SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT — After an 8-1 loss to Nicaragua in the Little League World Series, Ubaldo Ramos IV assembled his team from Panama one last time.
It was an emotional group as tears were shed in the handshake line after the game. The journey that lasted all summer is over. But, like many coaches, Ramos had only positive things to say.
He congratulated his group, reminding the 10- to 12-year-old boys that there was still a long way to go.
“I told the players it’s ongoing,” Ramos said through a translator. “They continue to play baseball at the next level.”
Panama was one of four teams whose seasons ended on Tuesday. Indiana, Canada and Iowa also lost elimination games. Of the 20 LLWS teams, only one will be crowned champion on Sunday.
It’s always difficult for the coaches to end the Little League competition, acknowledging that no one wins all the time while praising the effort it took to get to South Williamsport.
Adam Naylor, head of performance psychology at Deloitte, who has worked with high-level athletes for decades, says it’s important for coaches to remember their role.
Coaches “have an opportunity to teach how to win and lose,” Naylor said. “The first step is to remember that you are a model and you have a huge learning opportunity.”
Indiana manager Patrick Vinson took a similar approach to Ramos when thinking about the tournament. He acknowledged not only how difficult it is to get this far, but also how difficult it is to maintain the level of play that got the team here. Teams on the United States grid must win three tournaments just to try to take home the LLWS title.
“They’re frustrated,” Vinson said of his team. “I don’t think they were ready for the job. I don’t want to say that they were happy that they got here.”
The road to the LLWS is so long and hard that just getting to Williamsport is very desirable.
“It’s exhausting work,” Vinson said. “It’s a good burnout when you start training as early as we did. You are at the top of youth sports. It’s still hard to believe we’re here.”
Not all coaches take the same approach when addressing their teams and the media after a tournament. New York manager Ronald Clark was confident Monday night as his team beat Pennsylvania.
Clark mentioned that “the team’s bats stayed in Bristol, Connecticut,” where the Metro Region championship was decided. He added that although there were tears at the end, expectations were not met and “the box score says it all”.
When baseball fans look back at the messages from the South Williamsport coaches at the end of the season, many think back to Dave Belisle’s speech to his Rhode Island team after being eliminated in the 2014 LLWS.
“I love you guys,” Belisle told his team. “I will love you forever. You gave me the most precious moment in my sports and coaching career, and I’ve been coaching for a very long time – a very long time. I’m getting old. I need memories like this, I need children like this. You are all my boys. You are the boys of summer.”
In many cases, LLWS players face more pressure than they’ve ever faced on the field, and sometimes the shock of playing — and losing — can be overwhelming.
“You have to consider healthy emotions,” Naylor said. “Emotions are an important part of sports. Acknowledge the emotions without making them too dramatically bad or trying to get rid of them.”