See that ADORABLE kid not wearing a cap, rounding first base on a post game run with his friends? That's my boy, Jack. He was 5 in this picture from the spring of 2013. That's me on the right side of the frame.
It was during that season, my 3rd as his baseball coach, that he approached me after a game with a concern that would continue to plague him every season since.
He heard a mom from the other team call me a "bad word"; "a bitch", he whispered to me. "Why did she say that?" "Shouldn't she get in trouble?".
There are rules designed to govern the behavior of players, coaches and spectators at all organized youth sports games. These rules are aimed to remind everyone that the experience on the field is supposed to be fun for the kids, even if it is competitive and stressful. Calling the opposing team's coach a "bitch", especially within earshot of that coach's kid, was definitely an infraction of those rules. Name-calling on the field and off the field is never appropriate, but let's be serious, there's not much to be done about it.
I know parents from other teams complain about me a lot, as do some coaches and players, as well. I'm a lot to take in and I understand that. I'm usually the only woman on the field, and I'm loud, so it's not likely my presence will be ignored. I'm assertive. And, I know my stuff.
I've got a decade's worth of stories about parents who struggle with my existence in the coaching space, including the mom of a 7 year old player on the opposing team in 2014 who sat behind me, just barely 10 feet away, as I coached at first base. As I provided guidance to my batters and runners from that position on the field, she repeatedly (and loudly) inquired of another mother whom she was sitting with: "why can't she just shut up? I mean, she is SO loud." The other mother didn't respond, but after hearing the same complaint from over my shoulder 3 innings in a row, I turned around and gave that mom the answer she needed to hear: "I can't shut up because I'm coaching my team, and I'm loud because I want to be". I'm sure that didn't stop that mom from talking smack about me, but at least she did it out of my earshot from then on.
What adds to my visibility in the space I occupy on the field as a coach is my strict adherence to the rules. This behavior has served me well in sports-related spaces when I am a player. On the volleyball court, I'm usually the first to acknowledge that I made inappropriate contact with the net or with a player from the opposite team. While my teammates might want me to keep my mouth shut sometimes about these infractions, I'm not interested in winning at all costs. The referees on the volleyball court, as a result, tend to give me the benefit of the doubt on tough calls. In the end, the benefit comes to my team.
I appreciate the rules of every sport that I play or coach, and I know the rules very well. It's kind of my thing. But, my attention to the rules can lead to uncomfortable situations for a lot of people, including the umpires who are often looking to get through the two hour poorly-paying gig without conflict. Unfortunately, the combination of my attention to the rules and my visibility as a female coach often finds conflict at my feet, and thus creating conundrums for Jack.
Yesterday, in our current 15 and under division we played a tough game against a good team that handily defeated us earlier in the season. This time, we gave them a run for their money. The official game ended as a 6-9 loss for us, but we were ahead 10-9 at the end of the game. We couldn't complete the inning because of time. I'm ok with the loss, as is my team. Unfortunately, we had to waste valuable game time because the opposing coaches and the umpires didn't know the applicable rules.
The rules of the Prospect Park Baseball Association (our local recreational baseball league in Brooklyn, NY) require pitchers to be removed after a second trip by a coach to the mound. The other team's coaches clearly didn't know this rule, nor did the umpires. When I insisted on adherence to the rule, the umpires had to consult with the head umpire on the next field before confirming I was correct. I apologized to the opposing coaches to smooth things over. They had to replace the pitcher. Soon they would need to replace that pitcher when I also had to remind the umpires that a pitcher needed to be removed after hitting two batters in the same inning. The opposing coaches were a little more aggravated about that call, but there is no use arguing with the rules, so they accepted it. Their players, however were more peeved. One of their players followed me up the first base line ranting at me with a familiar rant I hear when enforcing the rules, that included something like "Just let us play baseball". I turned to to this player to remind him of his place on the field, and of mine, as a coach.
It would come as no surprise to me that Jack and I would share another uncomfortable conversation after the game. During one of the pitching changes, Jack was getting ready to bat when a player on the opposing team was chatting with him from their dugout. That player told Jack, through adolescent speak, that he respected him but that his team "hates your coach". Jack shrugged it off, got up to bat and took the walk that was presented to him. Jack relayed this communication to me as we walked to take team pictures on a beautiful sunny day. I expressed my sadness in his experience, and a bit of disappointment that he didn't own up to the fact that his coach was his mom. I understand, though, why he kept it to himself. He's 13. These kids were 15. They were showing him respect, and that's important, especially as a younger adolescent. Identifying me as his mom might kill his "cred". Jack apologized to me, and I insisted he didn't have to, but I admitted the whole thing makes me sad.
A continuous experience I feel as a female coach in a male dominated sport is loneliness. Yesterday's incident with Jack highlighted this feeling for me, and also reminded me why I started You Can Call Me Coach.
I would love to hear from other coaches, of all gender identities, about their similar and related experiences. I'm especially interested in the tools other coaches use to manage their experiences. Through this sharing, I hope all of us to feel more connected, and, personally I can feel a little less lonely.
And to Coaches from Prospect Park Baseball Association Teams: Check out the Coaching Tools Tab for the Coach Krase "Easy Rules" Guides for each PPBA Division. You might need to slightly update them based on more recent rule adoptions, but they are really helpful for keeping coaches (and umpires) on the same page.