Thursday, February 21, 2013

STL Cardinals' Mike Matheny's 'Manifesto'

I recently read an interesting article about St. Louis Cardinal manager, Mike Matheny, and a letter he wrote in response to an invitation to coach youth baseball.  The letter has been referred to the "Matheny Manifesto" as he outlines ways in which to change the culture of youth baseball.  Although his proposals are intended specifically for baseball, he makes some great points that could be applied to any youth sport.  The article as well as Matheny's 'manifesto' letter are both provided below...

From St. Louis Post Dispatch....

"Matheny's 'manifesto' changes tone of youth baseball" by Derrick Goold

The five-page, 2,556-word letter that has come to be called the "Matheny Manifesto" was written in a flash of inspiration and frustration during a flight from New York to St. Louis in 2009.
Several years before the Cardinals hired Mike Matheny to be their manager, friends pursued the longtime catcher to coach their sons' St. Louis-area youth baseball team.
A veteran of 13 years in the major leagues and a witness to countless moments in youth sports that disturbed him, including overbearing coaches and conflict with aggressive parents, Matheny resisted their repeated invitations.
On that flight home, he reconsidered, under certain conditions. Matheny pulled out his laptop, clicked open a blank page and started writing the terms of his participation.
"I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans," he began. When he was finished he had outlined goals and rules that he would later call "probably a little radical." Friend and former Cardinals teammate John Mabry took a look at the letter and was succinct in his assessment: "You're nuts."
Matheny invited about 20 parents to his home, so the first time they heard the letter he was reading it to them. Before the end of the second sentence he had already told them, "The biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents."
The initial answer was silence.
"When I do public speaking events a lot of time I can get a pulse of the room — are these people with me or not?" Matheny says. "But I really had more negative vibes than anything else at the time, even though these were people I knew. I can understand as I'm reading it (how they're thinking), 'Who does this guy think he is? Who made you the guru?' ... Nobody wants to be told they're doing something wrong, especially when it comes to your kids."
One father broke the pause: "Well, I'm in."
The first season, about a dozen families joined and agreed to butt out to let their coach do the coaching. There was one team, the Wolverines, a nod to Matheny's alma mater, the University of Michigan.
More families came, and one team became four, spread among four age groups. Louisville Slugger, a Kentucky-based bat and equipment manufacturer, signed on as a sponsor. And by 2011, the TPX Warriors, named after one of the bat company's models, were born as a club, still wearing the maize and blue, like Matheny's Michigan.
Other elements of Matheny's letter took root. Players must spend part of each practice in a "character study," a classroom-like discussion about topics such as integrity, leadership and relationships. Players are required to volunteer at charity events. This season, about 50 boys played for the four Chesterfield-based TPX Warriors teams. And that's only the teams and players directly influenced by Matheny's letter.
As more families became involved, the letter went viral, spreading from that group at Matheny's home to other teams, other leagues, other sports and other former major leaguers who took to coaching. Matheny says it's rare that he visits a city with the Cardinals this season and isn't asked about his "manifesto," as it became known. Youth organizations from two other states have inquired about the Warriors' organization. Locally, members of the Warriors' board of directors are looking at ways their program could expand because, as an executive at Louisville Slugger said, Matheny's letter could be the catalyst to "reinvent youth baseball."
"We don't have this figured out," says Rick Sems, the regional president of PNC Bank and a member of the Warriors board who has two sons on the teams. "We don't think we're perfect. We're trying the best we can to change youth baseball. This is an experiment. ... We want to put something together that Mike can put his stamp on. At the end of this is we would like to change the tenor and tone of youth sports. I think if you don't shoot really high, then you don't get there."
Out in Weldon Spring, tucked alongside a meandering woods-lined highway, are two baseball fields carved into a farm, and on a late July day the dirt is so baked by record summer heat that it's cracked and flaking like dried skin. Before the players arrive for practice, the farm's owner has hooked a trough of corn to a tractor and dragged it around to lure cattle away. The boys know by now to avoid the gifts the cattle leave behind.
"Welcome," says Brett Dempsey, the coach of the TPX Warriors' 12-and-under team, to two visitors, "to the Warriors' field of dreams."
Michael Kolb, 12, is the seventh generation to live on this land west of St. Louis, and now he only has to walk across the street from his house for some Warriors' practices. His father, Jeff, whose family owns Dave Kolb Grading, deployed the business's earthmovers to level the first field five years ago.
Jeff Kolb said he woke up one Saturday morning and in a bolt out of W.P. Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe," or the Kevin Costner movie it inspired, decided "to build a baseball field." A handful of teams, including the Warriors' four, practice on the Kolb field.
He cleared the crops from about 5 acres for two fields so something else could grow.
"It's not about baseball," Kolb says. "It's great that the boys are playing baseball and that they're coming here, but they're also learning hard work. It really has become about building character, respect, community. They're using baseball as a connection that leads to more."
Beyond taking the game back from overzealous parents, the underlying goals of Matheny's letter were sown into Kolb's fields — using baseball as a tool to mold young men and reminding those young men that baseball is fun.
As a parent who made a profession out of the game, Matheny worried that at the lower levels it had started to lose its enjoyment.
"There's got to be something different than this," Matheny says. "To me, my thought is, let's create something different. Let's create a different standard. The people who are doing the screaming and the yelling, I believe that's how they think they should love their kids.
"Meanwhile, their kids every time they hear that are one step closer to quitting the game. ... The central point is more character-focused than it is baseball-focused. Baseball is the avenue."
Players who seek to join the Warriors have to go through a tryout and an interview. Fees can range from $700 to $1,000 for a season, Sems said.
Parents must read and sign Matheny's letter. Some have declined after seeing the letter. Matheny wrote in the final lines that it "may not be the right fit" for everyone. He stresses later in an interview that it hasn't "been the cat's meow for everyone. We don't have the miracle cure."
Parents and players have left the team after finding the rules too prohibitive or off-putting.
"I was one of the guys who said I don't know if this will work," says Steve Linton, an area banker who was at that initial meeting with Matheny and has a son on the team. "But I realized I'd be stupid to pass this up. ... It's not for everyone."
The players and parents who stay agree to take part in the requirements off the field. Thirty minutes of each practice are spent on a "character study." Coaches have lesson plans, some of which were authored by Matheny, for honesty, fellowship and teamwork.
In July, more than a dozen Warriors served as assigned "buddies" at the season-ending all-star game for Challenger Baseball, a local league that opens the field for players with developmental disabilities. Service is "non-negotiable" for the Warriors players, and some of the charity events take place on days they would normally be playing a game.
That does not mean, however, that baseball plays backup.
The TPX Warriors compete in the Chesterfield Baseball & Softball Association at levels that one league official considered "ultra-competitive." The 12-and-under team went 34-15-4 overall this past season, and Warrior coaches described themselves as "middle of the road."
"It's when the club's mission is to win and be about the club and not the kids that things go awry," says Doug Whiteside, the commissioner of Chesterfield's select baseball league. The Warriors "are a competitive team," he said. "It's clear their goal is not becoming the No. 1 team at every league level they're at. They're more about development. They field good teams, but they're focused on more than the win."
The role faith plays with the Warriors is clear from their name. It has Christian roots. Their logo is a shield with a cross on it. The team does not choose players based on religion and welcomes a multi-denominational roster. But Warriors coaches must make a spiritual commitment, officials said. An announcement on the team's website seeking coaches for the two teams that will be added in 2013 said "potential coaches must have a testimony of faith." Matheny said the organization would not be "apologetic" for its Christian influence.
"It would be dishonest to say that's not where this whole idea comes from," says Casey Cramer, a former NFL player who joined the Warriors program as an official in the past year. "We do teach the boys about God. But we show the importance of living that way, not because of their faith. We teach the boys the why and also the how. In fact, that's a big part of this — to reach as many people as possible, and that means reaching different types of people."
Back at the Kolb field, the boys talk about the character discussions they've had, the work with Challenger Baseball and the tournament they played in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The trips the TPX Warriors take are shaping the players in many ways. Games in the shadow of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A tournament in Omaha, Neb. And the mission to the Dominican Republic. Members of the Warriors joined Albert Pujols and representatives of his foundation on a service trip last fall that included games against children in an impoverished village.
The Warriors returned with new perspective.
Their founder returned with a new job.
Matheny was in the Dominican with the Warriors when his cellphone rang and he had to duck away for one of the most important conversations of his career. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was calling to offer him the job as the major league club's manager. Matheny accepted and brought his friend and Warriors' co-founder Mabry with him as the assistant hitting coach.
The time they had to spend on the Warriors mostly went with them.
To continue the Warriors' growing interest in expanding their program and seeding other leagues with it, Sems and the other board members recruited Cramer. New to St. Louis after retiring from a five-year NFL career spent mostly with Tennessee, Cramer accepted a role after reading Matheny's letter.
"It was a refreshing way to look at it," says Cramer, who is studying at Covenant Seminary. "We're trying to build men of character and good baseball players. Usually it's the other way around."
Cramer is working to develop an enhanced curriculum for the character studies and to fine-tune other elements of the TPX Warriors' platform so it can have a broader reach.
The process has already started for next season.
The boys begin meeting with their coaches for service projects to get the boys to know one another and do team-building away from the ballpark. The 10-and-under team had its first gathering Saturday night.The first service project will be this weekend. Baseball practice will start in January.
During an off day for the Cardinals in July, Mabry was able to attend his son's last Warriors' game of the summer. He would later describe the scene at the ballpark as the "pressure-free atmosphere" for both children and parents that he and Matheny wanted.
He knows the potential difference one letter can launch: Change three leagues, several teams per league, 12 kids per team and that's "when you start impacting the bigger numbers. That's when you put the fun back in sports," he says.
Mabry stood beside the bleachers during his son's last game. He clapped for a hit. He nodded when his son made a slick play in the field. And he hung back, letting the coaches coach all the way through Dempsey's gathering the team for some closing remarks after their loss.
"Be a Warrior all the time, not just here," Dempsey said, kneeling down with his players. "Don't ever stop being a Warrior. From now when you're 12 years old until you're 112 years old, be a Warrior."
He drew the team close for their last cheer, thanked the boys for a good season, and then wouldn't let them scatter for the offseason without one more requirement. It was time to return to the people who let them go.
"Now," Dempsey said. "What's the last thing we always do?"
The boys answered in unison.
"Thank our parents!"

Mike's letter is as follows....

I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. I think that it is best to nip this in the bud right off the bat. I think the concept that I am asking all of you to grab is that this experience is ALL about the boys. If there is anything about it that includes you, we need to make a change of plans. My main goals are as follows: (1) to teach these young men how to play the game of baseball the right way, (2) to be a positive impact on them as young men, and (3) do all of this with class. We may not win every game, but we will be the classiest coaches, players, and parents in every game we play. The boys are going to play with a respect for their teammates, opposition, and the umpires no matter what.

With that being said, I need to let you know where I stand. I have no hidden agenda. I have no ulterior motive other than what I said about my goals. I also need all of you to know that my priorities in life will most likely be a part of how I coach, and the expectations I have for the boys. My Christian faith is the guide for my life and I have never been one for forcing my faith down someone’s throat, but I also believe it to be cowardly, and hypocritical to shy away from what I believe. You as parents need to know for yourselves and for your boys, that when the opportunity presents itself, I will be honest with what I believe. That may make some people uncomfortable, but I did that as a player, and I hope to continue it in any endeavor that I get into. I am just trying to get as many potential issues out in the open from the beginning.

I believe that the biggest role of the parent is to be a silent source of encouragement. I think if you ask most boys what they would want their parents to do during the game; they would say “NOTHING”. Once again, this is ALL about the boys. I believe that a little league parent feels that they must participate with loud cheering and “Come on, let’s go, you can do it”, which just adds more pressure to the kids. I will be putting plenty of pressure on these boys to play the game the right way with class, and respect, and they will put too much pressure on themselves and each other already. You as parents need to be the silent, constant, source of support.

Let the record stand right now that we will not have good umpiring. This is a fact, and the sooner we all understand that, the better off we will be. We will have balls that bounce in the dirt that will be called strikes, and we will have balls over our heads that will be called strikes. Likewise, the opposite will happen with the strike zone while we are pitching. The boys will not be allowed at any time to show any emotion against the umpire. They will not shake their head, or pout, or say anything to the umpire. This is my job, and I will do it well. I once got paid to handle those guys, and I will let them know when they need to hear something. I am really doing all of you parents a favor that you probably don’t realize at this point. I have taken out any work at all for you except to get them there on time, and enjoy. The thing that these boys need to hear is that you enjoyed watching them and you hope that they had fun. I know that it is going to be very hard not to coach from the stands and yell encouraging things to your son, but I am confident that this works in a negative way for their development and their enjoyment. Trust me on this. I am not saying that you cannot clap for your kids when they do well. I am saying that if you hand your child over to me to coach them, then let me do that job.

1A large part of how your child improves is your responsibility. The difference for kids at this level is the amount of repetition that they get. This goes with pitching, hitting and fielding. As a parent, you can help out tremendously by playing catch, throwing batting practice, hitting ground balls, or finding an instructor who will do this in your place. The more of this your kids can get, the better. This is the one constant that I have found with players that reached the major leagues....someone spent time with them away from the field.

I am completely fine with your son getting lessons from whomever you see fit. The only problem I will have is if your instructor is telling your son not to follow the plan of the team. I will not teach a great deal of mechanics at the beginning, but I will teach mental approach, and expect the boys to comply. If I see something that your son is doing mechanically that is drastically wrong, I will talk with the instructor and clear things up. The same will hold true with pitching coaches. We will have a pitching philosophy and will teach the pitchers and catchers how to call a game, and why we choose the pitches we choose. There is no guessing. We will have a reason for the pitches that we throw. A pitching coach will be helpful for the boys to get their arms in shape and be ready to throw when spring arrives. Every boy on this team will be worked as a pitcher. We will not over use these young arms and will keep close watch on the number of innings that the boys are throwing.

I will be throwing so much info at these boys that they are going to suffer from overload for a while, but eventually they are going to get it. I am a stickler about the thought process of the game. I will be talking non-stop about situational hitting, situational pitching, and defensive preparation. The question that they are going to hear the most is “What were you thinking?” What were you thinking when you threw that pitch? What were you thinking during that at bat? What were you thinking before the pitch was thrown, were you anticipating anything? I am a firm believer that this game is more mental than physical, and the mental may be more difficult, but can be taught and can be learned by a 10 and 11 year old. If it sounds like I am going to be demanding of these boys, you are exactly right. I am definitely demanding their attention, and the other thing that I am going to require is effort. Their attitude, their concentration, and their effort are the things that they can control. If they give me these things every time they show up, they will have a great experience.

The best situation for all of us is for you to plan on handing these kids over to me and the assistant coaches when you drop them off, and plan on them being mine for the 2 or so hours that we have scheduled for a game, or the time that we have scheduled for the practice. I would like for these boys to have some responsibility for having their own water, not needing you to keep running to the concession stand, or having parents behind the dugout asking their son if they are thirsty, or hungry, or too hot, and I would appreciate if you would share this information with other invited grandparents. If there is an injury, obviously we will get you to help, but besides that, let’s pretend that they are at work for a short amount of time and that you have been granted the pleasure of watching. I will have them at games early so we can get stretched and loosened up, and I will have a meeting with just the boys after the game. After the meeting, they are all yours again. As I am writing this, I sound like the little league Nazi, but I believe that this will make things easier for everyone involved.

I truly believe that the family is the most important institution in the lives of these guys. With that being said, I think that the family events are much more important than the sports events. I just ask that you are considerate of the rest of the team and let the team manager, and myself know when you will miss, and to let us know as soon as possible. I know that there will be times when I am going to miss either for family reasons, for other commitments. If your son misses a game or a practice, it is not the end of the world, but there may be some sort of repercussion, just out of respect for the kids that put the effort into making it. The kind of repercussions could possibly be running, altered playing time, or position in the batting order.

Speaking of batting order, I would like to address that right from the top as well seeing that next to playing time this is the second most complained about issue, or actually tied for second with position on the defensive field. Once again, I need you to know that I am trying to develop each boy individually, and I will give them a chance to learn and play any position that they are interested in. I also believe that this team will be competitive and when we get into situations where we are focusing on winning; like a tournament for example; we are going to put the boys in the position that will give the team the best opportunity. I will talk with the boys individually and have them tell me what their favorite position is and what other position they would like to learn about. As this season progresses, there is a chance that your son may be playing a position that they don’t necessarily like, but I will need your support about their role on the team. I know that times have changed, but one of the greatest lessons that my father taught me was that my coach was always right...even when he was wrong. The principle is a great life lesson about how things really work. I hope that I will have enough humility to come to your son if I treated him wrong and apologize. Our culture has lost this respect for authority mostly because the kids hear the parents constantly complaining about the teachers and coaches of the child.

I need all of you to know that we are most likely going to lose many games this year. The main reason is that we need to find out how we measure up with the local talent pool. The only way to do this is to play against some of the best teams. I am convinced that if the boys put their work in at home, and give me their best effort, that we will be able to play with just about any team. Time will tell. I also believe that there is enough local talent that we will not have to do a large amount of travel, if any. This may be disappointing for those of you who only play baseball and look forward to the out of town experiences, but I also know that this is a relief for the parents that have traveled throughout the US and Canada for hockey and soccer looking for better competition. In my experiences, we have traveled all over the Midwest and have found just as good competition right in our back yard. If this season goes well, we will entertain the idea of travel in the future.

The boys will be required to show up ready to play every time they come to the field. Shirts tucked in, hats on straight, and pants not drooping down to their knees. There is not an excuse for lack of hustle on a baseball field. From the first step outside the dugout they will hustle. They will have a fast jog to their position, to the plate, and back to the bench when they make an out. We will run out every hit harder than any team we will play, and will learn how to always back up a play to help our teammates. Every single play, every player will be required to move to a spot. Players that do not hustle and run out balls will not play. The boys will catch

on to this quickly. The game of baseball becomes very boring when players are not thinking about the next play and what they possibly could do to help the team. Players on the bench will not be messing around. I will constantly be talking with them about situations and what they would be doing if they were in a specific position, or if they were the batter. There is as much to learn on the bench as there is on the field if the boys want to learn. All of this will take some time for the boys to conform to. They are boys and I am not trying to take away from that, but I do believe that they can bear down and concentrate hard for just a little while during the games and practices.

I know this works because this was how I was taught the game and how our parents acted in the stands. We started our little league team when I was 10 years old in a little suburb of Columbus, Ohio. We had a very disciplined coach that expected the same form us. We committed 8 summers to this man and we were rewarded for our efforts. I went to Michigan, one went to Duke, one to Miami of Florida, two went to North Carolina, one went to Central Florida, one went to Kent State, and most of the others played smaller division one or division two baseball. Four of us went on to play professionally. This was coming from a town where no one had ever been recruited by any colleges. I am not saying that this is what is going to happen to our boys, but what I do want you to see is that this system works. I know that right now you are asking yourself if this is what you want to get yourself into and I understand that for some of you it may not be the right fit. I also think that there is a great opportunity for these boys to grow together and learn some lessons that will go beyond their baseball experience. Let me know as soon as possible whether or not this is a commitment that you and your son want to make.

Thanks, Mike

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