Little League coaches teach how to both lose and win
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) – After an 8-1 loss to Nicaragua in the Little League World Series, Ubaldo Ramos IV rallied his team from Panama one last time.
It was an emotional group as tears were shed in the post-game handshake line. A journey that had lasted all summer was over. But like many managers, Ramos only had positive things to say.
He congratulated his group and reminded the boys, aged 10 to 12, that there is so much more ahead of them.
“I’ve told the players this is going to continue,” Ramos said through a translator. “They keep playing baseball at the next level.”
Panama was one of four teams to end their season on Tuesday. Indiana, Canada and Iowa also lost elimination games. Of the 20 teams in the LLWS, only one will be champion on Sunday.
Ending a Little League run is always difficult for coaches as they recognize that nobody wins all the time while also praising the effort it took to get to South Williamsport.
Adam Naylor, Deloitte’s head of performance psychology, who has worked with elite athletes for decades, says it’s important for coaches to remember their role.
Coaches “have the opportunity to teach how to win and how to lose,” Naylor said. “The first step is to remember that you’re a model and you have this tremendous teaching opportunity.”
Indiana coach Patrick Vinson took a similar approach to Ramos when reflecting on the tournament. He not only acknowledged how difficult it is to make it this far, but also how difficult it is to maintain the level of play that has brought the team here. Teams in the United States must win three tournaments to take home an LLWS title.
“They’re disappointed,” Vinson said of his team. “I don’t think they were ready for the grind. I don’t want to say they were happy with making it here.”
The road to LLWS is so long and so tough that making it to Williamsport is coveted.
“It’s an exhausting drudgery,” Vinson said. “It’s a good exhaustion to start practicing as early as we did. You are at the forefront of youth sport. It’s still hard to believe we’re here.”
Not all coaches take the same approach after the end of the tournament run when addressing their teams and the media. New York coach Ronald Clark was sober Monday night when his team fell to Pennsylvania.
Clark mentioned that the “team’s bats stayed behind in Bristol, Connecticut,” where the Metro-Region championship was being decided. He added that while tears shed at the end, expectations were not met and the “boxing score says it all”.
As baseball fans look back at the end-of-season messages from coaches in South Williamsport, many remember Dave Belisle’s speech to his Rhode Island team after he was eliminated at the 2014 LLWS.
“I love you,” Belisle told his team. “I will love you forever. You’ve given me the most valuable moment of my athletic and coaching career, and I’ve been training for a long time – a long time. I’m becoming an old man. I need memories like this, I need kids like this. you are all my boys You are the boys of the summer.”
In many cases, LLWS players face more pressure than they’ve ever faced on a pitch, and sometimes the shock of playing — and losing — can be overwhelming.
“You have to allow the healthy emotions,” Naylor said. “Emotions are an important part of sport. Acknowledge the emotion without making it too dramatic or trying to take it away.”
Jake Starr is a journalism student at Penn State University.