Before the final game of the season, on a cool Texas night, the head coach of the Sand Gnats gathered his Little Leaguers for a pep talk.
Pointing his finger at the 9-year-olds, Scott Bergin told them, “If your dad says it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just as long as you have fun, I hate to say it — your dad’s a loser.”
Parents took video on their phones. The players giggled. They knew Bergin, the president of a drug-testing company near Houston, was mocking crazy coaches by being someone he isn’t.
But Bergin, 46, had another motive. He posted the speech to YouTube, adding it to the scores of videos that satirize the increasingly insane $7 billion world of youth sports, where parents sometimes fight like guests on “The Jerry Springer Show” and losing coaches, as Bergin once saw in a T-ball game, hurl bats at fences.
“I’ve been so frustrated with a lot of these other coaches and parents,” he said. “I just had to do this. I had to hammer these people.”
Bergin’s video, viewed more than 30,000 times, is the first in a series of pregame speeches he has posted to YouTube in which he instructs his team to hit dingers, disgrace the other pitcher’s family, knock the yellow from teeth, stomp butts and steal lunch money. Bergin frequently refers to opposing players as fart sniffers.
After he began posting the videos last year, Bergin was startled to discover that many viewers thought they were real. “This guy should stop coaching kids and maybe work on his attitude!” one YouTube commenter wrote. Because of the magic of algorithms, Bergin’s videos often play automatically after genuine videos of parents fighting and coaches losing their minds.
In one real-life clip, a baseball coach rants at his elementary-school-age players, “Are you guys little boys anymore?” He reminds them that they traveled to get to their game, meaning they are travel players. “Sometimes, in travel ball, it’s gonna feel like a job. This ain’t rec ball anymore.”
Last summer at an elite Maryland softball tournament, two fathers were charged with assault after they traded insults, then punches. The video of the confrontation went viral. The Virginia Soccer League has a post on its website pleading for better behavior from coaches and parents. The title of the piece: “Daddy Came to My Game and Now He’s in Prison.”
Mark Hyman, a professor of sports management at George Washington University and the author of several books on youth sports, said it was a sad commentary on the state of youth sports that viewers struggle to separate reality from satire.
“In the context of the behavior we see every day,” Hyman said, “these videos really are totally believable.”
Maniacal coaches, travel sports as a status symbol for parents, and the soaring costs of club teams (paid coaches, $300 uniforms) have decimated some recreational leagues and driven youth sports participation to the lowest level in decades, with fewer than half of children ages 6 to 12 now regularly playing team sports.
In ridiculing what youth baseball has become, Nick Hall, a stand-up comedian, invented a foul-mouthed character named Coach Kent Murphy. He wears 1980s-style coaching shorts as he mocks the thousands of instructional videos aimed at getting parents to subscribe to expensive online teaching programs.
“You hear about these parents of 9-year-olds spending $20,000 a summer to travel around to tournaments,” Hall said in an interview. “When I was 9 years old, my parents made me get a paper route.”
Growing up in Indiana, Hall remembers the simpler days when dads would coach while drinking beers in the dugout, teaching the finer points of cursing and occasionally offering bits of wisdom, such as “run faster.” That’s how he styled Coach Kent Murphy.
“It’s a straight lampooning of instructional videos,” he said, “but never revealing that it’s all a joke.”
In an instructional video on bunting, Murphy appears with a shirtless, beer-drinking assistant coach named Chucky, identified as his best friend and an ex-convict. The first priority in bunting, Murphy says, is getting out of bunting: Step out of the batter’s box, look down at the third-base coach, “throw your bat down and stare at him in his stupid eyes.”
“If you can’t get out of it,” Murphy says, “you’re just gonna have to lay down a bunt and I’m gonna teach you how to do it even though it’s [expletive] the worst thing that’s ever happened in my [expletive] life.”
The video has been viewed
3.1 million times. Hall makes nearly his entire living on ads that appear with his videos. He also makes appearances, in character, at youth baseball tournaments and batting cage complexes.
Domingo Ayala is another YouTube star. On his website and in his videos, Ayala claims he is from the Dominican Republic and was selected three times in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft.
In fact, there is no Domingo Ayala. According to U.S. trademark records, Ayala is Bryan Resnick, a former University of Nevada Las Vegas baseball player who a few years ago, according to his Facebook page, went on his Israel birthright trip.
Ayala (and Resnick) did not respond to requests for comment.
His videos open with mariachi music. He wears baseball pants, a practice jersey and a thick mustache. Speaking in a heavy accent, Ayala offers tips and comments on the current state of youth baseball.
In a video titled “travel team parents,” a parent walks up offering Ayala a stack of paper.
“You got the dad coming over there, show me the stats, asking why his kid no play,” Ayala says. “You wanna know why your kid no playing? He not playing ’cause he’s no good.”
Though his fake accent might strike some as offensive, Ayala endorses youth sports products and has been hired to appear in character by college baseball teams.
To Bergin, the Little League coach in Texas, Coach Kent Murphy and Domingo Ayala are deities. He studies their videos, making notes on their delivery, sometimes even stealing lines to use as a sort of homage. (Will Ferrell is also an influence.) Bergin writes his speeches in the notes app of his iPhone, then rehearses them at work after everyone leaves.
He can usually keep a straight face, but his assistant coach Colin Edwards, a former professional motorcycle racer, sometimes struggles. Bergin’s speeches have become so popular around his local Little League community that parents from opposing teams will come watch.
“It becomes an event to see it,” said Leslie Dickson, whose son Brady has played for Bergin several times.
Her son was recently a mark when Bergin went over the starting lineup in a video.
“Batting eighth and playing left field is Brady,” Bergin said. “You can pick dandelions out here like you normally do.”
In announcing the seventh batter, Bergin said: “The 7-hole is the most important hole in the order. Just kidding. It’s like third worst.”
Several players laughed. “This is hilarious,” one said.
Brady, a fifth-grader, totally gets it.
“He’s not like the other coaches who always yell and make it all about themselves,” he said. “He’s really funny. I really like him.”
And so do his parents. They say Bergin really is the exact opposite of the coach he sometimes portrays. He makes sure all players, even the weaker ones, get experience in the infield and batting high up in the order. He doesn’t yell. He wants to win, the parents say, but never at the expense of hurting a child’s feelings.
In an ideal world, Bergin’s videos would be more than just entertainment. He knows firsthand they aren’t.
Last season, an opposing coach from a nearby town recognized Bergin from his videos. As they exchanged pregame lineups, the coach told Bergin that he really nailed the craziness.
“Man, you’re my idol,” the coach said.
And then Bergin’s team took an early lead.
“His mood really changed,” Bergin said.
The coach started yelling at his players. A parent in the stands noticed that one of Bergin’s players was missing a mandatory Little League patch on his jersey, pointing it out to the coach, who halted the game to lodge a formal protest.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Bergin said. “He morphed into the exact same person I’m making fun of.”