“’Choke Up!’: An Aspiring Little League Coach’s Guide to Giving Useless Advice,” by Kevin Duffy

Oct 11th, 2023 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

Welcome, aspiring Little League coaches. As a long-time coach myself, I’ve been brought in to address one of the most critical facets of this important community role. And trust me, unlike the first aid training and introduction to proper stretching that you’ve already received, I can guarantee you that what you learn from me today will be something you use early and often in your tenures coaching impressionable young men in the finer points of America’s Game.

You see, every Little League team is going to have a few kids who cannot, under any circumstances, hit a baseball. They won’t even be able to do it in practice, let alone in a game. Bear in mind that there will be many players on your team that have actual abilities and are far more worthy of your time and attention.[i] [ii] [iii] So, what should a coach do with the hopeless non-hitters? The time-tested answer, approved by 100% of Little League coaches polled, is actually quite a simple one. You don’t need to do a single thing in practice to correct a player that falls into this category; simply wait for the kid to get his at-bat in an actual game (unfortunately, the rules require that all of the kids have to get game time) and, after his first swing and miss, shout as loud as you can, so that all the players and every parent in the stands can hear, “choke up”!

The great part here is that this phrase has all the hallmarks of sage advice from an expert, without actually providing any value. That is, you’re making it sound like you’ve diagnosed this kid’s problem as being that he can’t get the bat head around fast enough to make contact with the ball, and you’ve applied physics to the situation: sliding his hands up the bat will have the effect of holding a shorter bat, the head of which now has less distance to travel through the swing and to the ball. But here’s the thing: choking up has never worked for a single Little League player in history. Rather, both having to hold a bat with a significant portion of it extending below his hands and the fact that this same phrase gets yelled at him in front of all of his friends and family every time he goes to the plate will have the opposite effect on a twelve-year-old—that of truly humiliating him, thereby making the batting experience even more dreadful and difficult than before. The kid may continue to play, but will be so disheartened that he’ll never complain, and you, coach, will never have to spend any time assisting him.

You might think that, after the first time you’ve yelled at a given kid to “choke up”, you’ll be unable to do it to him again, since any coach who was doing the bare minimum to actually help or teach the youngster would (to say nothing of providing some actual instruction on how to hit at practice) make sure he selects a shorter bat for future games. Trust me, every Little League coach has sat up at night with this exact fear—what would we be without “choke up”?—but we all quickly learn that there is actually no limit to the number of times you can get away with using this same method with this same player. No kid, fan, or parent will ever offer a word of protest.

An official subcommittee of the Little League Coaches Association of America was actually convened to study why this is so, at our national convention back in 2016.  They found that, perhaps counterintuitively, in terms of your other (competent) players, you’re actually gaining support and loyalty because your “choke up!” is signaling to them that you also know this particular kid sucks. The study results were mixed for adult spectators, as it turns out that most of them are generally not paying attention to the game, and so don’t particularly take note of anything you do. The one exception here are the dads who are pissed off with you that their sons are not the number one pitcher on your roster, and/or that their sons were taken out near the end of the game to give the scrubs some playing time. Most of these dads “played a little college ball”, so they know what you’re up to when they hear “choke up!”, and they grudgingly respect you for it. They will, however, want some words with you after the game. They’ll also be gunning for your coaching spot next year.

Finally, I’d just like to note that, if you’re anything like me, you want to coach baseball because you believe the game teaches America’s young men timeless lessons that will help them succeed in later life. With “choke up” in particular, Little League baseball helps these boys understand the important life lesson that sometimes, when they’re confronted with a difficult situation that calls for careful analysis of a problem or the investment of time to assist another, the best thing to do might well be to just shout nonsense that could only possibly embarrass and frustrate the people being affected the most. Many a young man I’ve coached has clearly learned this lesson, and I’ve been proud to see them apply it in their adult lives as they have thrived in endeavors like business consultancy, finance, political punditry, journalism, and the United States Congress. It’s my sincere hope that all of you get to similarly see the positive results of your coaching efforts.


Kevin Duffy is an American writer living in Spain. He once choked up so much in a Little League game that no portion of the bat extended above his grip.





[i] Note: This latter group will definitely include your own (the coach’s) kid.

[ii] Note: This kid will inevitably be the number one starting pitcher in the rotation and will receive roughly ten times more attention than all other players, despite being a bit pudgy already.

[iii] Note: Be aware that, according to official statistics, roughly ninety percent of these coach’s kids will throw out their arms and actively resent the sport of baseball before they reach high school.

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