Former MLB outfielder Eric Byrnes on new book 'Let Them Play': A guide for coaching youth sports autonomously

Former MLB outfielder Eric Byrnes on new book ‘Let Them Play’: A guide for coaching youth sports autonomously

طوبیٰ Tooba 4 months ago 0 2

Before Eric Byrnes was drafted to Major League Baseball in 1994, he was just a kid from California who loved to play sports.

Byrnes, discernibly a star baseball player, also learned karate and played football, tennis and basketball. Thinking back on the baseball memories he was most fond of as a child, he remembers relationships with friends, Jack in the Box tacos with his mother ahead of a game and cracking his first home run, which resulted in a shattered station wagon window.

“I can’t tell you if we won a certain game or a certain championship,” Byrnes told Fox News Digital. “I made the all-star team, but I couldn’t tell you what happened during the all-star tournament. I can tell you that I remember the pool party we had at my buddy’s house afterward.”


Eric Byrnes coaching

Former MLB outfielder Eric Byrnes is the author of “Let Them Play: A Parenting and Coaching Guide to Youth Sports.” (Eric Byrnes)

Today, the former MLB outfielder is a youth baseball coach for travel teams. As a coach, he draws from a sentiment that influences his sports memories: Let the kids play ball – and just play ball.

Byrnes recently authored a book titled “Let Them Play: A Parenting and Coaching Guide to Youth Sports.” The book’s premise is to encourage a fearless and free environment for youth athletes – the next generation of elites.

“‘Let Them Play’ was conjured up by myself and three other guys that either I played with at UCLA or in the big leagues,” Byrnes said. “We were all at a stage with our kids where none of us had coached yet, and we all had the same observation: They were over-coached.”

The four men deduced that this was detrimental to the kids, so they settled on assembling a team of their own and going forth with the “Let Them Play” mentality. The philosophy allows the kids to run the team, have the freedom to fail, and the coaching staff makes corrections when necessary.

“It is so refreshing to see them take the liberty to call a play on their own,” Byrnes said. “It sets a mood and mentality that these kids are going to have their freedom.”


Eric Byrnes, MLB, speaking

Eric Byrnes believes his approach to autonomous coaching allows youth sports athletes to make their own choices and learn great lessons from their experiences. (Eric Byrnes)

From pillar to post, Byrnes says the athletes overcome adversity and are provided with the autonomy to make choices and take ownership and responsibility for their own actions. And though they might make mistakes along the way, Byrnes says the kids are happy.

“This isn’t about producing Major League Baseball players,” Byrnes said. “It’s about producing young men and women that know how to confidently make decisions on their own and become accountable for their own actions.”

Byrnes’ book is broken up into 22 codes of conduct for parents, coaches and players. Byrnes uses this code in his own coaching technique. He shares this in the book to encourage parents and coaches to take an autonomous approach to youth sports.

“There’s nothing worse than a dad standing behind the fence and the kid looking back on him with every pitch for approval,” Byrnes said.


The book also includes a creed that Byrnes says is loosely based on the Navy SEALs’ creed.

“I used to have it hanging in my locker when playing in the big leagues as a nice reminder,” he said.

Byrnes also found luck with the let-them-play philosophy while managing the unconventional yet shamelessly entertaining baseball team, the Savannah Bananas.

“I would tell the guys, ‘Free and fearless,’” he said of the Bananas. “You have to have that approach when you’re playing the style of baseball these guys are playing. They’re doing backflips in the outfield. I’ve got a guy playing on stilts somewhere.”

Despite his current use of the let-them-play philosophy, Byrnes appreciated the mentality long before he gave it a name.

During the MLB “moneyball” era, Byrnes was called up to the Oakland A’s. There, he was managed under a coaching staff that avoided sacrificing outs on the base pass. During his career with Oakland, Byrnes successfully but fearfully stole 17-20 bases.

Former MLB outfielder Eric Byrnes on new book 'Let Them Play': A guide for coaching youth sports autonomously

“Let Them Play” is a guide for parents and coaches written by former MLB outfielder Eric Byrnes. The coaching and parenting approach for youth sports encourages adults to allow kids to play, fail and succeed on their own. (Eric Byrnes)


“A lot of the time, I felt like I could have stolen a base, but I didn’t want to take that chance,” he said. “They were all about seeing a lot of pitches, and they were really encouraging of walks and getting on base. So, if you were to swing at a first pitch and make it out, then the coaches and general manager would be extremely upset with that.”

It wasn’t until Byrnes signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks that he felt he could steadfastly test his stealing skills.

“I had a manager, Bob Melvin,” he said. “As soon as I came over to Arizona, he goes, ‘Byrnesy, every single time you get on base, I want you to steal.’ And so that year, I had a career-high steal. I think it was 25-26.”

The following season with the Diamondbacks, Byrnes showed up, glove in hand, and was met with a shocking utterance by Melvin.


“He said, ‘I don’t think you understood me last season. Your success rate is too high. I need you to push the envelope,’” Byrnes said. “That year, I went out and stole 50-57 bases.”

Byrnes said having a man like that in his career “meant everything” and “liberated” him. He says it made him wonder what kind of MLB career he would have had if Melvin’s coaching style had been presented to him earlier.

“That same philosophy goes for diving for balls in the outfield,” he said. “In my mind, you’re never going to figure out what you can catch if you don’t dive for it.”

Now, Byrnes encourages his youth team, which he named “Let Them Play,” to welcome failure, not fear it.

“In youth sports, our kids fail all the time, but the question is, how are they going to react to that failure?” he said. “It is a live-and-die-by-this-sword mentality. It isn’t always going to be easy, and it isn’t always going to be pretty.”

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