I have been given many blessings and countless opportunities in my life. One of the greatest has been the chance to impact the lives of many children in the area through coaching recreation league sports, such as football, basketball and baseball. It is a great responsibility to be entrusted with the eyes and ears of 12 or so young boys who pay attention to the things you say and the things you do. I don’t always get it right, but I try, and I let them know if I don’t get it right. This is a little bit long for a blog post, but, be patient, its worth it. If you are too impatient, you can skip right to the video.
I have found that many of the same skills that are useful, or even essential, in the practice of law – the ability to read what’s going on with someone else’s though process, to be attuned to what they need – are applicable to coaching youth sports. It seems like yesterday that I was a little league pitcher, desperately hoping to throw a strike. I remember hitting a few (and far between) key hits in little league games, and the joy. I remember the strikeouts, and the tough times. I try to place myself in the minds of the boys I coach and let them know that they have what it takes. That things will be ok.
Most of all I try to teach them life values, about respect, about teamwork, about not putting themselves first, about winning with humility, and losing with their heads looking ahead and not down. Life isn’t always a “tie” like so many want sports to be these days. There are days we are winners, and days we are losers. Hopefully, the wins in any walk of life are rewards for the efforts we put in using the lessons we learn in the losses.
Easy Wins, and Earned Wins
So far this year, I have truly seen the importance of dedication, perseverance, faith, and all the other words which describe working toward a goal or principle, even when things are not going your way. I’ve coached my son and other boys in three sports in the last year. In the fall of 2012, I along with a good friend Robert Brunson, coached a football team that never knew what it was like to lose. We were 10-0 and gave up one touchdown all year. It was a lot of fun, but something was missing. My son and his friends did not really understand adversity or the necessity of hard work – it came too easy. Basketball was much the same way. After an initial loss, a few adjustments and simply “hustling” on the court lead to a pretty easy season.
Then came little league baseball, and the reason for this post. Little league baseball is different than probably any other major sport for one real reason – you can’t win in baseball just by hustling or giving effort. There are certain mechanics that come with learning to throw a ball, to hit correctly, to bunt, much in the same way that one has to learn how to ride a bike. Coaching 8 and 9 year olds, in their first experiences in learning baseball, is a unique challenge. You have guys struggling to throw strikes, and batters having to learn to hit pitchers that don’t know how to throw strikes. You have kids who have never played sports before, and you have many different personalities of parents and kids to deal with. Football and basketball consumed about two hours a week, each, of my time. Little league baseball consists of three two hour practices a week, and two or three games that end up being a four hour commitment each. It is really time consuming for someone with an already tight schedule, and two younger children who need care and attention from dad so mom can get a much needed rest every now and then. However, its an incredible opportunity.
There is adversity in any area of life. In a law case, things can go sideways in a second. You have to deal with it and move on, and have faith that things will be ok. You have to keep your head looking forward, and not get sideways with each turn life takes.
Our little league team is the youngest team in the league, and the smallest team in the league. Coach Brunson, the boys, and myself got out there in March 2013, and it looked bleak. The kids practiced hard, but we couldn’t hit, we couldn’t throw, and we couldn’t catch (or listen, or be respectful, etc.). The kids kept coming, and became more and more eager to learn. Our first exhibition game, we played a much bigger team, and jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first inning with no outs. LIttle did i know we would not score more than one run in a game again for six games. We lost in the bottom of the last inning. I figured we would be ok. We kept on practicing, and we kept developing, but something would always go wrong. A throw here, a hit here and there, a bad call, walks, etc. We finished the exhibition season winless.
The regular season started, and we hoped for new life, but we lost our first three games. We lost the second game 11-1 but strangely told the kids we were proud of their effort. It was neat to see the team galvanize and not give up. We dropped another game in early April 2013 to drop to 0-3 in the regular season (0-6 in the players’ minds).
Rewards for Discipline and Hard Work
Finally, a breakthrough came. We pitched a no hitter, and strung together a few hits, to win 3-0.
We played again this past Tuesday, after a rainout postponed our next game. two days ago. We gave up only one hit, and we won 3-1. We have been practicing, and practicing, and they don’t complain. The parents bring the kids without complaining.
Coach Brunson has a work assignment that means he is leaving for Washington, DC in a few hours, and he will miss the rest of the season. He hates it. But he knew tonight was his last game, and you could see it in his eyes as he stood outside the dugout taking in the sights and sounds of baseball. He is someone that has been coaching baseball a lot longer than me, and someone that all the kids and I respect. We dedicated the game to him.
We played the team that beat us in the first game. The game was called after their fourth at bat because we were shutting them out 10-0. Another no hitter. This video captures the moments, filmed with my iphone while coaching, so not perfect. However, it does capture the essence of what all these words are about. Enjoy.
Lessons for Life
Now, the kids are 3-3 and who knows where the season will take them. We play again in less than 24 hours, and then we have one more week before the playoffs. In a way though, tonight was a culmination of the season. Hopefully there is a championship to be won in the playoffs. For just this night though, it is absolutely remarkable to see the growth in the kids as young men, to see their leadership skills developing, and to see them realizing they do have what it takes. They all have different gifts, and they use them in playing baseball, and they will in life.
Sometimes as adults, it can be difficult to put aside the worries and responsibilities of every day life, and let yourself be a kid. Kids are not worried about anything in the moment of celebrating an accomplishment they worked so hard to get. Not one is worrying about the next game, or something more worrisome. Being a part of moments like tonight shows that we can learn as much from coaching kids as they can learn from us. Its really awesome to be able to mentor kids like that, and it does not mean that I think I know everything, only that I try to ask God to show me the way in dealing with them, and to give me the strength to teach them the right things in life.