It is about time to call out a constituency of the Ruffnecks program that has earned respect. For 14 years we have served the aspirations of baseball players… and their parents. And make no mistake about it… parents harbor aspirations for their progeny. Sometimes parental aspirations and expectations exceed those of the athlete. Indeed, coaches have come to expect a landscape defined by hovering, over-involved, parents. But the Ruffnecks culture, and the parent culture specifically, has matured over the past 14 years. Umpires, tournament directors, and opponents offer compliments and respect for the Ruffnecks parents’ behavior. It is actually the norm for Ruffnecks parents to leave umpires alone! Imagine that. Polite, respectful, parents who are not barking at umpires all day. Perhaps it is an extended behavior set by our coaches, who rarely get into it with umpires. Nevertheless, it is important to consider exactly what separates Ruffnecks parents (in general), and why this is the moment to thank them.
As a current head of school comments, “parent problems often a result when parents love their kids too much.” What does this mean? We all love our kids. Certainly the parents of Ruffnecks love their kids. They give them every opportunity to play ball and to develop. How can they love their kids too much? Over the years we have witnessed an evolution of parental behaviors that is truly encouraging and inspiring. Parents who love their kids a ton are learning to let their sons conduct their own journey. As 13 year olds, Ruffnecks begin to respond to emails for themselves. Parents support the program’s intentional “arms length” approach. We ask them to pull up a lawn chair and watch the game. It is a cultural shock for some when they see that not every coaching move or demand relates to winning. And it takes getting used to. We ask their sons to bunt with two strikes, if only to make them understand that they need to execute. And the parents begin to enjoy… even support… a move that may lead to temporary failure, but long term success.
Another area in which Ruffnecks parents distinguish themselves is in their support. That support manifests itself in numerous ways: financial, organizing between game (doubleheaders) lunches, or simply providing water and ice when it is hot in Nashville or Georgia. But among the most meaningful and genuine gestures are those kindnesses of hospitality, respect, and cooperation. Families take in players who may need a place to stay the night before a 5:00 am flight. We have watched parents leave a game to accompany someone else’s child to the hospital even when their own sons were pitching!!! And parents often talk another parent “off the ledge” when things get rough. And if anyone expects a baseball journey to be without bumps, well… they aren’t Ruffnecks parents! And we all appreciate empathy and understanding.
It is difficult to watch a child fail. But Ruffnecks families, many of whom watched their sons have significant success at younger levels, actually learn to embrace failure as a means to development. There are uncomfortable moments, to be sure. But over the years it seems that more and more, a culture mindset of positive growth defines our parent base. It is satisfying to watch parents overcome the anxieties associated with living and dying with every pitch, swing, or moment on the field. Ruffnecks play a ton of baseball. Perhaps the sheer volume of innings dulls the senses. We think not. Baseball is a game of redemption, but patience must be the order of the day… or even several days… or a week! But it comes.
Ruffnecks parents trust the program. And by placing that trust in the development of their ball players, their sons, and the parents themselves, become liberated. The game is the game. The recruiting process is an unknown, unscientific, and a blank slate. It is not easy on anyone. But patient parents find that patience is often rewarded… not necessarily with a scholarship to Boston College or Vanderbilt, but with the satisfaction that the ballplayer is the master of the journey, and will find his way in life and in baseball. Playing days end for everyone. The real reward is to pass along good parenting of athletes so that these young men can do the job for their progeny as well. We tip our cap to the great parents of the Ruffnecks program. Thanks folks!