Thursday, May 24, 2012

Confessions of a coach

Each Pirate that year got a customized baseball card. Our son's highlighted his
ability to steal bases almost at will. Stealing home became his specialty.
Baseball bits and pieces, Part II:

Pity the
coach's kid.

Whether a wunderkind or just one of the team, the child of a coach bears the added burden of always having the coach afoot.

Other kids see only what passes for the ideal coach, at least in the coach's mind: Organized, fun-loving, motivational, inspirational, supportive.

Then the other kids get go to their homes and the coach's kid sees coach behind the scenes: Disorganized, haggard, hurried, deflating and, worse, projecting frustrations onto the one member of the team who's handy.

For the kid, it's like knowing all along that the great and powerful coach is really some small person  behind the curtain pulling levers and twisting valves. Only without the fabulous going-away prizes.

So it was with our son, whom I coached six years in Little League, and helped coach three seasons in soccer (Not to mention 11 years as a den leader in Cub Scouts and scoutmaster in Boy Scouts.)

The kid got to (had to) do a lot on the ballfield …
Luckily after all those years, I didn't separate him from his love of baseball. It survived intact.

It's no small wonder, though: So many car rides in which I fumed over us being late to practice or having forgotten something, or got angry when he didn't model the cooperative behavior I wanted from all the players; I didn't communicate those expectations very well — shouldn't really have sought them in the first place — and after all, he was just a kid, just like all the other kids. Kids without coaches at home.

(It was less so for our daughter, though she probably caught some of the peripheral flak. Because her softball seasons coincided with Little League, I helped coach her team only when I could, as the assistant's assistant. She and the girls on her team early on were more interested in sophisticated chants from the dugout than in digging out grounders, and I was useless for chants.

[When our daughter began water polo, I was experienced enough — made it almost all the way through one entire practice in high school! — to know the sport is probably the most physically demanding sport going, and smart enough to know I didn't know the game; I designed artwork for the team instead, and limited my cheering to, "Go, Mo!" and "Go (whatever team Mo was playing for)!"]

Despite all the self-imposed sturm und drang, I enjoyed coaching, especially the front-row seat to see kids progress in their skills and grow in unexpected ways.

Though I understand the chronic criticism about children today getting rewarded for anything, a culture in which everyone gets a trophy so that no one loses self-esteem, I still wanted to celebrate each player for what they accomplished as players and were as people. Instead of trophies, I made tokens of celebration. I designed season-end T-shirts one year, and a couple of years created custom caricatures, including one-of-a-kind oversized baseball cards.

These are the ones I did for our son. When we were the Dodgers (Oh, how it strained us to don Dodger gear, but we sucked it up and carried on), Liam was just beginning to put his understanding and ability together. He played all around the field mostly because (poor coach's kid!) I was constantly making room for other players to try positions.

On the Pirates the next year, Liam became speedy (he'd go lean in one growth spurt, wide the next, and this was the lean season), and figured out how to take advantage of a ballfield's quirks and opponents' inconsistencies to steal his way around the bases.

Though gifts to the players, the tokens were just as much gifts to myself, reminding me (though some days my head was thicker than on others) that above all the kids come out to the park to have fun. That goes just as much for the coach's kid.

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