You may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately. Well, there is a very good reason for that. No, it wasn’t at the request of my many, many critics. I was simply too busy coaching youth sports.
I have two children. My son is ten and my daughter is eight. Being a good father and a sports fanatic, I coach every team that they are on. It is incredibly time-consuming, but it is the most rewarding thing that I can imagine doing with my time.
I am no expert (although I play one on this website), but I played the four major sports growing up and I know enough to be able to teach the basics to kids. I actually find teaching kids much easier than trying to teach some of my harshest critics about the basics of sports. At least the kids have an open mind.
Anyway, my kids play in basketball, baseball and softball leagues regularly now. I normally volunteer as an assistant coach for all of their teams because I don’t want to play favorites and the overlapping schedules make head coaching both of their teams during the same season impossible.
Their baseball and softball seasons just ended last week, so I will have time once again to regularly share my unique views on the world of sports with all of you. My son’s team won the championship (due solely to my incredible bench coaching I’m sure) and I have a big trophy to show for it. While my daughter’s softball league doesn’t have playoffs for her age group, I was actually talked into being the head coach of her team. Apparently not enough parents wanted the responsibility.
This was my first time being a head coach, so it was something entirely new for me. Sure I had coached all of their teams for years, but I was never the one who called all of the shots. Luckily for me I had a few of the parents volunteer their time in order to help me coach the girls.
This softball team was six, seven and eight-year-old girls, so we weren’t so much coaching them, as teaching them the very basics of the game of softball. Half of the team never even played softball before, so we were starting from scratch.
Glove on your hand. Are you sure you throw right-handed? Mom is she really right-handed? Hold the bat like this. Hands together. Line up your “knocking knuckles”. Dig in your back foot like you’re squashing a bug. Watch the ball. No, THIS ball. Level swing. Ball in the sky, fingers up high. Ball on the ground, fingers point down. (Think about the fingers of the softball glove and you’ll get it) Can you please get up and stop playing in the dirt and pay attention to the batter. Yes, I know that dandelion is pretty, but the batter is over here. Throw the ball to first base. That’s first base over there.
It was frustrating, but it was also incredible.
At our first practice I was worried that some of the girls on our team would get hurt. Some didn’t know how to play at all. Heck, I was worried I wouldn’t get some of them to ever talk. Come to think of it, I don’t think one of the girls on the team ever did more than smile and nod at me.
But then a funny thing happened in spite of the fact that it rained so much this Spring that I could see Noah’s Ark floating by. The girls got it.
We missed a few practices due to the rain, but a few games into the season, the girls on our softball team started to understand the basics of the game. You could see that they were figuring out how to hold the bat. How to swing. How they need to step and throw. All of this was accomplished through constant coaching, but that’s what I was there for. To teach these young minds the game of softball.
Sure we had our rough patches, like the time we played another softball league and we had a triple play pulled against us. But that wasn’t important. The important thing was that they were having fun.
What? The triple play? Oh. Well we had runners on first and second and our batter hit a lazy pop-up that simply stuck in the other team’s first baseman’s glove. Of course our players just start running any time a ball is hit without even looking. The other coach is yelling for his player to step on first base, which she does. Then he’s yelling at her to throw it to second base. While this is going on I’m on the pitchers mound (it’s coach-pitch at this age of softball) pleading with my players to run back. My own daughter was on third and I’m yelling at her to run back to second. Being her mother’s daughter she completely ignored my pleas. Then by the time she actually figured out that what I was trying to tell her to do when I was saying “run back to second base” was that I wanted her to run back to second base, it was too late. The player that caught the ball had already run to second base to complete the unassisted triple play.
I was frustrated when I walked off the field, but then one of my assistant coaches put it all in perspective. He said, “Well, I guess we never went over avoiding a triple play in practice did we?” I laughed and realized that these were just little girls having fun. Heck we don’t even keep score at this level of softball.
I gathered them on the bench before sending them back out on the field and tried to explain to them that they shouldn’t just run if a ball might be caught, but I’m not sure if most of them understood. They smiled and nodded, but who knows. They seemed happy no matter what.
And that was the most important thing in coaching these girls; that they had fun. Oh sure, I wanted to make sure that each of them learned the game and got better throughout the season. But the most important thing in my mind was that they had fun. I would ask them after every practice and game if they had fun. Unless they were lying to me, they always said yes.
Mission accomplished on the season.
Then after the season I got picked to coach one of the All-Star teams and my daughter was on my team. She’s turning out to be a darn good athlete and she hates to lose just as much as her father. We got to play on the big field under the lights and the girls names were announced before every at bat. It was amazing to see their faces light up. And this being an All-Star game, these were the best players in the league.
Sure there were a few errors, but there were also some nice plays and a whole bunch of big hits. After the game I made sure to tell the girls how proud I was of them since they earned this honor through their performance during the year. Then I made sure to ask them if they had fun. It was awesome.
Being an assistant coach on my son’s team was a little different because his level of baseball has playoffs, so everything counted. The kids were also much more accomplished athletes at nine and ten-years-old. Sure we still had to teach the basics to the younger kids and constantly remind the older kids so that they wouldn’t fall into bad habits, but this was a whole different ball game.
We had a great team because we had two pitchers who could throw fast and another kid who was accurate with a bit of speed. Then there was my son who could get the ball over the plate, but it wasn’t very fast. The thing is, at this level, throwing strikes is the most important thing. Most of the nine-year-old kids are looking for a walk every at bat, so throwing strikes is key.
My son also ended up catching for the first time ever because one of our fast pitchers was the starting catcher. When our normal catcher pitched, somebody else had to catch, but nobody wanted to do it. Heck he hurt my hand when I caught him practice. We geared up my son at the first practice and found our second catcher. I couldn’t have more proud of him.
As I said, we ended up winning the championship, but it wasn’t easy.
The playoffs are double elimination, but going into the championship game we hadn’t lost yet. That meant if we lost the game, we would get a second chance to win it all the next night. The problem with that is that there are pitch counts for the kids at this age to protect their arms.
As I said, we were a good team because we had one great, one very good and one good pitcher. And then we had my son who could throw strikes. That’s way more than any other team had at pitcher. The good, accurate pitcher couldn’t pitch in the championship game because we had used up his pitch count in the previous playoff game.
We immediately got down 3-0 in the championship game and our best pitcher had thrown the maximum 65 pitches by the end of the fourth inning. We had a decision to make. The head coach and I talked it over and he decided that we would have to save our second best pitcher, our starting catcher, in case we lost this game and needed him the next night. That meant we were sending my son out to pitch the fifth inning of a six inning game, down 3-0.
My son managed to get three easy outs in the fifth inning and gave us a chance. The other team’s pitcher used up 65 pitches in the beginning of the fifth inning and suddenly things changed.
The other team didn’t have another good pitcher left and proceeded to use four more pitchers throughout the rest of the game. If their pitchers weren’t walking our players they were serving up meatballs. We managed to tie it up in the bottom of the fifth, 3-3.
Now we had a dilemma. Do we leave my son in to pitch the last inning or pull him for the better pitcher and go “all in” this game? Ultimately we decided to let him pitch to their last batter. He struck him out. So then we decided to let him face their leadoff hitter too and see what happened. What happened wasn’t pretty.
He got the kid to ground it back to the left of the mound for and easy play, only it wasn’t so easy when it went off his glove and the kid was safe at first. The head coach decided to change pitchers, which meant our catcher and pitcher were switching positions.
The first pitch went to the backstop and then my son’s throw to second sailed into the outfield where absolutely nobody was backing up the play. The runner scored and now were trailing 4-3. The other team then proceeded to tack on two more runs to make it 6-3 going into the bottom of the last inning.
Then it happened. Our last batter walked. Our leadoff hitter grounded out but advanced the runner to second. My son walked and our third batter, our best hitter, walked to load the bases for our cleanup hitter.
If their pitcher had any control at all I might have thought they would intentionally walk our batter to get to the part of our order where most of the kids can’t hit. Fortunately for us, our batter smashed a liner into right center and didn’t stop running until he had a walk-off grand slam, giving us a 7-6 win and the championship.
That was more exciting than coaching the little girls, where we didn’t even keep score, but that didn’t make it better.
I loved coaching both teams. Yes, it was cool to run my own team, but I was lucky enough to be an assistant on a team with a head coach who asked for my opinions and trusted me to work independently with the players. Both experiences were incredibly rewarding.
Next up is fall softball and fall baseball. I get a whole six weeks off before that starts up and I will be an assistant coach on both of those teams as usual. Then back to basketball. And the cycle continues.
I treasure every minute I get to spend on a ball field or court coaching my kids along with all the other kids. I can’t imagine spending my time doing anything else. Yes, I love writing, but that doesn’t come close to the feeling I get working with these kids and sharing my love of sports.
I’ve been called a lot of unflattering things in my day, but it’s nice to know that I’m doing something right when I get called “Coach Bob”.