SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Following an 8-1 loss to Nicaragua at the Little League World Series, Ubaldo Ramos IV gathered his Panama team one final time.
It was an emotional group, as tears were shed in the postgame handshake line. A journey that had lasted all summer was over. But, like many coaches, Ramos had nothing but positive things to say.
He congratulated his group, reminding the boys from ages 10 to 12 that so much more lies ahead.
“I told the players this continues,” Ramos said through a translator. “They keep on playing baseball on to the next level.”
Panama was one of four teams that saw their seasons end on Tuesday. Indiana, Canada and Iowa also lost elimination games. Of the 20 teams in the LLWS, only one will be the champion on Sunday.
The end of a Little League run is always tricky for coaches, acknowledging that nobody wins all the time while praising the effort it took to get to South Williamsport.
Adam Naylor, the leader of performance psychology for 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. “Step one is remember you’re a model and you have this tremendous teaching opportunity.”
Indiana manager Patrick Vinson took a similar approach to Ramos when reflecting on the tournament. He acknowledged not just how difficult it is to make it this far, but also how tough it is to sustain the level of play that got the team here. Teams in the United States bracket must win three tournaments just to have a shot at taking home a LLWS title.
“They’re disappointed,” Vinson said of his team. “I don’t think they were up for the grind. I don’t want to say they were content with making it here.”
The road to the LLWS is so long and so tough that just making it to Williamsport is coveted.
“It is an exhausting grind,” Vinson said. “It’s a good exhaustion when you start practicing as early as we did. You’re at the pinnacle 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 following the end of the tournament run. New York manager Ronald Clark was matter-of-fact Monday night when his team fell to Pennsylvania.
Clark mentioned that the team’s “bats stayed behind in Bristol, (Connecticut),” where the Metro region championship was decided. He added that, while there were tears at the end, expectations weren’t met and the “box score says everything.”
When baseball fans look back on end-of-season messages from coaches in South Williamsport, many recall 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’m gonna love you forever. You’ve given me the most precious moment in my athletic and coaching career, and I’ve been coaching a long time — a long time. I’m getting to be an old man. I need memories like this, I need kids like this. You’re all my boys. You’re the boys of summer.”
In many cases, LLWS players are facing more pressure than they’ve ever confronted on a field, and sometimes the shock of playing — and losing — can be overwhelming.
“You have to allow for the healthy emotions,” Naylor said. “Emotions are an important piece of sport. Acknowledge the emotion without making it too dramatically bad or trying to take it away.”
Jake Starr is a journalism student at Penn State.