Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Coaching Isn't Just About Winning Games - The Matheny Manifesto

Coaching isn't just about winning games, it's about building better human beings.

I'm in the middle of reading a book by Mike Matheny.

If you're like me, you have no idea who Mike Matheny is, so let me give you some background.

Mike Matheny is a former professional baseball catcher. He made his debut in the major leagues in April of 1994 with the Brewers. In 1999 he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. During his time with with the Cardinals he helped St. Louis reach the postseason in four of his five years with the team and they claimed the National League pennant in 2004.

He was considered one the greatest defensive players in the Major Leagues and was given the nickname "The Toughest Man Alive", after taking a 96 mph fast ball in the face and playing the very next day! His career ended after a series of concussions that would not allow him to return.

You can read more about Mike on his website HERE.

Mike was asked to coach a youth baseball team and wrote a series of conditions he demanded before agreeing to be with the team. This letter spread virally across the country and became knows as the "Matheny Manifesto" and the book has inspired me to write about my own experiences, thoughts and theories on Coaching.

My Son when he played for
Coach Figueroa
My first experience in youth sports (other than when I was playing) was when my son was 7 years old and he asked to play Baseball. He had never played Baseball, had never even caught a ball that I knew of. I remember his first day of practice. I had bought him a new glove and tried to play catch with him but even at that age he didn't want to play with a girl and he didn't think that I knew what I was doing.

He headed out to the field and I stepped up to speak to his Coach. I explained to Coach Figueroa that my son had never played and to go easy on him and he said he would. He asked my son to stand by home base and then he threw a soft lob at him. I still laugh at this because I had told him how to hold the glove but he had to do his own thing and learn the hard way. The ball bounced out of his glove and hit him right in the side of his face! He was mortified! Coach came over, told him not to worry about it and then showed him how to hold his glove (the same exact way that I had shown him!)

Coach Figueroa was an excellent coach. He never yelled at the boys and even though he was coaching his own two sons on the same team I never felt that he showed favoritism to them. My son gained a lot of experience and self-esteem and a love of the sport.

That was the only good coaching experience I ever had. My son continued on playing Basketball and Baseball for several coaches, but he never had one like Coach Figueroa.

I hate to complain because these men donated their time to coach, they didn't do it for money. Whether they did it for love of the game or love of their sons, they were still donating their own time. But so many of them perhaps should have found something better to donate their time too. I experienced coaches that only cared about winning so they never let all the boys play, even when we were 10, 20 points ahead of the other team. I experienced coaches that yelled at the boys when mistakes were made. The worst thing that I experienced was a couple of coaches that were only doing it so they could have their son and the sons of their buddies shine. It wasn't about the team, it was about grown men wanting to relive their accomplishments through their sons, at the expense of the team and the other boys.

Another thing I recall is all the dad's on the sidelines yelling at their sons for mistakes or for not paying attention. After one game my son and I walked back to the car and got in and we sat there for a bit and watched a game that was going on and you could hear a dad ridiculing and riding his son and my son turned to me and said, "Mom, sometimes I'm glad I don't have a dad. All the dads I know yell at their kids during the game, but you never do." My heart broke for those other boys and for my son who didn't have a dad.

In reading the Matheny Manifesto I realize that this should be a mandatory book for all coaches to read before they decide to start coaching. It's not a bad thing to read as a young parents or even as an employee, there are many lessons to be learned in this book. One thing that resonated with me was an excerpt where Mike is retelling a story of meeting some Navy SEALS. He asked one SEAL who was both a leader and an instructor what five characteristics he commonly saw in those SEALS who made it through the process. He listed these five:

1. Physical toughness ("The easiest quality to find," he said.)
2. Mental toughness
3. Moral toughness (He described this as "Doing the right thing all the time, even when nobody's looking.")
4. Team orientation ("A belief that the needs of the team are greater than your own.")
5. Humility

How many of us can use those five characteristics in how we live our every day lives? Especially number 3!

My son a few years later with more confidence
in himself and more training in how to hold a
bat! Batters glove and everything!
I'll end this post with a funny story that I recall with fondness when my son was playing Baseball. This was a few years later when he had more experience under his belt. I would sit in the stands with the other parents, usually my mom and dad would join me, sometimes my sister and my brother and his family. I would hear the other parents say encouraging things to their son when they were up at bat and got hit by the ball. The most common sayings were "shake it off" and "take one of the team".

So it was my son's turn to bat and the pitcher hit him with the ball and I could tell it hurt him so I yelled out to him, "that's ok son, shake it off...take one for the team!"

He stepped out of the batters box, turned to me and said, "you take one for the team mom, that hurt!"

All the people in the stands laughed at that, my dad laughing the hardest and now it was my turn to be mortified. All those parents yelling that same thing at their sons but only my son had the nerve to turn around and talk back! He was and is a character!

This post was inspired by The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. St. Louis Cardinals manager Matheny shares his tough-love philosophy for children's team sports that translate to everyday life. Join From Left to Write on February 12th as we discuss The Matheny Manifesto. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


  1. What a wonderful coach you son had for his first baseball experience! And LOL about him not wanting to play with a girl.

    1. I know, he was really lucky that the first one was as great as he was! He didn't realize that for a girl his mommy was and is pretty athletic!

  2. I enjoyed this book and I agree with you, I think all coaches should read it!

    1. And I think a few employers would benefit by reading it too!

  3. Not being a sports fan, I did take a rather cynical pleasure in your son's comment. Good for him!


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