The Eye In Team

6 04 2015

baseballWhen I was nine years old, I spent an entire summer visiting relatives in Colorado. It was there I first played in an organized sport… baseball, on a team sponsored by the Market Time Drug Store in Trinidad, CO. My memories are very vivid… the grey flannel uniform, maroon stirrup socks, and the green wooden dugouts on the fields. I also remember clearly that I was a terrible baseball player. I could throw and catch okay, but the bat was a useless piece of equipment in my small hands. I’m pretty sure that I did not hit the ball once that season – in practice or in games. But I do remember the experience fondly, and not just because of the cool uniform. Even though I was not a good player, the coaches encouraged me and always made me feel good about my place on the team.

The next summer I played at home, and the results weren’t much different. I was a little better – I actually swung the bat! I remember the last game of the season when I got my first hit… a single between short and third. My coach, Mr. Wallace, awarded me a game ball. I’m pretty sure each member of the team got a ball by the end of the season, but so what! It was the best day…

I kept playing, and thanks to some great coaches I ended up being a pretty solid ball player. Over six years, I was fortunate to play every position on the field at least once. I got to play in a couple all-star games, played travel baseball (not very prevalent in those days), and had one really fun championship season.

Club sports pretty much ended when you went high school, and I knew I wasn’t good enough to continue to my “career” at the next level. I vividly recall my last organized baseball game in July of 1974… a playoff loss at some far away field. It was a weird, sad feeling. Later, I played some organized sports in various leagues – foot and roller hockey, softball, etc. But those experiences lacked the structure, color and richness of my memories of youth baseball.

Fast forward twenty-five years or so, and I am watching my son’s first t-ball game. I was particularly proud seeing him in his t-shirt and cap, knowing that he could be beginning a great experience. I was right… for a few years he played baseball, basketball and soccer. I was so happy to pitch in and help out with coaching. I think I wanted to be involved because I recalled the positive experiences I had as a boy.

Ryan-Judge 001When my son was about nine years old, he decided that he only wanted to play soccer… and I jumped into it with both feet (PUN!). It was great for both of us, mostly because we learned and fell in love with the game at the same time. He played through high school, and even worked as a referee for a few years. All in all, mission accomplished. He had a very positive experience.

I’ve been a coach and administrator for youth sports for over twenty years now. I have been privileged to learn from, and coach with, some great people. I’ve met some fantastic kids and watched some of them reach some fantastic heights – high school state championships and college scholarships.

I always tried to remember how my coaches taught me. Though the sports may be different, the principles for succeeding are the same – teamwork, respect, and fair play. Lessons that seem to be lost on a lot of parents these days…

Perspective lacks with some people.  I’ve seen some crazy behavior from parents at practices and games. I have way too many stories of adults applying too much pressure on their kids, or berating their performances after games. And I’ve seen dozens of talented young athletes lose interest in playing because of overbearing parents.

There is a value for kids playing team sports that cannot be quantified. The simple act of working together to achieve a goal is invaluable experience to have later in life. Equally valuable are the lessons learned from not achieving that goal. Coaches – and parents – need to realize that the real goal is a positive, fun learning experience for the kids.

I coached one soccer team for eleven years – from U-9 to U-19. Over the years, that added up to fifty players, give or take. Between the teams we played frequently and the high school and tournament games, I estimate that I’ve known and/or observed over five hundred players in that time… maybe more. For some perspective, that group produced a handful of Division 1 college players, and one professional player.

But that same group contains a bunch of fantastic young men and women right now, whose future successes won’t be measured by the results of a game. It will be in a bank, or a hospital, or a police station, or… wherever. I wonder if they will realize that some part of that success can be credited to lessons learned years ago. As a kid playing on a team.

And I hope that one day, they will pass it along.

This post is dedicated to some of my coaches: Jim Wallace, Joe Hall, Frank Velucci, Jerry Dittmar, Bill Dolhansky, Mike McGuire, Joe Johns, and Harry Hampson. Many, many thanks!

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Coach Johns (Standing Left), Coach Hampson (Standing Right), Author (Seated, Second from Right)