● By Style
Illustration by John Stricker
You’ll spot them easily this month, parked near baseball fields, wrestling large overstuffed duffle bags onto sagging shoulders.
One hand will be gripping a bucket of balls, the other a clipboard crammed with disorganized sheets of papers. If you’re brave, take a glance inside their vehicles. Whether they coach little league, T-ball or upper division girls fast-pitch, you’ll see a cacophony of bats, gloves, hats, empty boxes, hitting tees, practice nets, water bottles, old line-up cards, maybe a pitching machine or an L-screen, and burger wrappers from hastily-grabbed meals...it’ll look like they’re auditioning for a special “youth coaches” episode of Hoarders.
They’re the first to the field, the last to leave and while out there, they’re not just a coach, but also a teacher, counselor, drill sergeant, groundskeeper, mentor, friend, judge, disciplinarian, janitor, medic, game-show host, and occasionally a taxi if somebody forgot to pick up a child. This isn’t their job. They aren’t getting paid. Most don’t have any more free time than you do. They find the time. They carve it from their lives, wrenching it away from the office, the shop, not to mention their wives, husbands and other kids. From March through mid-June, weekends are for games, not getaways. Mentally, the season will likely consume them: on off-days they’re thinking about the next practice, the next game, who’s got the hot bat, the hot arm, and how they’re going to help that one little guy not be afraid at the plate.
Away from the field they can be a little boring because all they want to talk about is their team, other teams, games, strategy and last weekend’s two-run double from the spunky girl whose mom works two jobs but still manages to get her to practice on time. They’re not experts. High school ball is as far as most of them ever played – some, not even that. A few excel, possessing just the right amount of knowledge, communication skills and charisma to pull off managing kids, games, and – often the most difficult component – parents. Others are hamstrung by disorganization, lack of knowledge or an inability to communicate. Still others are too intense, at risk of suffering an embolism every time an infielder boots a grounder. The vast majority are somewhere in between.
They’re out there for a variety of reasons. Yes, you have the occasional dad who has taken it upon himself to personally oversee every aspect of his future major-leaguer’s budding career, even though he’s only seven and still easily distracted by butterflies, clouds and forgetting to use the bathroom before the game. Or the guy whose entire self-worth is apparently based on whether or not he can 10-run your team by the third inning. But most are out there because they understand the importance of stepping up, that the machine doesn’t work if nobody volunteers. All of them will tell you it’s a way to spend more time with their child.
Winning is nice, especially the older they get. But still, at these young ages, a successful season isn’t necessarily measured by wins; it’s gauged on whether the players learned a little more about playing a marvelous game, and whether they leave the field talking about playing again. If the answer to both is yes, then the coach will have done their job.
So cut ‘em some slack, and if your son or daughter plays, keep in mind it’s a lot easier to coach from the bleachers than the dugout. No doubt speak up if you have concerns, but don’t do it in a way that embarrasses the coach, or your kid. And at any time, feel free to ask if you can help with that duffle bag.
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