Tag Archives: life

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…

Things I’ve Learned from Coaching Youth Baseball

I still remember it like it was yesterday… the day I got the call from my older brother to inform me I was now the assistant coach for my nephew’s tee-ball team. Let’s bear in mind that this was never something I actually asked for – it was more like, “Look, Sue signed me up for this without asking me… so I did the same to you. First practice is on Saturday.” That was a few years ago (I honestly cannot remember how many… 4? 5?) and thus began my saga into the world of youth baseball.

It was all pretty simple at the start. When dealing with 5 year old kids playing baseball for the first time, there really is not much on the finer points of the game. You do your best to prevent a rugby-like scrum on every single groundball because everyone wants to be in on every play… plus 5 year old boys think nothing is better in the whole wide world than a dogpile on one of their buddies. Good times.

Fast forward to today. My brother and I are now the coaches in the Minors for one of the town’s baseball leagues and this is potentially our last shot at coaching my nephew. Next year he may be in the Majors where there is a set group of coaches year after year, so our chance may be gone (unless we switch leagues entirely… which is possible).

I think I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’ve been thinking about how these lessons may have more general applicability than how to wrangle 8, 9 and 10 year old boys into line for 2 hours of practice or games. At least I hope I have… because making kids run or giving them bubble gum to quiet them for 5 minutes might not be the kind of thing your average person can use in their daily life (unless they are part of the same youth coaching fraternity).

So here’s what I’ve learned over the last few years:

1.  Keep them engaged.  Always. I list this as #1 because as a youth baseball coach, this is easily the biggest challenge.  In soccer and other constant motion sports, you can have everyone running around and staying active.  Baseball practices can involve a lot of standing around… and I think y’all can guess how well that works with 3rd and 4th grade boys.  Can you picture it?  A lot of chasing each other around and trying to swat your buddy’s hat off with a glove or looking at planes flying overhead and such.  *sigh*  In the same way, I think anyone who needs to lead a team has to do the same.  Everyone needs to feel they have a role and a purpose to play, whether they are 10, 20 or 50 years old.  If you feel stuck in the proverbial right field of batting practice all the time (i.e. the spot where the fewest hits tend to land), your mind will wander to 1,001 other things.

2.  Remember the eye-black.  Yesterday our team (the Dodgers) pulled off their first win of the season to even up our record at 1-1.  The first game of the year was ugly… just so very ugly.  It’s never good when the furthest you advance a runner is second base and of the 18 outs recorded against you in a 6 inning game, 17 were by strikeout.  That’s gonna leave a mark, people.  Well, Saturday night I was at Dick’s Sporting Goods and I saw they had eye-black sticks, so I picked one up.  I popped out the eye-black just before the game started, called out “Who needs eye-black???” and boom!  Kids were ready to rock.  I eye-blacked almost all of them up and one of the kids would only do it if I put it on.  As someone with zero fear to looking a little goofy for the sake of the team effort, I readily complied.

All smiles and eye-black after a big win

We ended up winning the game 8-0 on a huge 6th inning rally.  It was awesome.  The kids were going nuts, I was going nuts, parents were going nuts, etc.  Nothing like winning to get everyone on the same page.  “So what in the name of all that’s holy does eye-black have to do with anything applicable to life outside of baseball???”  OK, if that was truly your reaction, you need to take it down a few notches.  Like pronto.  Don’t ruin the mood of the emotional and moving photo of me and my nephew above with your negativity.  Sheesh.  The nerve… umm… where was I?  Oh, right.  General applicability.

While it was probably (although you never know) not the eyeblack that brought home the victory, it was something that got the kids to feel like real baseball players and to do together as a team.  I was more than willing to do it as well because: (1) I totally dig eye-black.  No joke.  and (2) I am a very firm believer that no good leader will ask his troops/players/employees/etc. to do anything he himself would not do as well.  That’s a sure-fire way to come across as an elitist fraud… and believe me… kids can root that out about as well as anyone.  For anyone else in a team environment, little goofy things like this can bond people together a bit and that should never be underestimated.  I was a supervisor at one time in my career and my team was just begging and pleading to have our staff meeting off-site.  While a small thing to do, everyone was so excited to do it.  Small things matter.

3.  It’s youth baseball.  Repeat that over… and over… and over. I feel really fortunate as a coach with the parents of the kids on my teams.  Truthfully, they’ve been really good about their kids, they come to the games to cheer and have always been really appreciative of the efforts my brother and I in coaching their sons.  That’s the good side of the equation.  The bad?  Hoo boy… where to begin?  While generally speaking there are a lot of good, committed coaches I have encountered, there are also some people that actually disgust me.  Seriously… not just annoy me or make me perturbed, but cause genuine disgust.

I’ve seen coaches who, when playing against us and are up 10-0, actually try to get extra players up in an inning beyond the maximum hitter count per inning allowed… and then made it seem as if they didn’t know the rule.  Really?  It’s a new one to you eh?  That’s odd given the fact you were the first place team and had not allowed a single run in your first 5 games.  Gentle reader, let that fact soak in for a second… 3rd and 4th grade boys who are prone to all sort of tomfoolery, yet his team had not allowed a single run in 5 games.  It’s almost impossible to conceive.  Huh… and I thought the teams were supposed to have a fair distribution of talent.  Silly me.  So we get the unusually loaded team (and this is not the top division of the overall league, mind you) that is looking to get pile it on while being up by 10.  Classy.

Or the coach who when his team is leading 6-0 argues about the one good play our team makes that game to throw one of their kids out at the plate from the edge of the outfield.  He complains that same kid making the throw interfered with his runner (umm… what?) and so he yells out onto the field, “OK guys… just be sure that next time you knock him over.  That’s baseball!  That’s baseball!”  Again people… 3rd and 4th graders.  But hey, this is the same coach who, after a few of our kids did not pay attention about where they were walking as his pitcher warmed up, told his pitcher “It’s OK… just hit the next kid who walks in front of you.”

It took all of my willpower not to get into this guy’s face after the game.  It’s bad enough for him to teach these things to his own kids, but our players hear this too and wonder, “Is this what we’re supposed to do?”

Bottom line: It’s youth baseball… it’s not high school and it’s not college and it’s not the minors and it’s not MLB.  The kids play to learn and have fun.  I coach because I enjoy teaching kids about baseball and I especially enjoy coaching my nephew.  If you cannot step back at times and gain perspective, you’re a lost cause.  And we all do this in our own lives in so many different capacities.  We have a report to do for work that is certainly important, but it’s not worth coming home aggravated and stressed about and acting like a beast around your family and friends.  I do that, you do that, we all do that… but that never makes it right.  I like to use the “When you’re 85 years old” analogy in these cases.  It’s simple and effective – when you’re 85 years old and chilling out on a rocking chair on your front porch, just watching the clouds roll by… is it going to matter to you more that you more that you were a really good technical program manager at your company or that your family and friends adore you?  It’s an easy question (good God… I HOPE it’s an easy question) for anyone to answer and yet how many of us don’t take that into account in so many daily decisions we make?  *raises hand*

I could go on and on about all of this, but these are the 3 big ones I’ve seen.  If you’ve never coached anything, I definitely urge you to give it a shot.  You may not feel qualified, but you’ll learn what to do and the kids will have fun… and in the end, isn’t that the most important lesson of all?