Friday, February 6, 2015

Sport

Public Domain Photo
Well, yes I do like those.

But that's not what this post is about.

Little League baseball, May 2009 by Ed Yourdon (CC)
Yes, that kind of sport. The kind played on a field with a ball of some sort. (No wise cracks about deflated footballs from the cheap seats. Thank you.)

When I was nobbut a wee lad, my Dad taught me how to throw a baseball. Which I picked up rather quickly, though accuracy wasn't necessarily my strong suit. (Odds were I would never be a pitcher.) Learning to catch the ball took a little longer. And yes, it was Dad that got yelled at when I missed one catch which just so happened to go through the window in the back door to the house. For some strange reason Mom did not find it amusing to have a baseball flying into the kitchen while she was in the midst of preparing dinner.

Yes, Dad did give me an earful for getting him in trouble with Mom. Fortunately for both of us (and the other windows along the back of the house) I missed no more catches that day.

Eventually I was signed up for Little League, though I don't think we called it that nor was it part of some grand national organization. But I look back on it as "Little League." (Well it was a league and we were all little.)

 Now Mom and Dad, not being native to our town in Vermont, were considered to be newcomers to the town and which made me an "outsider" as well. Though I myself had been living there since my folks brought me home from the hospital, I was actually born in the next town south of where we lived. So technically speaking I had not lived there my "entire" life.

Then, as now,  in some of these small New England towns it seems to be considered praiseworthy to have lived in the same place all one's life. As if the lack of desire to get out and see the world is somehow an accomplishment. I suppose that in these days of high unemployment being able to remain in one's hometown (provided one actually has a job) is, perhaps an accomplishment. Though truth be told, it's not really a big deal.

But back then my family was not well known in the town's social circles. So when I went out for baseball, I was one of the kids who always got the uniforms that didn't fit very well and usually got an entire inning in right field. Just the one inning mind you, for the rules mandated that "everyone gets to play at least one inning." For that's how things worked in those days of yore.

Things were a bit different for the kids whose family had been there since the last Ice Age.

"Oh, aren't you Chuck's kid? Yes, yes I thought that was you, Why your Dad was a great pitcher, he and I went to high school together. Of course you can have number seven! Of course you get to pitch and play most of the game."

I perhaps exaggerate, but not by much.

It went that way until one day one of the kids whose family had been there since the 1700s was sick and couldn't play. Reluctantly the coach put me in at second base. Where I performed well enough that when the other kid got better, he got put in the outfield. Second base was now mine. Pleased I was. I felt that somehow I had "arrived."

In high school I played football. I thought I was pretty good at the time but didn't get to play nearly enough as I felt I should (in my own teenage, hormone-addled brain). Truth be told I had developed something of a problem with authority. Truth be told there was some reliable evidence to indicate that I had rather a lot of cement between my ears as opposed to brains.

I did learn to "play nice with others" (eventually) and had fun playing football.

Fun?

Yes, fun. My philosophy in life can best be summed up by "if it's not necessary for survival and you're not enjoying it... Why are you doing it?"

When, later in life, I became a youth coach I had two goals as a coach:

  1. Make sure the kids learn something, every practice, every game and
  2. Have fun.
You could tell when a kid was not having fun. Those who were there because their parents made them be there (it'll be good for you, they said...) were the hardest to get to "have fun." But if you got them involved enough, perhaps gave them a little extra attention, then they would start to have fun. I remember one little guy in particular.

His parents wanted him there. He most assuredly did not want to be there.

He had no interest in the sport and his mother was a huge pain in my rather substantial derrière.

"Why isn't Timmy playing?"

"Uh, where is he?"

"Oh, he's down at the other end of the field. Picking daisies I think. You should go down there and get him and put him in the game."

"Ma'am, if your son wants to get into the game, he needs to stay here on the bench where I can find him. I have fifteen other kids to manage and they all stay here on the bench or are out on the field."

"Well, put him in at the start of the game then."

"Ma'am, Timmy doesn't like to practice. He doesn't pay attention and he's just not motivated. The other fifteen are. So you're saying that I should bench one of the kids who wants to be here so that a child who does not can play?"

"Well, why not?"

Sigh...

"Coach, I don't like your attitude..."

Timmy's Dad to the rescue: "Come on honey, stop bothering the coach."

Fortunately I only had that one parent.

Eventually I got Timmy to pay attention and he got pretty good. His Dad was a big help there. He asked me how he could help, seems he was a flyer who had been gone a lot in recent days. Now he was home for (hopefully) the rest of the season.

"Two things Sir. At home, kick the ball around with him. Tell him that I thought he needed more practice and that Dad's are the best coaches."

"What's the other thing Coach?"

"Um, well I, you see..."

"What if I made sure that my wife stops bugging you on the sideline?"

"Well, that would be super."

We came to an understanding. It wasn't that Timmy didn't like sports, he was just kind of bummed out that Dad was too busy to take an interest in what he was doing. Once Dad got to be around and took a greater interest, Timmy started to have fun.

Some people think that winning requires you to be serious and gruff as a coach. Not at all, teach the kids the mechanics and the rules and make it fun.

You know, make it a game. Sports are supposed to be fun.

Not everyone can grow up and become a professional athlete, in fact only a very tiny percentage have that opportunity. And while they may make a ton of money, I wonder how many of them actually have fun?

I mean the kind of fun that a little kid has when they're doing something that they really enjoy.

I really wonder sometimes...

22 comments:

  1. I'm sure that some of them have fun, but when it comes down to it, it's a business and with players trying to get every cent they can out of contracts, holding out to get more, the leage players getting collective bargaining, celebrity athletes, and the like- it's no longer just a game, but a hard-core business.

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    1. Which is one of the reasons I pretty much stopped watching baseball. For the "it's a business" reason I also watched way less football this year than I used to. Well, that and most of the announcers really suck. I tried turning the sound down but I missed the crowd noise.

      Yup, if it's a business, I'll take mine elsewhere.

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  2. We had unorganized pick-up games which were pure fun. No parents, not planned, just happened. Little league was fun too, and there were uniforms, which was cool, and learning fundamentals and strategies. Good useful stuff, but it came at the price of some of the fun. Like energy and thermodynamics in a way. Fun powers the system, including the organization, so the more organization the less experiential fun. Second law of kidfundynamics.

    My mom was washing dishes one sunday morning when my Meadowlark Lemon Skyhook missed the hoop by a good 30 feet and crashed through the window over the kitchen sink. That sucked a lot of fun out of the system.

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    1. You get 100 Shrute Bucks for the explanation of the Second Law of Kidfundynamics and the visual image of your Meadowlark Lemon Skyhook going through the kitchen window. (Gave me a good laugh on a day I sorely needed one.)

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  3. Every youth team has at least one of those parents and one of those kids. It is why I only coached two seasons and then only volunteered as an assistant. My favorite experience in youth sports was winning an occasional championship, my own kids successes and the kid who always had a big smile but could not hit, catch, or throw making the championship game winning catch out in right field. You have never seen a bigger longer lasting ear to ear grin on a face in your life.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean Joe.

      I had a kid in soccer who had two left feet and was perhaps the clumsiest ten-year old I had ever seen. He was also one of the most enthusiastic kids I ever coached. In one game near the end of the season, he made a great play near the goal which won us the game. The joy of his teammates for him was special, the look on his face was even better!

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    2. That's the reward for all the headaches, and PITA's and is what keeps you coming back again next year to face those parents! Glad you got that one and hope you had a camera, they can be few and far between.

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    3. No camera, I can't show you but that little guy's face will be in my mind probably forever. Hard to forget a moment like that.

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    4. I know what you mean, much like "I came to thank you for talking me into joining the Marines." That will stay with me forever.

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    5. It's small moments like that which make this a life well lived.

      I loved that story by the way.

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  4. The little kid in the picture? Those are the most fun to watch.

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    1. They're the most fun to coach as well.

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  5. I have a grandson who we experimented on, trying to get him into sports. First sport up was baseball. Little League. Grandma and I attended as many games as we could. We finally realized that he was never gonna be a "sports guy" when at this one game late in the season he was playing first base. The shortstop snagged a grounder and fired it off toward first. My grandson was there with his back to the field, watching clouds(?) float by and he was bopped in the back of the head by the ball. That, pretty much, ended his baseball career. His younger brother had, absolutely, NO interest in sports at all. The parents were smart enough to not push here.

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    1. Sports aren't for everybody.

      Of my three grandkids (all under 7) they all seem active but the only one I know for certain who will be into sports is the oldest granddaughter, she already loves golf!

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  6. PS: I was never a sports guy either . . . much to the dismay of my Dad. I was a musician. AND I just finished telling him that if I'd played football, instead of drums, then I would be shit-out-of-luck today because I'm too old to play football but I can still play drums.

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    1. Playing an instrument is also easier on the various body parts.

      Knees are shot and I didn't get that from playing the guitar!

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  7. Thanks for stepping up and coaching, THAT is one of the most underappreciated things one can do.

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    1. But it was grand to have had the opportunity. The kids made it all worthwhile.

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  8. My favorite part of the Super Bowl, from an emotional standpoint, was the shot of Brady jumping up and down on the sidelines like a ten-year-old when Malcolm Butler made his interception. That wasn't about money or legacy or anything other than the pure joy of seeing a teammate make the winning play. Wonderful stuff.

    As a coach for many fast-pitch softball teams over the years, and knowing every other coach I've competed against, I can definitely say that coaches are a breed apart. This is especially true of the amateur coaches, who get nothing from the deal except the joy of having done the job to the best of their abilities and maybe transmitted their love of the game sufficiently to one or two others who will, in future, become coaches themselves.

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    1. That was a favorite for me as well Suldog. I think Tom is one of those guys who still plays for the enjoyment of the game.

      Good point too on amateur coaches.

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  9. Stuttgart is where the Ritter Sport chocolate is made. I was at Patch Barracks for a while, I think I was the only enlisted person there.

    Parents were the downfall of my little league coaching.

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    1. I have a couple of sources locally for those delicious Ritter Sport bars. So I do indulge from time to time.

      Some Little League parents are absolutely horrid, they spoil it for those who are not.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)