As he stood in the third base coaches box, Ricky Cunningham urged on one of his Cardinals. "Just like yesterday babe," the coach said to his batter. "Just like yesterday."
Cunningham's team is made up of nine and 10 year old boys. He described his role as a youth sports coach this way, "What we're trying to do is take the, whether they're the smartest or the smallest player, we're trying to teach them just the basic steps of baseball, what to do out in field and what to do when the get up to the plate."
But sometimes, Cunningham admits the teaching gets overrun by a coach's desire to win. "Yeah if a play needs to go our way," the coach said, "I feel myself getting caught up and relating it to the players, parents as well as the umpires."
The umpires hear more than their share of complaints, from coaches and parents. Just ask 16 year old umpire Travis Werth. "I was calling the bases," Werth said, "and one of the parents said that's that stupid ump that gave them the game last week or something like that."
What adults occasionally forget is why kids play youth sports. Before Rodney Reynolds pitched against the Cardinals, the 10 year old talked about why he plays baseball. He said, "It's just fun to get out of the house. And I can just play around."
Dr. Dennis Phillips is a USM professor, and an expert in youth sports. He thinks "sports is tremendously important in all aspects of our society." The Hattiesburg professor has spent years analyzing the importance and the problems associated with youth sports games. "Sometimes their innocence is lost very early in their sport competition with overzealous coaches, or parents that berate them instead of encourage them," he said.
During the Cardinals game against the Athletics, encouragement came from both coaches. And the players fed off of it. The professor said that's how it should be.
"In the big picture," Dr. Phillips has found out, "the vast majority of coaches and the vast majority of parents are positive toward their kids youth sport experience."
And if they're not positive, coaches like Rick Schroeder try to settle down their enthusiastic parents. "Oh they get loud," the Jackson County soccer coach said. "They're supposed to cheer their kids on. But they don't get negative. I don't let anybody get negative to my kids."
According to the experts, positive coaches and positive parents produce positive on field results.
Psychologists have come up with some rules to remember when you're on the sidelines at your kid's game. Cheer don't sneer. In other words, don't criticize the kids. Walk before you squak. If you want to yell at a coach or a ref, take a walk and cool down. That way you won't embarrass yourself or your child. And remember, a yell won't make the team jell. Psychologists say screaming instructions from the stands is boorish. And kids can't hear you anyway.