Tag Archives: coaching

Seeking the Coaching Sweet Spot

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There’s a funny aspect of coaching where you need to strike a balance between your involvement and your objectivity.  I think the best coaches are driven by a passion to make those they have the privilege of working with better, but they then need to take the proper steps back not to let their own desires become the focus.  That’s a little bit of the secret sauce of it all, really.  You are trusted with being the steward of your trainee’s talent and desires.  To use a legal concept (because why the hell not), you are like the executor and manager of a trust – you have a good faith obligation to what has been entrusted to you.

And trust is such a perfect word and concept because it hits the dual-meaning of duty and also that you are entrusted with the faith your trainee placed in you.

This takes on a new level if the trainee/athlete/student is personally very close to you. The thing that drives you as a coach adds in a new, very strong variable of that relationship… which can be good and bad.  Good in that you are even more committed than usual to a great end result, but bad if… again… the objectivity is lost or the desired end state of your trainee gets steamrolled.

I just started working with my oldest nephew just over 2 weeks ago to really get him weight training for the first time.  He did a little bit in fits and starts with the high school baseball team this past year, but this is his first foray into a structured and very consistent program.  I had my own coach work this up for him as I guide him through it.

Each session we’ve had is a learning experience for both of us.  For him, he is seeing what a well-thought out program of strength, power, mobility, movement prep and conditioning looks like.  For me, I’m seeing what it means to consistently coach someone else on all aspects of strength & conditioning and figuring out how to do this for what he wants… not what Uncle Kevin wants.

It’s essentially a twist on the baseball coaching I’ve done with my 2 oldest nephews for the last 8 or 9 years.  The difference here is in baseball, it’s balanced by the need to focus on all the players.  In this case?  It’s one-on-one.  It would be easy to get all out of sorts and take every bit of how each session goes overly personally.

So what to do?  How to find the magic point in all of this between passion and objectivity?  I think for the near future (and maybe longer), it’s going to be fairly simple: focus on getting my nephew to enjoy the whole process.  That’s honestly it – if I make that my success criteria, the rest of the details will take care of themselves.  Progress will be made and progress, my friends, is the great hook of hooks.

Sometimes your best course of action as a coach is to get out of your own way, stop spending so much time overthinking every nuance with your trainee and just let their enjoyment be the guide.  And maybe you’ll have a little fun more coaching fun in the process too.

The Art of the Extra Minute

If there’s something I’ve learned in my time working in Corporate America or in coaching wild little weasels in youth baseball, it’s that the people in charge can often lose sight of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of their leadership or guidance.  It’s really not all that surprising because most people don’t spend oodles of time in their days considering how others perceive them.  This is partly because… well… who the hell would spend that much time obsessed on such a point?  In addition, no one should be so purely “other-focused” that they never account for their own personal tastes, talents and desires.

That being said, there is a tremendous amount of value to be gained for anyone who is a manager, leader or coach to consider how their leadership is delivered and received.

A leader may have a weekly staff meeting with her team where she feels completely at ease, free to have an open discussion.  However, does the team feel the same way?  Maybe, maybe not.  One leader’s place of restful sanctuary is another team member’s “More face time with the boss where I have to play the part…”

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As a baseball coach, I try to think about things from the kid’s perspective as best I can… and Lord knows I probably fail at this much more often than I succeed, but I think the effort is the big part.

It’s the art of taking the extra minute.  That extra minute to think about your methods in relation to your players is hugely helpful.

For me it’s been about thinking about myself as a Little Leaguer.  I was seldom a confident player back in those days – far more concerned with messing up than playing well.  Hell, I can remember playing a game as it was getting dark, rain was coming down and I was hoping the pitcher, TJ, would strike me out.  True story.

Hence, my extra minute is to remember that there are a lot of kids who aren’t naturally gifted athletes and for whom standing all by themselves at the plate with everyone watching them at a baseball game is a daunting experience.  Kids for whom their coach looking them in the eye and saying, “Hey, you just go up there and go for it. All I care is about you trying hard – that’s it.” might be the difference between them enjoying the game and not.  Or the coach letting them know that making an error or messing up or doing something “wrong” because they tried too hard is totally OK.  Sure, you try to have them learn from that moment, but you can’t just light them up or else they’ll shut down for good.

And even if you don’t coach youth baseball, these same lessons apply at work, in your church, with your charitable group, etc.  Your presence and position will affect those around you in ways you likely don’t notice or think to consider.

And all you need to do is develop the art of taking that extra minute.  It won’t fix everything, but the self-awareness it brings is certainly the most important first step of them all.

My Philosophy: A Post 25 Years in the Making

I remember telling my parents in the Spring of 1987, my freshman year of high school, that I was going out for the baseball team.  Now, they never said anything specific to me about it or made any attempts to dissuade me from trying, but I always had the feeling they were a bit uneasy about it.

Why?

My older brother was always an excellent athlete… but me?  Not quite so much.  I had a generally unremarkable Little League career, didn’t play baseball on the middle school team and there really wasn’t anything to suggest my trying out for the high school team would end in anything but my being cut and coming home devastated.

Somehow, some way… I made the JV team.  We didn’t have a freshman team back then like many high schools do these days.

Fast forward ahead to this photo in the Spring of 1990, my senior year at Avon High School and the varsity baseball photo:

Avon High School - Varsity Baseball 1990

There I kneel in all my handsome best and pretty proud to play for a team that would end up ranked #2 in the state.  We lost our first game, won 18 in a row and lost our last game in the state tournament to a team we should have annihilated.

This photo explains a lot about my personal philosophy on coaching and actually explains a hell of a lot about me generally.

I played on the Varsity team my junior and senior years of high school with my prime motivator being really damn simple: Don’t. F**king. Screw. Up.

Inspirational right? Almost akin to a battle cry on a bloodstained field of battle from days of yore.  But in reality?  It was the truth.  I was far more concerned about the wrath of my coach if I screwed up than the potential amazing outcomes that would come from playing loose and free.  Now, what kind of fun could THAT possibly be?

It came to a head during the final game of my senior year as we lost in the state tournament (as a #2 seed, mind you) to a team we outclassed in seemingly every way possible.  I had probably 3 errors in the field that day and my baseball playing career ended with my coach pulling me out of the game and saying to me as I was directed to the bench “My God, Kuz… everything is an adventure with you out there today.”  My athletic pinnacle it was not.

That moment has always stuck with me, even now 25 years later and completely affects how I approach every kid I get the privilege of coaching.  My philosophy is simple: kids who are relaxed have more fun and play way better than the kid who sees his first at-bat of the season as a life-or-death struggle.  As ridiculously simple as that sounds, the trick is being mindful on this point and consistent with every kid you coach.  I acutely felt that awkward and self-directed pressure, so for me, it’s really easy to stay on task.

And in fact, I think this is something I seek to do all the time anyway now.  When people feel comfortable, they’re just in such a better place as a friend, work colleague, family member or even just a stranger you bump into in line at Starbucks to get a coffee with a complicated name. (Caveat: I love me some Sbux and will fight you to the death if you try and swipe my gold card)

My advice?  Find a person who looks out of sorts and see what you can do about it.  It’s actually ridiculously easy because all you need to consider is the fact that YOU have been there too.  Why not fix it for someone else?

Expertise Is Secondary. Flaws Are First.

I think anyone who strolls around the Interwebz at any point looking for an answer to any of life’s great questions will find themselves inundated with information from those looking to help. There are a variety of levels of expertise in those looking to help out as well – everything from utter charlatans to esteemed experts with a wealth of degrees or oodles of success.

If forced to pick, you want more superstar than snake oil in who is helping you, right?  Sort of hard (and kind of bat guano crazy) to argue against that.

For me, there’s actually something else I need along with the expertise and, in some ways, it may even be more important.

Authenticity from someone who has been through a struggle.

Maybe I’m alone in that sentiment, but I doubt it. I see plenty of people providing advice and their tact is one of “You should listen to me because I sit here oozing success out of every pore. All I do is win at everything I come across.”

C’mon now. Really?

Too. Damn. Early. I need someone with a few battle scars. Notched a few failures. Knows the feeling of getting up in the morning and, despite having a long-desired goal, has that moment of “Sweet mother of God… it’s… SO… DAMN… EARLY.”

There is a realness to showing your flaws that makes the advice to follow mean just so much more. Of course, even the highly-polished experts no doubt have had all those ugly moments… they just choose not to display them. Maybe they see it as a sign of weakness? And showing a single chink in the armor is the first step to the inevitable unmasking? I have no idea.

It’s also the fact that the person who has been through the struggles and found even a few fleeting moments of insightful brilliance has more to tell a person fighting their challenges than someone talking down to them from a place of glossy success.

It’s why I try so hard to never do this blog in any kind of way than a retelling of my own daily push for a bit more awesome and a bit less awful. Plus, it’s just much more accurate – for every moment of triumph where I let heave a battle cry, there are at least more 3 instances of stumbling and falling on my face.

And I’m good with that. My stumbles don’t embarrass me as much as they entertain.

And I’ll take that 3:1 ratio tradeoff for a good moment of victory.

Rhyme, Reason and The Things That Drive Us

 Little Slice of Heaven

I’m likely going to be taking a bit of a baseball and coaching theme with my posts in the near future. This stems from both the fact that Little League coaching begins soon (I find out my team on Saturday) and that it’s a rich source of inspiration for posts. Kids have an uncanny ability to teach adults a lot if those adults are paying attention.

It reminds me of a conversation a year or so ago while helping out with All-Stars practice one day and one of the players, Shamus, strolled on up to me as I watched a drill. He stood next to me for a few moments, watching the same drill and the following conversation ensued:

Shamus: Hey coach… are you married?

Me: No, Shamus, I’m not.

*brief pause*

Shamus: Got a girlfriend?

Me: No, Shamus, I don’t right now.

*longer, more thoughtful pause*

Shamus: Gettin’ kind of late…

You can’t make this stuff up. Hence, the wisdom of the youngins.

What I’m thinking most about with the season so close to starting is what drives me as a coach. The biggest piece is the fact I coach my nephews and have been doing so for 7 or 8 years, ever since my older brother was volunteered by his lovely bride and… well… he wasn’t going to do it solo. Suddenly, Assistant Coach Kevin was born!

But what about beyond that? What am I trying to accomplish? What’s my goal? My mission? My philosophy? Gosh darn it, don’t I have a vision statement with a 5 year plan developed by Wharton-educated consultants?!?!?  *ahem*  Wow… that got scary for a second.  Thankfully, I’m back and I can answer these questions fairly simply:

I coach with my Little League self in mind as much as I possibly can with the dual purpose of helping my players get better and (more importantly), enjoy the hell out of playing baseball.

THAT right there is my mission statement.

I think of my Little League self because I was never the most confident of baseball players, although I had some ability that could have become something nice if got out of my own way. Instead, I probably spent a lot of time thinking I would never be like my older brother who was fantastic at baseball, would end up being All-State in high school and playing in college.  I can actually remember a time when I was in 4th or 5th grade where I was at bat, it was raining and T.J. Church was pitching to me… and all I kept saying to myself was “Please just strike me out.” Yup… that truly happened and I can almost feel that pit in my stomach just thinking of that moment where I wanted to be anywhere but at the plate trying to hit. Not a great moment, but one indelibly burned in my memory.

I never, EVER want a kid that plays for me to feel that way, not even for a moment. I can’t even totally say why I was feeling that way – my parents were always really supportive. I just felt miserable out there and wasn’t having fun, at least not on that day. I would do better when I got to high school and played baseball all 4 years… but I often suffered from the greatest shortcoming any young athlete can have:

I was far more worried about messing up than the upside of laying it out there, possibly achieving something magical or great and feeling the joy of doing well. That’s a missed opportunity and I don’t want it repeated under my watch if I can help it.

So that drives me and it’s really why this entire coaching experience means so much to me. I think a lot about how that felt for me as a kid and, oddly enough, the kids I will be coaching this year will be in exactly that same age range as me during that day in the rain.

No matter how I need to scramble out of work early for a game or changing up my weekend schedule because of games… it just doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Hey, don’t misunderstand me – I am not some noble saint for taking this position. I do all of this because it’s just so much damn fun – I get at least as much out of it as the kids do. It’s not really work. It’s not a grind. It’s just… well… fun.

Here’s to the start of the upcoming season with a watchful eye towards the why of coaching… maybe the most important aspect of all.

The Lesson of Three Fouls

In the event you didn’t know it already, my 3 nephews are one of the greatest joys of my entire existence. As a bachelor guy with no kids of my own, they put life into a kind of perspective that comes from no other place. I know my relationship with them isn’t ever going to be akin to what their parents have with them, I do feel a connection, love and a strong level of protectiveness for them that is just… well… incredible to me.

When they do well or are happy, my heart soars. When they are sad or down or frustrated, it hits me hard. It’s part of that whole thing of being the “sensitive one” in Team Kuzia, I suppose. I like myself just fine that way, hence I take the downs that will always go along with the really great ups.

Today was my oldest nephew’s first basketball game of the year and Berry Insurance (that’s his team) pulled out a 30-28 victory over Finman Windows. It was really kind of nerve-wracking towards the end… you know, as much as one would wrack their nerves over 10-13 year olds playing hoops. Which can be a lot. Why? Because parents and relatives are bat-guano crazy when it comes to their kids, that’s why.

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My nephew (#4) getting his instructions and his game face on… umm, not that you can see the game face. But I assure you… fierce.

Now, my nephew has some pretty good athletic ability and is actually really fast. Seriously… kid’s got jets. The thing is… when he gets into game situations, he gets a little bit tentative and never really seems to get after it. It actually goes to something I’ve seen from coaching kids for a little while now: until MAYBE high school, the thing that separate kids in sports is not pure talent, but aggressiveness. Hands down. It’s not even close. You will occasionally have a kid who is sublimely talented, but they are a truly serious outlier.

I wish I could help my nephew be more aggressive out there… not because I am obsessed with winning (I’m not… certainly not for kids) or anything in that realm. I just think he would have more fun if he was just letting loose and rolling with the game instead of feeling pressure to do well. I know this feeling more than I care to admit: it’s pretty much how I was as a kid. It’s hard at that age to sometimes step back and realize it’s just Little League, Pop Warner or rec basketball. It really was for me and if I had been a little more relaxed, I would have played better and had a ton more fun in the process.

So if I could give my oldest nephew and my godson a bit of advice, it would be this: Every game, commit at least 3 fouls. Every. Single. Game.

If you’re currently having a moment of, “Kuzia… you may be the worst kids coach to ever curse this planet”, I don’t blame you. OK, I might… a little bit. Seriously… curse? That’s unduly harsh, you jerk. Umm… where was I?  Oh yeah…

In basketball, committing a foul is something “wrong” or “bad” or “against the rules”, hence a lot of kids avoid it like the plague. They want to be good kids, do the right thing, say their prayers, eat their vegetables and so on. The huge majority of kids just want to do the right thing to make Mom and Dad proud.

But here’s the thing: committing a few fouls per game means you are actually going after it on defense. You are playing a little more aggressively and worrying a hell of a lot less about making a mistake. And quite frankly, in basketball at this age, the last thing you want are kids wringing their hands over messing up, for the love of God. Where’s the fun in that?

Plus, it give the kid a chance to break that cycle of fearing to fail or messing up or looking bad in front of their families. If they know committing some fouls isn’t that bad of a thing, then they can loosen up enough to play hard. This isn’t teaching them to mess things up… it’s teaching them to get past the small nonsense that matters little at all.

Granted, we’re not talking about drilling a kid into a wall on a fast break. Let’s not get completely kooky, kids.

But I think it’s a powerful lesson for kids everywhere and something important to learn as early in life as possible: it’s far better to give your all and mess things up a bit than to never dare mightily at all and wonder “Could I have done more?” But come to think of it… it’s not just kids who need to learn that, now is it?

Antonio Banderas – World’s Greatest Strength Coach

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Antonio Banderas. Acclaimed actor. Handsome fella. Totally sweet name that is ridiculously fun to say. Great accent. World’s greatest strength coach.

Wait… what?

Oh you read that right. World’s greatest strength coach.  Oh you want me to actually explain that to you?  Really?  Man, we are getting soft as a society when I have to spoon-feed y’all the obvious… but I will indulge your need to be coddle just this one time.

A few years back I was watching one of the various news magazine programs like 60 Minutes or Dateline: NBC and Mr. Banderas was on being interviewed.  He’s actually a pretty interesting, thoughtful guy, but it was one thing he said that really caught me and stuck with me until today.  I cannot find the exact quote, but to paraphrase he said (and please imagine it in his kick-ass Spanish accent), “People today seem to live their lives where they expect to have this kind of orgasmic joy in every single moment.  That if they are not happy every single moment, something is wrong.  I want to actually have moments of up’s and also the downs and the sadness.  That’s part of life and I think not having those sad moments makes you worse off as a human being.”

And yes, he really did use the word “orgasmic” when describing the kind of joy some people feel they should have every day in every moment they experience.

Every person who engages in strength training I think can actually benefit from the point he is making.  Lifting in the gym is never going to be that kind of “orgasmic” experience where every single repetition feels like you could hold the world like Atlas.  You won’t set PRs every single session and sometimes, you will actually do worse than you did before.  Sometimes you will be flat or tired or unfocused.  It simply is going to happen.  If you somehow expect this to be otherwise, then you are in for an utterly frustrating training career and please accept my sympathies now… except if you truly felt this way, I’m really not going to be sympathetic to your plight.

There is actually true value to those low moments where you push through and find out about yourself.  OK, so you didn’t crush out a 10 lb. personal record.  Did you still push yourself as best you could despite feel off or like crap?  How will you plan going forward?  Will you be thoughtful about why things went poorly and try to address those things you have some control over?  Or will you curl up in the fetal position so you can rock back and forth while muttering, “Can’t be happening… can’t be happening… find my happy place… happy place…”?

Nobody wants the moments of coming up short, but since you are going to have them anyway, it’s best to get at least something positive out of them.

That’s what Antonio Banderas would do… he’s the world’s greatest strength coach.

The Plank in My Eye

I think I’m like many people who can be a total ace at passing out advice that I then do a less-than-ideal job of following for myself.  I don’t think there is anything remarkable about that in myself or in others – it’s just far easier to cast the penetrating light of truth upon a situation removed from myself than it is to see that same case in me.

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Case in point.  This past season of coaching baseball, one of the things we implored of our kids was to be aggressive and not fear the consequences that would follow.  If they were going all out and made a mistake in the process, ehh… that’s fine.  More often than not, their aggressive on the baseball diamond would be rewarded with something good than a mistake.  Plus, we kept reminding them… this is baseball.  A game.  Something to have fun with and not something with the future of mankind perilously hanging in the balance.  I think we made a bit of progress on this with a lot of the boys and I hope it sticks with them.  If there is one HUGE thing I’ve noticed in youth sports, it’s that the kids who are either the most aggressive or the least concerned about making mistakes are the ones who do best (and also seem to have the most fun).

And God forbid it all be it about fun.  I know… that’s a pretty nutty thing to say about youth sports.  We’re supposed to be prepping every little Johnny and Jane to be Olympic-calibre athletes from the time they are 6 right? (I will now seek to turn down my sarcasm a shade).

Getting back to the notion of seeing the speck in your brother’s eye while missing the plank in your own.  Yeah… that’s right… I just went Biblical.

A few weeks back I was playing a game in my basketball league and I was absolutely awful.  I mean… just… wow… I was really bad.  My time on the court seemed to serve little purpose outside spelling a teammate who needed to rest for a bit.  I was tentative and second-guessing and awkward.  It was probably one of the worst basketball experiences I’ve had in my life, outside of some bad Nerf hoop experiences when super young.  You know those where you are just starting to learn to play, but have an older brother who just swats away every shot you put up with that puffy orange ball?  So yeah, besides that, my worst outing ever.

Then it hit me loud and clear and with no small amount of force: I was exactly like one of the 10 to 12 year olds I had just finished coaching who didn’t seem to get out of his shell and just be aggressive.  Boom – head shot.  I sat there as a coach and felt I was so wise with all my perspective on the value of being aggressive and how you not only play better, but have more fun… and yet I never saw it in myself.

I played again last night, freshly self-chastised for coaching one way and playing another, and guess what?  I played much better, was much more aggressive, had a blast and smiled throughout a lot of the game (even at some of the awful calls made by our fine officials).  Heck, we won too.

The lesson in all of this for me is simple and direct: If I have an insight for someone else… whether while coaching or with someone coming to me for advice… I need to immediately take an opportunity to then look at myself in that same vein because chances are, I will need it as well to some extent or another.  I hope to make this a habit and given the fact that my very job involves me giving guidance to people on a daily basis, I think I can get some mojo going on this point.

It’s time to get that plank out of my own eye and see things a little bit more clearly… at least when looking at myself.

Analysis and Attitude – Coaching Through the Tricky Parts

While I cannot speak for all other bloggers, I know one of my complete obsessions with my own blog is checking out Google Analytics to see how my blog is performing: how many visitors I am getting, what sites they are coming from, how long they spend on the site and what keywords they have used to reach the site.  It’s pretty cool how you can slice the data a bunch of different ways to see what in the world made someone: (a) come to your site; (b) stick around and (c) look at some particular pieces of content.

Outside of the sheer numbers piece of total unique visitors (I love this one and just want it to go up all the time), I really love the keywords.  It never ceases to amaze me the searches someone used on a search site like Google to find humble little Fierce and Mighty.  For instance, for the time period between May 26 and May 31, I’ve had people come to my blog for “dealing with toxic people”, the “prowler” and a variety of connections for people looking for guides on handling youth baseball.  I think my favorite youth baseball one is “youth baseball moms how to deal with crappy coaches”.  Umm… I’m hoping that wasn’t a parent of one of my players… but then again, ya gotta admit it would be pretty funny if parents of some of my players came to my own site for advice on how to deal with my (ALLEGEDLY) crappy coaching.

IMG_1213_2.JPGSo let’s get back into the coaching piece for a bit, mostly since I am really enjoying doing posts on my thoughts on being a youth baseball coach.

I think if there is one huge challenge any youth coach faces, more than teaching skills, setting rosters, structuring drills or managing an actual game is setting the proper tone and attitude of the team.  You really need to get to the kids early and stay utterly consistent in your message to them from the first practice to the last moment of your final game.  But how exactly does one do this?  I think I’m finally seeing what it takes to pull this off after a lengthy period of trial and error… and this is probably something that applies more generally to teams than just kids… but for now, I will focus on our getting our precious little angels to stop yammering for 10 seconds to pay attention to the baseball game.

  1. A common theme, shared among all. The coaches really need to be on the same page with what the approach they want to take with the kids.  My brother and I have a pretty good idea of how we want to approach our team, so that does help.  We want them to improve and play well and have fun.  Do we want them to win?  Of course, but only towards the bigger goal that they will get more excited about the game when they are doing well as a team.  The pure accolades associated with winning a “title” or something at this age is not our real goal.  Sure, it would be nice, but I will take the kids having fun over that any day without even a 2nd thought.  To some nutjob coaches out there, that makes me a loser.  To all those nutjob coaches out there, I would simply respond… with nothing.  Y’all ain’t it even worth the effort of my fingers to type something.
  2. The more, the merrier. This is one I almost cannot stress enough: the younger the kids, the more coaches you need.  Period.  I will not debate this.  If you are dealing with all teenagers, 2 coaches can probably be sufficient because, at that age, the kids can actually stay semi-focused at practices and in games.  But coaching 14 or so 8 and 9 year olds?  You need to have at least 4 coaches to make things close to workable.  The reason for this is simple: they have incredibly short attention spans and are always looking to act like goofy little lunatics with their buddies.  While this is sometimes kind of funny, if you don’t keep it on a short leash, things become unworkable for the whole team VERY quickly.

    With a group of coaches, it’s easier to divide kids into groups and minimize the amount of standing around time or “SAT”… ok, there isn’t really a true acronym for that, but I made it up… umm… and may never use it again.  I just felt like doing it.  Cut me some slack.  But as coaches, you simply need to be proactive about getting other parents involved as either coaches for practices or just to help monitor the kids on the bench during games when you are trying to focus on the actual in-game coaching.  The alternative is spending all your time telling  Reggie to take the gum off his nose, Charlie to stop kicking the dugout gravel into coach’s glove and Thomas that throwing the empty gum wrappers behind the bench was not what you meant when you said you didn’t want trash in the dugout.  I want to point out that while the names were changed to protect the… *ahem*… innocent, all of these things happened last game.  I kid you not.

  3. Getting it back when you start late. This is one I feel like my brother and I seem to focus on too much in that we don’t get the attitude set the way we want early and consistently and then struggle a bit to bring the boys back to the task at hand.  Now believe me, it is not that hard to lose the kids if you are not following the first 2 tips, but that being said, I am not making excuses.  Just an observation.  So what do you do when you find yourself 5 games into the season and your exquisitely crafted plan of 9 year old baseball domination falling apart before your very eyes?

    I’d like to say I have an easy answer for this one… but I don’t.  It really is a matter of acknowledging that at any point in the season, you can say “OK, enough is enough” if you really and truly mean it.  Our teams have always tended to bloom a little late because it took my brother and I a little while to get everyone back on board.  The funny thing about that is that even if it happens late in the season, it’s very cool when it happens… not because your exceedingly fragile coaching ego has been saved from further bruising, but when the kids finally do “get it”, they begin to play well and have fun.  We actually had a bit of this happen in our last game.  The opposing team came out swinging against us and knocked the ball all around the top of the 1st inning.  How did we respond?  Hell, we came out and knocked the ball all over the place in the bottom of the 1st.  Was this because they saw it was possible?  Was it some secret bit of magical coaching pixie dust that got us back into the positive end of things?  Damned if I know… but it was fun… and the fun is what counts… keep reminding yourself of that.

OK, that’s enough for now.  I started this post at JFK yesterday before my redeye flight to London, got less than 2 hours sleep, rolled right into my conference, finished that up for the day, had dinner and I am now attempting to finish this post with a semblance of rational thought.  I have no idea how that went – you be the judge.  I gotta get to sleep… but I do have a few thoughts I plan to share soon on this trip to London and also on my non-baseball playing nephew.  He needs some blog love too.

Things I’ve Learned from Coaching Youth Baseball – Part 2

After writing yesterday’s post on the things I’ve learned as a youth baseball coach these last 4 or 5 years, I got to thinking (which should worry all of you… it certainly scares the bejeezus outta me)… there’s probably more than 3 things I’ve learned.  Sure enough, as I drove into work this morning, KA-POW!  More things popped into my dome.  Thankfully, I use the super handy Evernote program on my Android phone to record some voice notes to remind myself later.  If you have not read a bunch of my posts before, I am fully lovestruck for Evernote.  If you have an iPhone, Android phone or Blackberry, I highly recommend it.  I will also point out that if you have not read a bunch of my blog posts before… umm… I kind of go on tangents.  Strap in tight – I am all over the place, my friends.

Anyhoo, I came up with three more things I’ve learned and that I hope are generally applicable to more than just coaching a bunch of snot-nosed little… *ahem*… I mean angelic little darlings who would never, ever (a) goof off on the bench; (b) be looking at their shoes when a ball is hit at them; (c) care more about gum than seemingly anything in the world; or (d) thinking that wearing a cup is the funniest thing of all time.  Seriously… they will not stop trying to tell you “Coach!  Coach!  I’ve got my cup on!” and rap the cup with their knuckles so I can hear it. *sigh*

And now the points to ponder:

1. At some point, you will “live through the kids”. This is not nearly as bad as it sounds, at least not in my case.  We all know those coaches who are hellbent on turning little Johnny or little Jane into the all-world superstar that they never were able to be (which of course was due to dumb coaches, rotten luck and the entire world conspiring in a grand Machiavellian scheme to prevent their athletic happiness).  That’s not what I’m thinking about here.  This is more wanting those kids on your team to get even a sliver of a shining moment because either (a) you have had it and know what that can mean to a kid or (b) you have never had it and know what THAT can also mean to a kid.

I will use my own athletic career as a case in point.  When I was at the same age as the kids I coached, I was definitely not very confident in myself athletically… at least not in an organized sports sense.  Screwing around with my friends was one thing because it was just fun and without pressure.  But in a game with uniforms and umpires and parents and concessions?  That’s a whole different matter.  I can so distinctly remember being up at the place during a Little League game at Sperry Park in Avon, Connecticut with a kid on the mound I was intimidated by.  I just wanted him to strike me out to get the at bat over with.

So for me, “living through the kids” is wanting absolutely none of the kids who play for me to go through that – it was awful for me as a 4th grader to feel that way.  Baseball is a game that, certainly at this level, is meant to just be fun.  Period.  As a coach, I want them to improve their skills, but that’s secondary to them enjoying playing the game itself.  There is an aspect of practice and discipline that goes along with this, for sure.  I want them to have fun playing baseball, not being obnoxious sitting on the bench and trying to jam gum up their noses.  This is not about my dreams or ambitions or desires or any of that – this is first, foremost and solely about the kids and their enjoying a game with memories I hope they always keep with them.

2. Your own personal success will be 10X less interesting than the success of the kids and the team. One of my big sport loves is playing soccer and I am the captain of a very competitive co-ed soccer team that plays around the Hartford area on Sunday mornings.  While our team has fun and we enjoy hanging out together, we play hard and play to win.  When we don’t, we don’t much care for that… at all.  This past Sunday, our team lost a 5-3 game on a very weak effort on our part.  There was absolutely no fire, no hustle and it was as if we decided before the game we were going to lose, so why bother the next 80 minutes anyway?  Needless to say, my outlook is not terribly chipper following a game like that.

But you know what?  That afternoon, the Dodgers went to work and racked up an 8-0 win (which I only found out yesterday was a shared no-hitter between our 2 pitchers).  The excitement of our kids to put together such a good game was enough to wash away any bad feeling I had about what transpired earlier in the day.  I can barely describe how great it felt to watch my nephew absolutely rip a double and be the first base coach pumping my right arm to send him to second base.  So.  Damn.  Cool.

Colin at Bat - 2010 Minors.jpg

I think that’s when you know you are working at and leading something that matters – when you really don’t care about a single accolade that could possibly come your way, but you completely immerse yourself in the joy the team feels for doing well.  I love being a part of teams (whether when I was in school or now in sports and at work), but it’s rare to taste almost transcendent moments like this.  If you do… and certainly if you are able to do this in a place where they actually PAY you… hold onto that with all you’ve got.

3. There is a deeply transformative power to athletics… and it’s amazing when used properly. This probably one of my favorite things about sports or fitness or any kind of athletic endeavor – when done properly, there is a tremendous opportunity for transformation that is completely life-altering.  Sound far-fetched?  Then take a little stroll with me as I explain.

As I wrote above, I was not always the most confident kid athletically.  Sure, I played baseball through high school and had some moments, but I never felt relaxed enough during game situations (certainly not at the varsity level in high school) to do my best.  I would hammer the ball in batting practice, but only show maybe one-tenth of that in a game situation.  You know when I began to blossom a bit in terms of my own athletics?  When I started lifting weights seriously.  Why?  The magic of weight training (and why people who start it and get into it never, EVER want to quit) is that it gives you back what you give it.  Lift smart, rest properly and eat well?  You will get in better shape… and you will feel pretty damn good about yourself.  I know it helped me a ton.

And that brings me back to youth baseball.  I am actually seeing some of this same transformative effect taking place a little bit as well.  I will keep this as vague as possible, but there is a kid this year who I think is beginning to have a few of these moments himself.  He’s a fairly quiet kid and I remember him playing youth baseball a few years before.  When he came into the team this year, something was a little different.  We would practice some hitting off the tee and there was some extra pop in his bat.  Then, during practice one day, one of his teammates complimented him on making a nice play in the field (kids can amaze you sometimes with how kind they can be – I was there to see it happen and it was very cool).  Then, during our big win on Sunday, he steps up to the play and completely rips a line drive for a hit.  As quiet as he tends to be, you could not mistake the enormous smile plastered on his face as he stood on second base.  Now, I notice him looking a little more relaxed with his teammates and joining in with them as more a part of the team than he was before.

Look at that timeline for a second – piece-by-piece and moment-by-moment, something has built a little bit.  I have no idea or expectations where that will go from here… but you know something?  Right now, he really seems to be having fun and feeling pretty good about himself.  Will this push him to become a confident and charismatic captain of industry one day?  President of the United States?  A professional luger?  No idea.  But these are the exact kinds of things that can be the catalyst for something pretty wonderful for him and I hope that’s the case.  And personally?  Kids like this and moments like this can often be much cooler than having some kid who is a complete ringer come in and blow everyone away with their superior athletic ability, making it look so easy.  I like those moments too… well, if that kid is playing for me, mind you… but I am a sucker for that underdog making good.

And that’s why playing sports matters.  May we never lose sight of that and if any of you catching me getting adrift of that, consider this license and permission for a swift smack upside the head… figuratively.  None of you people better be tryin’ to place a hand on me.  I have mongoose-like quickness and ninja-like skills.  You’ll regret it…