Thursday, September 18, 2014

Things I've learned as a coach...

I've been coaching for almost ten years now; that just doesn't seem possible.  Has it really been that long?

That old adage "Time flies when you're having fun" definitely applies to my time as a coach.

Along the way I have learned a lot about kids, parents and, most importantly, myself.  It hasn't always been a smooth ride, but I can honestly say that my regrets up to this point are few.  With only a couple of changes I would gladly do it over again.

Kinda makes me wish I had four or five kids instead of stopping at two.

But anyway, on with what I have learned.

Girls are easier to coach than boys....
It's just my opinion but I firmly believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that girls are much, much easier to deal with than boys --- or maybe I've just been lucky all these years.

Compared to boys, girls pay attention, listen better and talk back a whole lot less.  I have found it a lot easier to get girls to be goal oriented and to pay attention to detail.  Boys?

"Stay out of the water cooler....."

"Get out of the dirt....."


When it comes to boys and talking back, the one phrase I have absolutely grown to despise is "Well, my dad said....."

Hey....Is your dad coaching this team?  NO?  I didn't think so....You do it my way. Grrr.....

If/when you have to chew on a girl there is a high probability that she'll be upset with you but will still bust her ass and do what she's told.  It amazes me at times how a girl can be mad or crying and still be focused on the task at hand.

With boys, there's a 50/50 chance that he's going to try blow you off and then continue to do things his way.  Over the the years I can say with supreme confidence that the number of ass chewings at a boys practice/games has far exceeded that of girls.  Boys can be really stubborn.

So if I had to choose between coaching boys baseball and girls softball I will take the girls.  (Actually, if I could get away with it, I 'd coach both)

You can lead a horse to water....
Every coach that has coached in the rec leagues has dealt with it -- having that one kid on the team that just.....doesn' be......there.....

This is the kid who has no real interest in playing; he/she is only there because his parents made him/her go out.  (No, the glove goes on the other hand....)

Now I don't fault the parents' logic at all.  There are parents who want their kids to at least try different things and there are those parents who are kicking their kids out of the house just to keep them away from the video game console for at least a few hours a day.  I get it and I'm totally ok with it.

The problem is that a kid who doesn't want to play can be a major distraction to the kids who do.

If this kid is playing in the dirt, then chances are good that the two kids next to him are also playing in the dirt.  If he is horsing around in the dugout and playing with the water cooler, then there is a good chance that a water fight will break out.

If this kid starts climbing the fence.....

If this kid starts singing and dancing....

If this kid tries to bring food into the dugout.....

If this kid wanders out of the dugout in the middle of a game to go to the bathroom.....

It's very tiresome dealing with the kid who doesn't want to be there.  You spend a good portion of your practice trying to keep him/her under control so that you can at least hope to accomplish half the things that you had on your agenda for that day.

And if he happens to have a buddy that he can bond with.........Shit.....

I used to get so frustrated that I just barely manage to be understanding of this kid's plight.  Every time I'm on the verge of blowing a gasket, I think of how I would act if I had to be somewhere that I didn't want to be --- which would be just about every kind of non-family social gathering that I can think of.

Sigh.....I understand're driving me nuts, but I understand.

Eventually you have to play the kid who doesn't want to be there; which usually leads to cursing and drinking copious amounts of alcohol afterwards.

And why is it that it never fails?  ---- The one position you put this kid in is exactly where the other team starts hitting the ball.

One of two things usually happen when a ball is hit to the kid who doesn't want to play.  He either misses it entirely and then stands there watching the ball roll away assuming that someone else will get it or; two, he will catch the ball and hold it because he didn't pay enough attention in practice to know what to do.

"Throw it......THROW IT!!!!!   OH MY GOD, PEEL IT AND EAT IT!!!!  DO SOMETHING!!!

Ugh....excuse me....I'm going to get antacid....

But I have to admit that I did get a good laugh out of one of these kids.  (yes, I've had more than one in my time as coach)

In a coach pitch game, a young boy stepped into the batter's box.  Mom signed him up for dance, which he liked.  Dad signed him up for baseball -- not so much.  But he was a really good kid despite the fact that he nearly gave me a coronary.

"Are you ready?"  I asked

The boy nodded that he was ready to hit.....I didn't really believe him but I went ahead and threw the ball anyway.

The boy took a mighty cut.....missed.....and then did a pirouette in the batters box.

Did I really just see that?

Had I thought of it sooner I would have tried to locate his dad in the stands.  I bet the look on his face was priceless.

Communication, communication, communication.....
It's very important that you make sure that your kids understand the baseball terminology that you will be using both in practice and in games.

For instance, with very young players, you must make sure that they understand that there is no fourth base.

When a smiling, laughing youngster is running towards third, oversized helmet making him look like a bobble head,  and you yell while jumping up and down "GO HOME" --- that poor, uninformed kid may take you quite literally.

Believe me, nothing can take the wind out of your sails faster than seeing a kid go from laughing to crying in two seconds.  The distraught kid ran past the coach, out of the dugout, and into his dad's arms.

"Son, what's wrong?"


Thank God that didn't happen to me.  I just happened to be watching the game when the incident occurred.

On a more serious note...

I don't yell....period.  I may get very stern at times, I may raise my voice, I may holler when a player out in the field or on the base paths can't hear me.......... but I NEVER yell.

I used to love basketball.  So much so that for an entire summer, I shot baskets at least three hours a day, every day.  I remember my grandparents driving up to the school late at night to tell me it was time to go home.  I ate, drank, and slept basketball.

I was a small kid, so the lack of muscle meant that I wasn't very accurate from three, but anything inside the arc I could bury with frightening consistency......

But no one got to see it in a game because I was afraid to shoot.

My coach at that time was someone I like to refer to as a Bobby Knight disciple; a yeller and a screamer.  I went from eighth grade up to half way into my junior year taking one ass chewing after another.  I'd been kicked out of practice and nearly quit my sophomore year.

But when I got pinned up against a wall with his red face inches away from mine......That was it.

My overall basketball experience was so negative that I not only quit playing basketball, I quit playing baseball too.  I had no desire to put on a uniform, any uniform, ever again.  It took Toby at four years old buying his own batting helmet and telling me he wanted to play to get me back into taking an active role in the game.  I still enjoyed watching baseball -- especially my beloved Cubs -- but before Toby I had no desire to be anything more than a spectator.

And basketball?  I don't watch it.....I don't want to watch it.  Up until now I have never really said anything about how I truly feel about basketball.  Being in the middle of Jayhawk country and saying that you don't watch basketball is considered blasphemy.'s out in the open now.....No going back.

I did try getting back on the horse a couple of years after I got out of high school....But it wasn't the same.  I just didn't love the game anymore.

In retrospect, I'm not about to pin all the blame on my coach and absolve myself of any wrong doing.  I was lazy and could have worked harder.  I could have played smarter.  I could have been tougher.

But....I wasn't.

It took several years before I really learned the lesson that having a hot headed coach taught me.  That lesson is that there is really no need to act that way.  Would you scream like that at a co-worker? Would you pin your co-worker up against a wall while your chewing on them? Is that behavior acceptable in the work place? In school? In public?

No.....It isn't.  Then why is it acceptable in sports?

The one thing I consistently preach to my players is that as long as you give me your best effort and best attitude then you will NEVER have to worry about mistakes.  Mistakes are just part of the game and you should never play being afraid to make one.

Effort and Attitude...Give me the best of both and all is right with the world.

More than anything I want those that play for me to give everything they have because they love playing for me --- not because they fear me.

I don't like what happened to me.....But I think, in the end, it has made me a better coach.  And for that, I am thankful.

What just happened????
I never played football as a kid.  My mom flat out told me that she was not going to take care of me when I broke my neck.....So there you have it.

When I was asked to help coach Toby's football team I accepted because I honestly thought I would just be a glorified water boy.  Grab the cones, hold the blocking dummy, hike the ball for the quarterback --- you know, peon stuff.

Then I was told that I had cornerbacks and receivers.  Uh, what?

The best way that I can describe the word "Panic" is being a football neophyte who is staying up late at night pouring over youtube videos and trying to figure out just what in the hell he's going to do for his individual session of practice.

More than once during the course of that first year one of my players would ask why and I would respond, "Shit, I don't know."

I felt as if I was walking blindfolded through a mine field and after that first year I just knew that I would be replaced by someone who actually knew what in the hell he was doing.

But that day didn't come the next year, or the next, or the next after that.  I continued to learn, albeit very slowly.  I became more aware of the chess match that is football.  I began to enjoy it a lot more.

Granted, there were still times when one of the other coaches would be talking tactics and I would be thinking to myself "Is that Greek?"  "What is he saying?"  "Can he see the blank look on my face?"

But now, as Toby plays for his high school team I suddenly find myself watching individuals players, taking note of their foot work, how well they see the field, their pursuit angles, their discipline.  Six years later the game looks very different to me....It's not just twenty two bodies crashing into each other, it actually makes sense now.  I'm still lost trying to keep track of what's going on in the trenches, but the other positions I keep up with really well.

In the end, I'm still not a very good football coach, but I am a much more knowledgable fan.  And that makes all those years of walking the sidelines worth it.  It also helps that you become good friends with the other coaches.  I will always cherish the time I got to walk the sidelines with them.

So with Toby in high school and Tera getting older, I know that I don't have that many years of coaching left.  But it's been a great run up to this point, and I hope to keep learning as long as I'm still in the game.

And when I finally hang it up, if the rest of my coaching days are comparable to days past, then I will walk away satisfied.

But until then......LET'S PLAY BALL!!!!