits it way foul down the right field line, well, that’s telling you as the fielder that he’s going to be late on a fastball, so you’re going to move if you’re at third base. You’re taking a couple of steps to your left. So, it’s the thought process.
Chuck Wilson: It’s all about process, in a sense. Whether it’s writing, or it’s trying to play a sport, learn a musical instrument, whatever it is. Everybody gets focused on the immediate result that you can get. And, I always use as an example. You can learn to play a musical instrument improperly, and have short term outcomes that are better. But, by learning it the so-called hard way, you don’t have to re-learn it later when you start doing more complicated things. Right? So, it is a building block.
Steve Krasner: Sure it is.
You reminded me of a story of my son. My son was a good baseball player. He ended up playing at East Greenwich High and Brandeis (University). He was a good player.
And I remember one game, a high school game. He went 0 for 4, and I was at the game. He came home and said, “Dad, I had a terrible game, 0-for-4. I said, “No, no.” I said, “The results weren’t good, but every at-bat, you worked the count to where you were ahead in the count. You hit the pitch where it was thrown, you got the good part of the bat on the ball. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. It just doesn’t happen. You can’t guide the ball after you hit it.”
Chuck Wilson: Conversely, you can have a 3-for-4 game, and they’re all weak ground balls that somehow got through, but really going 0-for-4 and getting the really solid contact, you actually had the better day, Right? You’ve got to look at it in the bigger picture. And I think as adults, we have trouble doing that with our kids, of looking longer-term than short-term.
Steve Krasner: Sure, we do. And it’s natural enough, if you’re a parent, you’re watching your kid play ball. You know, it’s like…I videotaped all of Jeff’s games, basically basketball and baseball. And there were a few reasons. One was for posterity. If he did something really great, hit a home run for instance, in the Little League Regionals, alright? And I had it on-camera and it landed in me, whatever.
And, we could use it as a teaching tool. He got to the point where he could look at it and say, “Dad, why am I not getting any power?” And he looked at it and said, “I’m on my front foot.” So he learned, you know, from watching.
But the other thing was because I was videotaping, I couldn’t say anything because if I said something, it was going to be on that tape forever, and ever and ever. So I would just say, (grumbling to himself) if I would see him do something or not do something that he could have done or should have done or whatever.
But, it was a way to just watch the game, and then try to talk about it later.
Chuck Wilson: What did you learn from that experience of watching your son, in helping you to be a good coach?
Steve Krasner: The dynamic between parent and kid playing ball is a difficult one because you can see talent or whatever, and you want them to succeed. I didn’t want him to succeed for me, I want him to succeed for him. So, when he would take that 2-0 fastball down the middle, I’d say “Jeff, what are you letting that pitch go for?” And sometimes I would… I wasn’t the perfect parent. I would say, “Jeff, you got to jump on that 2-0 pitch.”
So, you get that kind of dynamic. But, you learn that ultimately, you don’t want to bring that to the dinner table necessarily.
Chuck Wilson: Or even on the ride home, right?
Steve Krasner: On the ride home. Yeah. Yeah. Fortunately, it was a short ride.
Chuck Wilson: (laughing) Fortunately, for Jeff.
Steve Krasner: (laughing) Right. Exactly. And for our relationship. When he’s older, you want him to say, “Dad, let’s go to Smokey Bones. We haven’t been out together for a while.” That’s what you want at the other end of it.
And, I see it now.
I have a seven-year-old granddaughter who’s playing soccer. And to watch her play relative to when I would watch my own kids play, it’s different. Certain things just don’t matter. They’ll get there. You know what I mean?
So, she kicked the ball. She didn’t kick the ball. She crawled off the field dramatically. Fine.
I mean, we were away this weekend, and we played a little Wiffle ball. So I was pitching to her. And she’s swinging. She’s like the hammer chop and the hands are separated, but she’s hitting the ball. So I said to my son, “Jeff.” I said, “The hand-eye coordination is there…”
If it had been Jeff, I would have said, “No. No, Jeff. Your feet need to be here. Your hands need to be here.” And take all the fun out of it.
And so, I think as a parent, you have to find a way to back away. Don’t coach your own kid. I mean, you know that really isn’t always helpful, depending on the kids’ personality and your personality.
Chuck Wilson: How do we help kids to want to take on challenging tasks and stick with it? Whether it’s writing, whether it’s playing a sport, learning a musical instrument, whatever.
Steve Krasner: I think it comes down to encouragement. You know that certainly in sports failure’s built-in, right? So you’re going to fail. You’re going to 0-for-4 and hit the ball well. That’s just the way it is. That’s life.
Sometimes, the things you do in life, you do everything the right way and the result is awful. It happens. So you have to get past that.
But, we have to encourage them, to let them know, “Hey, good try.” I mean, “You’re getting there, you know? You’re better now than you were a week ago.”
Everyone needs that encouragement because too many kids are perfectionists. They’re afraid to take chances. And so, they need to be given permission, shown that they have the permission, I guess, is the way I want to put it, to try things. And if they fail, “That’s okay. Why did you fail? What do you think you can do better next time? Not a big deal. Relax, okay? Because everyone fails.”
I mean, I’ve been writing for 40 something years. Okay? And so I’m a professional. Okay. And so, one of the things I’ll show kids, and I’ll use one of my picture books as an example. I’ll read them the finished product. But then, I have all the materials to take them over the original text, the early sketches, and on and on and on.
And so I will say to them, “So I revised it. I didn’t have to revise it, I’m a professional writer, right?”
And some of them say, “Yes.” And some say, “No, you have…”
“What do you mean, I have to revise? I’m a professional. What are you suggesting?
Well, okay, so all right. So, you’re right. I revised it…once.”
“No, no, no, more than (once)…
A professional has to…?”
Of course, because that’s the only way you get to the best. And as writers, certainly, you want the best of everything. The best word, the best sentence, the best paragraph, and the only way you get to that is to start somewhere. And then massage it, as I said, and get it even better.
Chuck Wilson: The beauty is, if you can get kids to have the confidence to keep at something that’s difficult, that builds grit, that builds perseverance. That allows them to get knocked down and get up again.
Steve Krasner: It goes into the bank of knowledge. I mean, the first time they play a sport, they have nothing to look back on whether they succeeded or didn’t succeed. But once they’ve done it once, you, as a coach, get to say, “Hey, remember that game we played? And, you didn’t think you can hit that kid? And, you got the bat on the ball? Well, so why can’t you do it again?”
And so that’s what needs to grow and needs to build. And they’re perfectionists because they don’t want to be wrong. It’s not about taking a chance and being more right or less, right, or whatever. It’s, “Oh, I don’t want to be wrong.”
And so, that’s why coaches, what they need to do is just pull them aside and say, either that day or the next day, “Hey, don’t worry. Get him tomorrow” and just let it go. Let’s go get the lemonade, and we’re good.”
Chuck Wilson: I think it’s so important for kids to know that you’re not going to get false praise, either. Kids look right through that. They see what it is. Holding kids accountable to high standards, that’s really important, But, the standards ought to be to things they control — their effort, their attitude, the communication…
Steve Krasner: And individual. Individualized because every kid is different. So, what you’re going to hold one kid to, you’re not going to hold everyone to, necessarily. And we do the same thing in our writing camps. We have kids from all different ability levels, and that’s fine.
And same with coaching. The goal is to have them be better players at the end of the year than they were at beginning of the year.
And all too often parents want the games. It’s another game. Let’s have another game. Let’s have another game. But in truth, it’s practice. That first draft, second draft, third draft of a story, or 15 ground balls today, 23 ground balls tomorrow. I mean, you can play a doubleheader, and this would happen when I was coaching some AAU, 12-and-under, 13-and-under. You could go through a doubleheader as a shortstop, and I would move everybody around anyway, but you could have two games at shortstop, and not get one ground ball.
Well, is that good for you? I mean, your development? No, it’s better to have had a practice.
Instead of playing doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, maybe you play a doubleheader on Saturday, and on Sunday, you go over some of the things that cropped up over the course of the two games. And meanwhile, you’re getting your ground balls, you’re getting a few more swings, you’re getting some fly balls. And, have some fun with it too.
As a coach, you want that kid to come back next year. That kid may have done nothing all year. Good kid, kind of timid, whatever. But every year, there’s a year of development, depending on what ages they are, and they mature and they grow physically and things change.
I remember having a kid 12-and-under. As I said, I put kids everywhere because you never want to give a coach a chance to not play you. When the coach looks and says, “I need a left fielder.” And you say, “Oh, no coach. I’m a shortstop.” “Okay fine. Well, you’re pretty good but we have three who are better than you so, take a seat. Who’s going to play left field?”
So anyway, we had this kid. A good kid. Really good kid. Kind of big. Pitcher, third base, first base. And, I put him in the outfield. And don’t you know, no matter whether I put him, in right field, left field, didn’t matter. The first batter would always hit the ball to him. And he would dance around like a newborn giraffe trying to find his legs, and the ball would fall in. And so I would joke with him and say, “Listen, listen. Do me a favor, put a helmet on when you go out there, will you please?”
So, we would practice fly balls.
And so you realize from a baseball point of view, the kids who go on from Little League age are usually the pitcher-shortstops, right? Maybe the catcher, right? So no one plays the outfield in Little League because no one gets anything. I mean, you play there, but you don’t get any activity there. So now, you move to the big diamond. You still have to have three outfielders, but these kids haven’t caught a fly ball in their lives.
I remember the first session we had them all out in the outfield, you know, I hit them all grounders around the infield, right? And now everyone’s catching fly balls. And it was a horror show. (laughing) The ball was landing on the ground. Fortunately, no one got hit in the head. I don’t know how not, but no one got hit.
So, this (kid) Jake, a couple of years later, was playing outfield starting at center field. He had good speed and good size and a good arm. He was starting at center field for a high school team.
You never know. And that’s why as a coach, it’s kind of what you’re alluding to. You never want to turn them off at 12 years old, 11 years old, whether it’s on the athletic field or as a writer. All those red marks that they get. Well, that’s mechanical stuff for the most part. It’s a comma. It’s a capital (letter). It’s not important.
It is in the end.
But I mean, the importance is to get the ideas out there. And the only way you get the ideas out there is to give it a shot and be encouraged to give it a shot.
Chuck Wilson: Let me talk about your personality, yours is perfect. I mean, you’re a big kid, right?
Steve Krasner: I am. Papa Stevie. That’s me.
Chuck Wilson: You’ve dressed up. You’ve had the gorilla outfit and the clown outfit on, whatever it is. But, you have a way, in your writing, coaching and teaching, of relating to kids.
What can you tell us that you’ve learned with middle school age of being able to help kids in terms of a teacher-student, coach-player, relationship? How do you build a quality relationship?
Steve Krasner: Well, I mean, you touched on it earlier. You can’t be phony. You are who you are. That’s why some people teach high school and not elementary school. I mean, it depends on your personality. And even within that, you teach to your personality.
When I’m in the classroom, especially elementary school, it’s organized chaos. I don’t mind them calling things out. I don’t mind them just falling out of chairs. It doesn’t make any difference. We’re fine.
But I went into one classroom early on and it was third or fourth grade, and I had the kids where I want them. They were laughing. They were giggling. Whatever. And all of a sudden, the teacher took a ruler and rapped on the desk, “Settle down, settle down.” And I’m saying, “Oh, these poor kids.”
But you have to have a personality, and certainly, in middle school, you have to be willing to let some things go.
You hear a lot of things, but you have to develop what they have, which is selective hearing. Right? So you hear them joke with each other maybe or they talk back or something, and you kind of look at them. And you get a sense for, is this just… Can you let it go?
Some issues you have to address right then and there. And you only kind of learn that it’s your own personality plus the situations that come up, because they’re going to joke around differently in middle school. They’re going to say things differently. That’s just the age when they’re testing limits, and so you, as the teacher or coach, have to decide what you can let go of and what you can’t, and how it affects everybody else and control of the situation. Again, whether it’s an in-class writing assignment, or it’s at a practice, you know.
The respect has to be kind of mutual.
It only comes with time. And, that’s why you’re talking about calling kids out. You don’t want to do that because when you do that, you’re losing them. You’ve lost them. Okay?
But if you can pull that kid aside and say, “Hey, listen, you know that doesn’t fly, Okay? You know we can’t have that behavior. And I’ll let it slide now, but you have to make the decision. Do you want to continue with that kind of behavior? And if so, you’re old enough to know that there are consequences to behavior, and you have a responsibility. If that’s, hey, that’s up to. That’s on you. I’m here to help you, but you have to ultimately make that decision.”
But then, what you need to do is, the first opportunity you get to compliment that kid, you do.
Chuck Wilson: What are your thoughts on the role of empathy in both teaching and coaching?
Steve Krasner: It’s extremely important. You can see, you get a sense over time if something you said, even if it was innocuous, you thought it was innocuous, and you see them turtle up. You have to recognize that. And you have to say, “I messed up. I shouldn’t have said it that way. I’ve got to get this kid aside and talk to this kid, right then and there, you know.”
So it’s your observation powers.
You know the message you want to convey, okay? But you get 15, 16, 18, 20 different personalities there, too. So you might see that someone, “Well, that’s the kid. Okay. All right. I messed up there, with that kid. I have to treat that one a little differently and maybe, talk a little more to that kid and talk it through. And, apologize, even.”
You know, if you mess up, you mess up. We’re talking about taking responsibility, right? So as a coach, if you mess up with how you’ve acted or a strategy you put on, you put a kid in a bad situation. You have to say when you meet with them out in left field after the game, “You know what? I messed up. I shouldn’t have done that. I apologize.”
Chuck Wilson: And as a role model, that makes so much sense because what it shows kids is, it’s okay to make a mistake. Own up to it. Learn from it, and you move on.
I just think the empathy piece in coaching. If you can coach with empathy, it doesn’t mean you excuse everything. What it does is remembering what it’s like to be eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 years old, and not looking at it entirely from an adult perspective. And, it’s not simple to do all the time, but it’s something I think that needs to be intentional.
That’s why we talk a lot with coaches about “Hey, get a video of yourself coaching. Look at your body language. You may be coming across in a way that you hadn’t intended.”
Steve Krasner: True. Yeah, absolutely. It’s because things happen like that. And you don’t have three minutes to decide, “Let’s see, how am I going to handle the fact that the umpire just threw out my pitcher?” You have to react in a split-second way. And sometimes, that’s when after the game you say, “You know what, I didn’t handle it very well.” You say to the team. “What do you think I should have done?”
Chuck Wilson: What’s the experience as a coach that you most enjoyed?
Steve Krasner: Working with kids, and getting more out of them than they knew they had. One example. I remember we had a tryout. This is for the AAU team. It was probably the 13-and-unders, so it was the full-size diamond. And I saw a kid in the outfield throwing. Big kid. He had good size. But, he never really would turn it loose. He was throwing like with a chicken arm, you know?
But he was a good kid. I wanted him on the team. There were other kids that probably were a little better and with my other coaches, I said, “No, no. We want him.” And so I remember talking to him.
And, I said to him, “Did you pitch in Little League?”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
He was a shy kid. “Did you pitch…”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
“Did you hit someone?”
“So are you afraid to throw?”
So over time, we got him to get his arm back and throw. He didn’t pitch for us against a full-size diamond, but you could see the confidence growing in him. And that was very satisfying as a coach to see.
Was he the best player on the team? No, but he had his moments.
That’s what you want. You want them to have that moment.
Unfortunately, in Little League all too often, if you have a kid who can catch, who’s able to catch, those kids are tough to find in Little League. And so the coach’s tendency is to stick that kid back there for all six innings of every game of the season because that’s going to help them win. But it’s not doing the kid any favors necessarily because that kid may not grow physically big enough to be a catcher on the big diamond. Or the knees are going to go or the…it’s not fair to that kid.
And so as a coach, it was about, as I said earlier, having them better players at the end of the year than they were at the beginning and hopefully keeping that enjoyment of the game that they had going so that they would want to play high school ball.
Chuck Wilson: What have you seen in coaching that has just made you shake your head?
Steve Krasner: My granddaughter’s soccer game. They’re seven-year-old girls playing soccer, okay? For the most part, this is their first experience playing the sport. And there’s a girl on my granddaughter’s team. Because of a soccer play, she was going after the ball and ended up bumping someone on the other team who fell down and started crying. Okay?
Later in the game, she goes to kick a ball. There’s a loose ball, she goes after it, someone from the other team goes after it, they both kick at the same time, the ball pops up, hits the girl on the face, she starts crying. Okay?
And so the coach on the other team wants her thrown out of the game, and goes belly to belly with the coach of my granddaughter’s team. And my granddaughter is on a terrible team. They couldn’t win. I mean, they’re terrible, which is okay. They’re running around, they get some exercise, they’re learning, but he took his team off the field. The other coach took his team off the field. I mean, they’re seven years old. I mean, what are you doing?
Chuck Wilson: There was nothing malicious.
Steve Krasner: No, and I’m watching the game. I mean, obviously, I want to see my granddaughter do well. I want to watch her play. But I have no… I didn’t go to Vegas and put something down on this soccer match. And so, it was just a soccer play. They were both just soccer plays that happened.
And that’s where the coach comes into play. And should be taking the kids off and say, “Listen, are you okay? Like your own kid and say, “Listen, sometimes these things happen in soccer. She didn’t mean anything by it.” And just in essence “Suck it up, will you.”
But I mean, just show that empathy that “This is your first time playing soccer and this is how sometimes the game goes and she didn’t mean anything and this is just the way the game goes.”
But to go belly to belly with the other coach and demand that the kid get tossed and take it… I mean, it’s just a bit much. It was just a bit much.
Chuck Wilson: Best thing you’ve ever seen another coach do.
Steve Krasner: Well, you see a lot of coaches who talk to their players. One doesn’t necessarily jump out to mind, but I mean, they’re a lot of good coaches. Bob Downey, for instance, the baseball coach in East Greenwich is terrific. It so happened when my son was a senior in high school, it was (Bob’s) first year of coaching at East Greenwich High School, but to watch his development …And even then you knew, you could see him. Some of the coaches my son had, were good that way. And so there are a lot of coaches around who are doing it for the right reasons, teach them how to play the game, play the game right, play the game well, sportsmanship.
Chuck Wilson: Let’s talk a little bit about ways we can improve the youth sports experience especially for U-13, those 12 and under. What would you like to see?
Steve Krasner: (Laughing) I would like to see grandparents coach, to be honest with you, because they have a different perspective. And it’s a little less intense. It’s a little less pressure. Too many parents get too wrapped up in it, and it’s just not healthy for the kids.
And what are we teaching them?
Because, on the other side of the coin, you have well-meaning people coaching, who are doing their best. They’re not malicious. They’re not yelling at the kids or whatever, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. And that’s just as bad from a coaching point of view.
I mean, my son had one of those coaches, which led to a project for the newspaper, which led to book projects because bad advice is worse than none.
But I happened to be walking to my seat, and he was doing soft toss. And the coach was saying, “Hey, Jeff, hit the ball as high up on the screen as you can.”
And I stopped and I turned around. You can’t give a kid worse advice because the only way to do that is to drop a shoulder and swing like they do now in the major leagues, with the launch angle. And, my son caught my eye. As I said, I was just walking to my seat. And he caught my eye. He knew better, but it was his coach, so he was not going to say anything.
But that’s when I realized, there are well-meaning people who give up their time, and that’s terrific. But bad advice is worse than none.
Chuck Wilson: I want to ask you about middle school. When it comes to middle school kids, when they see athletes behave and act in certain ways, how do they process that, in your view?
Steve Krasner: I’m old school. Okay? You hit the ball, you drop the bat, you run. You don’t point to yourself. You don’t wiggle around. You don’t throw the bat. Just go to base the way we’re supposed to. So I’m old school that way. But I mean, we used to pretend we were the major leaguers, right? We would get the tootsie rolls. Grab a whole bunch of tootsie rolls and chew them, like we were chewing tobacco, and get the bat and the whiffle balls and whatever and play with the same batting stances and all that kind of stuff.
But what’s changed is that they’re cultivating personalities, you know, and so it’s natural for kids to just want to be Fernando Tatis and just toss the bat up in the air and saunter around the bases and point at the pitcher, and do all that stuff, which drives me crazy. It’s difficult to not fall into that trap, as a kid, you know.
Chuck Wilson: How do you think kids view “character”?
Steve Krasner: I don’t think they think about it at all, necessarily, unless it’s pointed out to them. And, we need to point out to them.
“Look at what this kid just did. Wasn’t that neat?”
Like our camp, Rhode Island Write on Sports, it’s two weeks. I tell the staff all the time, “Listen, we’re not going to reinvent the wheel in two weeks.
We’re not going to turn some kid who has very little writing ability into the next Red Smith or whomever you want to choose, Peter Gammons whatever you want to choose, but we’re planting seeds. So they can see that “Oh, maybe if I do this. Maybe if I do that.” So, little by little by little, we’re not going to see the seed blossom, but someone else will.
So it’s the same thing athletically. You’re going to plant seeds of what you should be doing, why you should be doing it, et cetera, et cetera. And it may kick in this year, it may kick in next year, whatever. So the same thing with character, so what did we see in this play?
And you don’t have to make a big deal out of it. It doesn’t have to be a three-hour lecture. Okay?
But as a coach, you’re pointing these things out like “Don’t argue with the umpire. Sit down. The umpire has a job. You have a job.”
I would always get a kick out of this covering the Red Sox, too. You’d hear it all the time in the locker room. “I had the guy struck out on the pitch but the umpire called it a ball. The next pitch he hit, nine miles for a home run.” “Well, wait a minute. Who threw the next pitch? The umpire didn’t throw the next pitch? All right, maybe he missed one. So what? Did you ever miss…”
I mean, so just “shut up and play” basically is what it comes down to.
But notice that there’s etiquette.
You follow the rules. You play the right way. You support your teammates. You’re not playing, you get pulled out, or whatever. Well, don’t go pout, this is a team. And those are the little things that build character, and that you can point to and say, “You know, I’m impressed with the way you handled that.” And that’s all you have to say. You don’t have to make a big speech out of it. That’s it. Because that gets processed and that’s meaningful to the kids, but you have to recognize this as the coach and/or the teacher.
Chuck Wilson: Write on Sports. How do you think it’s changing the lives of these kids?
Steve Krasner: Well, again, planting those seeds. I mean, the goal, the purpose of Rhode Island Write on Sports is not so much to turn out a new crop of sportswriters, but it’s to help these students become more comfortable and confident in the writing process, hopefully leading to improved classroom performance, you know.
And the younger we can get these kids to think, whether it’s Little League, whether it’s middle school, about why they make the choices they make, and what the consequences are, and what their responsibilities might be, and what their options are. We also have to show them that there are options.
And the more options we can show them, then it’s just better for the student to see all the different possibilities. I mean, one of the things, when I go into the classroom is I get to tell them, “Listen, I didn’t want to be a sportswriter when I grew up. I wanted to be a professional baseball player.”
I played in high school, Cranston West. I was pretty good. I played in college at Columbia, I was pretty good.
Apparently, not good enough. (Laughing) It was before expansion. That’s all I can figure.
But, what I say to them is because I could write, I spent 33 years getting paid to watch games, that was my job. I got to go to World Series and Super Bowls. And I didn’t just get to go, I got paid to go because I could write.
So while you sit there thinking, “why do I have to write? I hate writing. Writing is boring.”
Hey, I say to you what you say to us, “Just saying. I’m just saying.”
And everyone has a passion, writing can help you stay connected to it somehow, someway, maybe even as in my case, make a living at it.
And it resonates because it happens to be true, in my case. I’m not lying to them. It was me. And so these are the things we need to point out to them. When I have a kid say to me in middle school, whatever. “Oh, I’m going to be…” In our camp, it happens all the time. “Well, I’m going to be a professional basketball player or professional soccer player.” And I will say to them, “Well, you know what? You might be. You work hard. It happens right? There are professionals, right? It could be you. But, you might want to look at other options, as well.
Chuck Wilson: Steve. Great pleasure. Thanks so much.
Steve Krasner: Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Our thanks to Steve Krasner.
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Founder & Executive Director
Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer, and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. In 2007, Wilson was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport. He is the founder of Even Field.