JUPITER, Fla. - Four years ago or so, Mike Matheny did what I suspect every single youth coach in every sport in America has wanted to do at some point in his or her life. He laid out his demands. He opened up his computer on a flight to St. Louis, and he started typing. And typing. And typing.
The first few words might tell you where he was going.
“I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans,” he wrote. “And now, here we are.”
This was a few years before Matheny would become manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. And it was after he had played 13 years as a catcher in the Major Leagues. His youngest son was 10 and ready to play baseball. Friends wanted Matheny to manage the team.
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“Why even play sports otherwise?” Matheny recently asked me.
After attending his children's games for a while, Matheny was so disgusted by it all, he would sit apart from everyone else, somewhere off in the distance and quietly watch his kids. "Coach youth sports?" he wondered years ago. "Are you kidding?"
And then, it hit him. Maybe he WOULD coach sports. But he needed to do it on his own terms. He started typing his demands. In time, the 2,556-word beast would become known as “The Matheny Manifesto.” But he didn’t write it as a manifesto. He wrote it as his non-negotiable requirement for taking the job.
Here’s what he demanded:
There is a lot more, of course, but this gets at the basic message. Matheny was saying that if they really wanted him to coach, he wouldn’t entertain suggestions from parents, he did not want them coaching from the side or getting their kids water and he would expect the players to be on time, hustle and be respectful, or they would not play. If you coach youth sports, there’s a pretty good chance you’re applauding right now.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Then, a couple of funny things happened. One, Matheny was coaching one of his youth teams in the Dominican Republic, and he got a call from Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who offered him the St. Louis manager job. He obviously accepted and last year took the Cardinals to the playoffs. This year’s team goes into the season as one of the best in the National League.
Two, his letter made it to the Internet. Matheny doesn’t know who posted it or how it happened, but the thing went viral. “The Matheny Manifesto,” it was called. People had all sorts of opinions about his letter – a few where negative (“Who do you think you are?”) but most were overwhelmingly positive. Coaches talked about how they wanted to institute this philosophy into their own coaching. Parents talked about how they wanted the children to learn more and have more fun playing sports.
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