I’m a coach. I love it. It’s my passion. Here’s why I do it.
I could give a list of items that I stress to kids, but that’s (yawn) as painful as watching a walk-a-thon at the nearby Little League Diamond.
So, let me take you to the bottom of the 7th inning of a Junior Varsity Baseball Game that I was coaching when I was first out of college. I’m 22 years old and I’m coaching 15/16 year old boys. That was 15 years ago. Now these kids could be my co-workers, but at that point of time, they looked to me to lead them to victory (or something like that).
My greatest point of emphasis to this group, throughout tryouts and every day at practice or at a game, was that nobody was checking the paper to see their win/lose result the night prior. That was for the Varsity Team. Those guys were the ones that could win a state title. Not us. We were here to play the game the correct way, learn how to win and lose with class, and get better as a whole so that next year, the Varsity Coach had some confidence that his team could compete for a State Title. That was my goal, for these kids to be good next year or the year after, not necessarily this year when I was the Head Coach. Let’s be clear, I like to win, who doesn’t, but that’s not my purpose here. I’m the JV coach, and understanding one’s role is very important in the world of sports (as with any role in the real world).
So, let’s get back to the bottom of the 7th, we’re down 4-3 with bases loaded and 2 outs. Our “9” hitter coming to the plate. Here’s what’s running through my head. One, this kid will most likely not make next year’s Varsity Team, so I could pinch hit for him with a kid that would be more likely than “Billy” to come up in a similar situation again or let Billy hit for himself because well, it’s his first start of the season on this, the 8th game of a 20 game season due to the fact that he was the last kid to start for us. Again, this is JV and if a kid made the team then the kid deserves a crack at it eventually. Billy was the 13th player talent wise on a roster of 13.
So, Billy shuffles to home plate, and I call “time.” I’m going to pinch hit. Then, finally, I started thinking with my brain instead of my pathetic ego that almost took over.
Ego: “Come on Jeff, pinch hit Ryan for him, Ryan can rake and the only reason he isn’t starting is because he was 5 minutes late to practice yesterday. What’s 5 minutes?”
Brain: “Seriously Jeff, who gives a darn if you win or lose this game? You think the Cardinals scouts are in the stands watching your coaching moves at work?”
Ego: “It’s possible.”
Brain: “Pipe down Ego. You just get in the way. Listen up Skipper, this will be the last time that Billy ever comes up again in this situation in his life. He makes an out, okay, whatever, so your team loses the game and that’s life. But, if he gets a hit, he’ll remember that for the rest of his life. PS…so will you.
Ego: “We need a W”
Brain: “Ego’s right. You need a W. Let Billy hit, and you’ll get one. The baseball gods are always watching. Now, get back in the 3rd base coach’s box and tell Billy to relax and just hit the ball.”
So, I’m sure you all know what I did at this point. And, of course, Billy gets a hit to right center, two runs score, we win the game 5-4 and Billy is carried off the field. Add to all of that, the conversation that Billy initiated with me after the game is the one that I’ll never forget.
Billy: “Coach, I really thought you were going to pinch hit for me. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you would. But, I thank you for giving me a chance. I probably won’t make the team next year, and that’s okay, because that was the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field, and I’ve been playing since I was in Kindergarten. I’ll never forget that game. So, thank you.”
I just nodded and he sprinted to the group of kids hanging around his car in the parking lot. Then, I looked to the sky. The baseball gods are always watching.
So, now, here I am, a 37-year old Dad with two kids of my own who play baseball/softball, soccer and basketball. I coach them all, thus gave up the high school coaching about 5 years ago once my oldest was ready to start playing. Parents ask me all of the time, “So, what’s your coaching philosophy?” My response is simple. Do the best that I can to give a positive memory to each and every kid on the field, regardless of age, skill level and/or situation. Experience as many “Billy Moments” as possible.
Hey Billy, I never forgot that game either.