I grew up playing and enjoying hockey, football, basketball, and baseball, but I was fascinated by and absorbed with baseball. I studied how to throw different pitches, read all I could on the history of the game and its many colorful characters, poured over strategies and the rules of the game, and spent countless hours throwing balls off the back of our garage. When my dad came home from work, he’d hit me grounders and fly balls before and after dinner until dark. The game came naturally to me and I have always loved it.
I’ve coached Riley’s baseball teams for 5 of the last 7 years. I love sharing with him the many details of the game and all its particular pleasures. He loves to go outside and play catch, for me to hit him grounders and fly balls, and to talk with me about different pitches and strategies. It’s great to see him embrace the game and for me to relive so many memories summer after summer is such a delight.
I’ve enjoyed coaching and have been struck by many things, but I’ve realized lately how much these kids need encouragement. They see perfectly executed plays when they watch professionals play on television. All it takes to turn a double play on the video game is a few flicks of the controller with their fingers. Seeing such perfection on screens magnifies their failures in a live game. Ground balls go through legs, throws to first base sail wide of the mark, strikeouts are frequent. Failure is reinforced by shouts coming from the dugout and the stands. And some of these kids are just not very athletic.
But a few of them get so down on themselves and take failure so badly. Good coaches know how to give instruction in a way that isn’t demeaning. It’s one thing to pull a kid aside and help them see what they did wrong and how it ought to have been done. But it takes special skill to do this in a way that doesn’t crush his spirit, but empowers him to keep at it.