(Interview) St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny on How His Christian Faith Influences His Coaching Style, Why He Only Coaches a Youth Team of 'Orphans'
The manager of the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball team, Mike Matheny, released a new book offering his critique of how today's parents are ruining the youth-sports experience for children and also touched on how he boldly expresses his love for Jesus in today's increasingly secular environment.
In his book entitled The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life, the 44-year-old Cardinals' skipper wrote that many of today's parents are living vicariously through their child's youth sports activities and because of that, many children end up quitting sports due to the pressure and fear of letting their parents down.
After 13 seasons as a big-league catcher with four different teams, Matheny, retired in 2006. In 2008, Matheny was asked if he could coach a local youth baseball team. Before agreeing to coach the team, Matheny presented the team's parents with a 5-page, single-spaced letter outlining what he expected of the parents, and told them he would not coach the team if they did not agree to abide by the requests he made in the letter.
"I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problems with youth sports has been the parents," Matheny wrote in his letter, which would later go viral on social media and become known as The Matheny Manifesto.
"I think the concept that I am asking you to grab is that this experience is ALL about the boys. If there is anything about this that includes you, we need to make a change of plans."
In the letter, Matheny told the parents that he expected them to stay out of the way and not to get too involved as he vowed to teach their sons not only the right way to play baseball, but more importantly, teach them the importance of having high moral character, being accountable and the importance of servant leadership.
In a Tuesday interview with The Christian Post, Matheny said that although most parents are just trying to help their children attain their sports dreams and fantasies by investing heavily and taking great interest in their athletics, it can often lead to severe disappointments.
"There is this perception that every parent can turn a kid into this super athlete, they can go get their college paid for and make it to the big leagues," Matheny said. "Meanwhile, these parents are investing all these dollars… but then it turns into this investment that they have to get a return on. I think that is when things go sour."
Although Matheny wanted his team to win, his coaching philosophy for the youth team was not about winning, he simply wanted to develop every player and help them grow to become first-class citizens.
As important as the physical repetitions are in any two-hour practice, Matheny said it was equally important for him to take time out of every practice to implement "character development studies." The studies were designed to help teach the kids how to make the right ethical choices by addressing topics like honesty, teamwork, sexual purity, drugs and discipline.
While other youth teams might spend a lot of time traveling to out-of-state tournaments, Matheny focused on furthering his players' personal character development even more by having them participate in community service projects. The projects ranged from picking up recyclables at a St. Louis Cardinals game to giving back to the less fortunate in the nearby community.
Matheny said his drive to have his players participate in community work is driven largely by his Christian faith.
"That's how I run my baseball teams, as far as the kind of men I want on my baseball team. I ask of it from the youth players and I ask of it from the big-league players," Matheny asserted. "It's fundamental to my faith and I believe that is the ultimate example of servant leadership is the life that Christ lived for others. I believe that is what I say I am, and I do claim to be, a follower of Christ, and that is the way I should go about everything in my life."
Matheny's letter to the parents also informed the parents that he is "without apology" a Christian and if the opportunity presented itself he would not shy away from reflecting his faith in deeper conversations with his players.
Although Matheny is no longer managing children and is now managing one of the most successful professional baseball franchises in history, he said he still finds a way to remain bold in his faith and spread the love of Christ while also being careful to not force his faith down anybody's throat.
"I believe that it is our responsibility to jump into life and figure out a way to be there for people and look for opportunities to share what's most important to you," Matheny explained. "When those opportunities present themselves, to not miss it and be prepared, and hopefully be able to reflect what Christ wants us to be and be able to direct them to God's word and what that means and how they can understand that."
Matheny wrote that it was a "miracle" that he was hired to replace hall-of-famer Tony La Russa as the next manager of the Cardinals in 2012. Although it was just six seasons after he retired as a player and had no previous managerial experience, Matheny said that that God was "at work" when he was hired, as he was instantly placed on a bigger platform, in the public eye, that provided him with more opportunities to do God's work and share what he believes.
"I can either take credit like I had done something great to deserve this or I can be humbly bowing down on the floor to the Creator of all things and realizing that there is an opportunity," Matheny said. "I do want to make sure that it is noted that I truly believe that we get opportunities and I believe that we have to do something with those... I just believe that God is at work around me all the time and I want to be in tune to that."
Although Matheny said he initially had no desire to write the book, he ultimately felt he had a duty, given his notoriety as a big-league manager, to share his thoughts on how the kids' experience in youth sports should be improved.
"For me, to not at least explore how to spread this message would have been cowardice in my mind," Matheny asserted.
Given the attention that Matheny gave to his Christian faith in his book, as he included one chapter on how his faith is critical in his life and also included many other Christian anecdotes, he said he has received some backlash from critics for including "Christian undertones."
"Even with this book already, I have had people taking their shots and saying, 'Well, there is an awful lot of Christian undertones.' My response is, 'Well, I apologize. I meant to have Christian overtones,'" he said. " I think Christian men of this world need to be less politically correct when it comes to this topic and be more bold."