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I took a stab at coaching baseball this little league season and I saw a lot of things that amazed me, some that brought back memories, and some things that my group of guys did that was just plain silly this summer. I really loved the chance to get to educate some kids on America's past time and I look forward to coaching again next season.
Firstly, I can't believe how fast the year went. I find myself saying that more and more the older I get but it really seemed like summer never ended when I was a kid playing little league and those were the best of memories for me. Coaching a group of kids and seeing it from the other side was really a blessing and a challenge for me at the same time.
The practices at the beginning of the year were the hardest for me watching the kids struggle to catch the ball while I looked on with a smile (gritting my teeth together to keep from yelling some obscenity). Game day finally came and we weren't ready.
I've been in this place before, just not as a baseball coach. For several years now, I've helped out at an Upwards church in Fort Wayne teaching sixth thru eighth graders how to play a game of round ball. While gratifying, it does not have the same flare that teaching a kid to hit a baseball does. I think it must be something about seeing it in their eyes the split second after they hit the ball for the first time that makes it worth while. There is a moment of shock, followed by a moment of clarity when the kid realizes he's only done half of his job and decides to run to first base.
We were downright awful in our first couple games this year, I can remember. Save one or two kids, we just could not put the bat on the ball at all. I think it was our fourth game that I finally saw some improvement. It was something so simple, yet all of the boys knew it was a good omen.
Our worst player drilled a single to right field.
From that point on I don't remember feeling like we could not compete with any team in the league. The boys seemed to understand now that the bar had been set. There was an unspoken understanding between the players (well, some of them were speaking about it and I overheard) that they would not be the one to strikeout after our worst player's performance.
I found that it is a progression to coaching that you are not prepared for until you are in charge. We had focused so hard on what I thought were the basics but then in game-time situations, it all went out the window it seemed like. While I thought batting, fielding, and pitching were the key components, I realized mid-season that most everybody whose picked up a glove or bat since they were five knew how to do those things. It was the finer details that we were sketchy on.
Base-running situations, tag-ups, force plays, bunting, stealing, cut-off man, and a plethora of other details that I took for granted suddenly became really important. My left fielder held the ball after he fielded a sharply hit single because he was genuinely surprised he had it. It took him until the runner got to third to realize he needed to throw the ball in to the cut-off man.
"Why didn't you throw it?!?" I pleaded with him after the inning.
"I forgot which one was the cut-off man," he simply replied.
Of course. Such a simple answer to a simple question. In the mind of a kid, five guys waving their arms up and down may seem a little confusing.
We got better, though.
There were a couple of moments this year that I really felt like I connected with a few of the boys on my team and it brought me back to when I was 10 years old and looked up to my coaches. It seemed like no matter how prepared I was for the game, I always looked up to the coaches for advice and I tried to be like a sponge soaking up everything I could from them.
From the other side...
It doesn't seem like they hear me at all. And then they do what I said to do in a game-time situation and I know that something has broken through the walls of a fifth-graders' head full of video games, muddy shorts, and maybe a girl or two.
All-in-all, I feel like I learned a heck of a lot more from the kids than they did from me. I was glad to hear that at least a COUPLE of them wanted to be on my team again next year. I vow to be a little more seasoned in my approach knowing that it will surely be an uphill battle all season because that's what little league is about...creating the skills and not quite perfecting them yet.
And for crying out loud, if the ball gets away from the catcher on a pitch and goes to the backstop, don't look at me when you're on first base. RUN!