Epiphany: When coaching, one must show great patience… ok, lots of patience.

I have been coaching for little over a year now. The team I assist on is part of a 13/14 year old city baseball league. I got the gig when one of my coworkers (who has 2 sons on the team) discovered that I played collegiate baseball. Knowing that I wanted to coach someday, I took the offer without any pushback. Growing up, I had plenty of great mentors in my life. So you could say that I felt it necessary to pass on the knowledge I’d been given as a young adult. Sure, I wanted to kick start my career off by coaching a prominent travel team, but this experience would be good for me. Two years later, it certainly has been an experience too.

Like I said above, this team is not a travel squad. Many of the kids play because their friends are playing, or because their parents want them to stay active during the summer. Also unlike travel teams, we don’t have names like the “Reds”, the “White Sox” or the “Cubs”. Instead our team name is “Team Gold”, which is not to be confused with Team Yellow or Team Orange (which can look gold if one of the parents screws up the bleach in their laundry or something). Finally, we don’t have very many practices either. The kids play religiously during the week about every 3 days but there’s no time in between to work on the fundamentals or heaven forbid, more complicated items like pick off plays and stealing bases. You see, when you play in a city league, you have to share your field with all the other teams and age levels. Frustrating if you’re a coach but it’s nice to know that every game that year will be in the same location so you can plan accordingly.

Now, before I continue, I should mention once again that I’m not the head coach of this ragtag group. I merely act as a pitching consultant when the time calls for it. Since I have experience playing at the college level, I’m often looked to when things get really hairy. And when I say hairy, I’m referring to a situation where one of my pitchers is walking more batters than he’s getting out. Sort of a “duh” moment in baseball, but someone has to play the bad guy and pull the pitcher from the game so I guess it has to be me.

But I really can’t complain much further than that. What a great feeling it is to see one of your players actively use your teachings in a game situation. Kind of makes you feel like you’re doing something good for the world because in a time filled with screaming a-holes and Jerry Sandusky’s, you want to make the ballfield a platform for learning and having fun more so than being afraid.

And in order to effectively create that environment, it calls for something that people (even myself) tend to fall short of. I’m talking about patience, of course. And I mean lots and LOTS of patience.

I was always an above average athlete when it came to sports. I could catch on to things faster than my fellow classmates and had a good sense of what to do in any given situation. Therefore, I’d get frustrated rather easily with those who couldn’t keep up. My parents urged me to have patience and to look at it from the other player’s point of view, but when the game is on the line, you seldom have time for empathy. Now that I’m older, I see the struggles of kids who don’t have it so easy so I try to give that helping hand I didn’t always have in my younger years.

And that’s where some of the biggest rewards have been for me. Seeing the expression that says “ok, I see what you’re saying and will try to do it better” is a really good feeling and dare I say it, makes me feel a little more prepared for parenthood some day. And when I say “some day”, I mean it in every sense of the word. Not right now, but some day, people. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Patience, remember? Patience….

But what ultimately comes from the patience is another tough thing to gain: respect. Yeah, you can get respect by bullying or yelling at someone to instill fear but in the long run, it doesn’t earn you any mutual trust. Creating fear only breeds more fear and chances are that if you create that fear for a child, they’ll turn around and do it to another. Yes, I did fear many of my authority figures growing up but that’s only because these guys knew what they were doing. So when they told you to do something, there was a high probability that what they were saying would work. That being said, I try to read up on what I’m teaching. Possessing knowledge on a subject gives you the upper hand in any situation and believe it or not, kids pick up on that. As do other folks who are watching.

Case in point? We recently played on a weekday and it was getting to be late in the game. My starting pitcher was getting tired so I decided to go talk to him in between one of the innings. As he warmed up, I told him to keep his shoulder closed, point his glove to the catcher and forget about aiming his throws (ok, that’s a lot but it’s something I’ve harped on since day one so it was nothing new to him). A couple throws in, he made the adjustments I had asked for. At that point, I was to be courted off the field so I asked him to let me know when he felt too tired to continue. He paused a moment and then said to me, “Yes, sir. I will.”

That’s what he said to me. What he actually was saying to me can best be translated as such: “Ok, but you’ll have to come take me out yourself because I want to win this game so don’t hesitate or else I’ll feel guilty about it later…as will you.”

Yeah, that’s what that statement actually means.

So as I was walking off the field, the umpire asked me if he were “one of mine.” I did a double take because unless I became sexually active at 12 and had an affair with my teacher (which seems more plausible these days), then there’s no way any of the players could be my own. I humbly said ‘no’ and then shared a good joke with the boy’s real father in the dugout. The funny thing though is that the ump later stated that he wondered if he were my kid because of how he seemed to listen to me. I said what a nice compliment that was and then recounted the last two years of working with said pitcher in order to get his mechanics straightened out. Last year he didn’t even want to throw. This year he’s one of our top performers. Sure, he’s done all the work in making himself better, but the fact that I was there to help push him along made the journey worth it.

And yes, the journey took some real patience. On both his part and mine. But now that this entry is over, I’m heading straight over to the bathroom to shave for the second time this morning. I may be getting older but old enough to be a teenager’s dad? Oh well, it could be worse I suppose. In what way I’m not sure right now, but I’m certain there’s gotta be something.

Comments

  1. Patience is something we grow into. It’s an important tool for thriving and well worth the practice.

  2. Kristin says:

    As a teacher or a coach !!! I’ve always become the learner!!!!!!

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