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.
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:
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?