This Spring we marked many mile stones in our family, not the least of which was our first foray into Little League--or T-Ball as it is more correctly called for the 5-7 year old set of spry young folk I was involved with. As the wife of one coach and best friend of another coach and mother to one of those whipper snappers, I felt privy to all sorts of behaviors, scenarios and situations. In short, I found Little League to be a little microcosm of American life that anthropologists from other countries and planets could base all sorts of presumptions of American life on.

    There's a good chance i wasn't alone here. Were you on the cheering side of the chain link fence? Which kind of parent were you?

    Little League participants can be broken down into basic groups: the team, the siblings, the coaches, the parents. While the team is a given, and the siblings are either on their own teams or running around in diapers at the park and we all pray that someone somewhere is watching them, the coaches and parents groups are where behaviors and idiosyncratic behaviors really break down.

    There are of course, only two types of coaches: the good coach and the bad coac, but there are many sub groups within. The good coaches have two things in common: they like the sport and they like teaching the kids how to play it.  I'd like to say my husband and best friend were both in this category. Kristy played sports through out her young life and is determined that her girls have similar opportunities. She teaches the kids about the game, makes them stretch before hand, and plays strategically. My husband wanted to play when he was a kid and wasn't allowed so his strength is in encouraging the underdogs, a genuine love of all things related to baseball, and wanting our son to feel like not only do we want him to play but that it's important enough for papa to be involved.

    Since both Kristy and my husband are genuinely laid back, their calmness comes across to the kids. The kids know they expect them to work, but they also know they won't get screamed at for no good reason. It is, after all, only a game and meant to be fun.

    This brings me to the bad coaches we witnessed. Ever go to an amusement park and overhear a child crying and hear a parent say that they paid X amount of dollars so they are going to have fun if it kills them? Yeah. That's what bad coaching seems like.  I saw a number of drill sergeant-like coaches demanding perfection, screaming at seven year olds to toughen up and not run like 'girls.' I won't even begin to say what's wrong with that. Sure, it's good to instill a competitive spirit in a team, but surely one doesn't need to tell six year olds they are losers if they don't beat the crap out of the other team? The only thing worse is no competition at all.

     Well, now. That's almost just as bad now isn't it? If everybody wins all the time and no one loses I see a big cash cow of therapy when these kids get to the real world and realize 90% of the time we are all losers...

    The other bad type of coach we saw is the one who of course didn't want to coach after the first three games. I think this particular one just coached cause her friend was doing it. But she always wanted to cancel games if they interfered with her shopping schedule. Good to show kids what committment looks like, no?

    And now? The rest of the parents.

     First: The nicely involved. My favorite parents this season were a particular family that had two cousins on a team. Even if a parent had to work, someone from that large extended family was always there to cheer both kids on--grandparents, uncles, aunts, you name it.  They tended to sit on the same patch of grass every time and weren't afraid to yell to the coaches if something wasn't quite right in the dug out or the field. And more importantly, they stuck to their schedule when it came their turn to bring juice boxes and snacks.

    Second:    The other nicely involved. A couple of parents when they noticed we were shorthanded or that someone was misbehaving, jumped right in with that 'it takes a village' mentality and both encouraged and policed our little crew of energy. This was extremely helpful on days when both coaches couldn't be their because of work schedules. Hooray for pro-active parents!

   Third:  The parents that show up. I call this the warm body parents. They might not move from their spot on the bench and sure they are text messaging and not watching the field, but when their kids yell 'mom! dad!' They do look up! Sometimes they look up from their People magazines while their toddlers are swigging the team Gatorade too. So they aren't completely engaged. But they are there, right?

    Fourth: The well-meaning boyfriend. This guy isn't even the parent, but he's been dating the single mother of the boy on the field for under a year and already he's going to more games and doing more father figure stuff than the real dad ever did. Sometimes he gets this look in his eye like he's not sure the girlfriend even likes him that much, but he's already dedicated to the kids and that's darn sweet to see.

    Fifth:  The kick butt parent. This parent I always assumes lets his or her three year old watch PG-13 movies, drink beer, and yells 'walk it off' when he or she cries. We had three or four of these and thankfully they were outnumbered.  But oh my goodness, it was quite surprising to hear the colorful language coming from the bleachers at times.

    Sixth: And second to last but not least: the parent that wasn't there. The kid on our team that had the most behavioral problems, the one that screamed, poutted and exclaimed he didn't want to play in the first place was the kid whose mom enrolled him, demanded he be in it, and never showed up to a practice or game. Mind you, the kid didn't always show up either except on pizza days.  If I could offer this parent any advice it would be, listen to your kid. If your kid doesn't want to play, don't make him. 

     Seventh: The home stretch of which type you are? The paranoid parent. We handed out jerseys to the kids with no personal vendetta against you or your child. I'm sorry if he batted last.  The coaches are sorry if you think it's a conspiracy that he was walked to first base. 

    I asked the coaches if they'll be coaching next year. They said to ask them again after they'd had a few beers. My son though, really seems to want to play again and if nothing else , he knows now that when you hit the ball? You run to first base, not third.