A bad manager can do much damage to a youngster. As a kid growing up on the Eastside, I obsessively played football, basketball and baseball. I excelled in the first two, but when it came to baseball, I went from All-Star to sad sack during one sorry season.
My manager was a chain-smoking motorcycle enthusiast who burned many calories screaming his head off at players and umpires. I didn’t respond well, often turning sullen in his presence. My performance plummeted and playing baseball became miserable.
That’s why my ears perked up while speaking recently with Jose Rijo Berger, owner of Woodinville’s Rijo Athletics.
His organization trains and instructs thousands of kids per year in baseball and softball.
"Our biggest focus is to teach the game right," he said. "We don’t yell, holler or swear at the kids. We’re a high character organization that focuses on mentorship. We challenge them, we discipline them, we provide structure – but we love on the kids. We have a lot of different programs.
"It’s not just for people with money. It’s for anybody that wants to commit to getting better."
Rijo-Berger started his business back in 1999, following a professional career in the New York Mets organization.
In the intervening 14 years, he’s had over 60 kids drafted professionally.
And Madi Schreyer, the Stanford-bound superstar of Woodinville High’s softball team, was a regular at the facility.
Rijo-Berger wrote a book called Creating Winning Relationships Through Sports, which went #1 on Amazon for its category.
It spells out his training and coaching philosophy.
"It’s a guide to show parents about how to build a strong relationship with their kids versus breaking apart," he said. "Since sports are so important in our culture.
"What I’ve seen in 13 years in business since I left pro ball was families getting so caught up in the moment. You would think the owner of a training facility would tell people to train more, but I tell people to train less. If you can afford to train, then do so.
"But be consistent and don’t let it be your whole life. Make sure family comes first. We’re really big into the character and the mentoring. Unfortunately, in the baseball community, there is a lot yelling and swearing and hollering and families yelling at umpires."
His approach clearly works. At the time of our interview, Rijo-Berger’s 14-and-Under team was in Oklahoma and won the Sandy Koufax World Series.
On the final day, they defeated the New York team 6-0, to become just the second squad in state of Washington history to win it all.
Rijo Athletics’ 10-and-under team also had a banner season, winning six straight tournaments and posting a 30-1 record.
"It’s about the development of character and the commitment to get better in life and not just sports," he said.
"We give the kids what they need versus just making their swing look pretty or making them feel good about themselves. We really try to lean on the character side of things."
For more information, go to RijoAthletics.com.