Great human > great arm
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Statistically, it’s a fact that most tee-ballers won’t make the show. But tee-ballers don’t traffic in facts. They traffic in big league dreams and orange wedges. Most every kid who picks up a bat thinks, at least for a minute, that they’re the next Mike Trout. For their parents, who want to nurture those dreams while keeping them grounded, there’s no better source for advice than the father of the original next Mike Trout.
Before Jeff Trout was a history teacher and football and baseball coach at Millville High School in New Jersey, he was a switch-hitting second baseman and star in his own right. He was the best college player in the nation at the University of Delaware in 1983 but injuries derailed his pro career in Double-A ball before his major league call-up ever came. The experience prepared him to raise a son with talent far beyond his own to stay humble, participate in multiple activities, and be a quality human who also happened to be the best player on the field. But parents of young athletes don’t have to endure a season down on the farm to nurture their kids’ dreams of glory. They just have to be realistic with their kids — and themselves — while giving them every opportunity to shine.
There’s such a thing as over-encouraging
Jeff chuckles as he tells the story — clearly not for the first time — of when he realized his son had a gift.
“Mike’s near shortstop, this kid hits a line drive up the middle. Mike takes two steps to his left, dives parallel to the ground, catches it. This was five, maybe six years old. I’ll never forget the look (my wife) Debbie and I gave each other. It was a jaw-dropper. I wish I had it on video.”
From then on, Jeff and Debbie, who was also a teacher, knew Mike was a special talent. But rather than fill his head, or their own, with World Series visions, the Trouts drew on their experiences as educators and focused on daily efforts to encourage and give their children opportunities to follow and master their passions.
“What reasonably good kid doesn’t want to play in the big leagues? We knew that, but we never focused on it. As a coach, I saw the pressure parents put on their kids. We avoided that. It was more important for him to love the game, evolve as an athlete, and let the process take care of itself,” Jeff says. “We kept it simple: play, have fun, be a good teammate, do the right things with your body, play hard and play to win but also do well in school,” Jeff says.
Follow their lead
Having experienced the minor league struggle, Jeff was nervous about Mike becoming a youth sports burnout. Tough conversations with Debbie about how much was too much ensued. As tends to happen in such talks, Jeff sided with his wife. It turns out, that was the right move.
“She’d say, ‘Jeff, he loves it. We’ll take him an hour if this is a better ballclub — he’ll get better and get a better look, so let’s just do it.’ I was always more cautious,” he says. “Her instincts were a little better, obviously.”
Let them play everything
Despite being the consensus top prospect in the 2009 Amateur Draft, Mike was just the 25th player selected. One of the reasons he slipped that far was the notion that players from non-warm weather states like California, Florida, and Texas — where kids can play baseball year-round — are less likely to make the majors. Yet Jeff says his son’s participation in multiple sports (he also played basketball and football in high school — good luck guarding 6’2”, 235) is precisely what helped him become the dominant baseball player those other 24 teams wish they’d picked.
“I don’t think a kid should throw a baseball 365 days a year. Your arm needs a rest. They need to do other things,” Jeff says. “Multisport kids end up being the best athletes. They learn different skill sets, movements, how to control their bodies, and compete with different coaches. And they’re still competing year round!”
Be straight about adversity
The odds of going pro are long even for the best young athletes. It’s a parent’s job to help them realize that.
“I never got to the big leagues so I understood the marathon grind, the everyday struggles. You have to fight through failures and disappointments and anything can happen. As we got more convinced he could go pro, we tried to lay all that out there, give him a heads-up to help him get through that stuff,” says Jeff. “That’s the whole idea of being a parent — you try to bring your kids up in such a way that they can deal with adversity and make it on their own.”
Person first, athlete second
As a ballplayer, Mike didn’t exactly need his parents’ help to excel — just to drive him to the game. So they focused on raising him to be the best person he could be.
“Our goal was to develop our child into a good all-around human being so he could enjoy life with baseball and beyond baseball. As a parent, that’s your job. Not to raise the greatest player, but instead to raise a great person. If a sport is what they excel at, then it’s your job to give them every opportunity to excel.”
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