I was passing the soccer fields the other day and daydreamed back to the days when Eden Christian Academy was looking for coaches for the youth soccer program. My son Jack was involved and I volunteered because they were desperate for bodies. I didn’t know a thing about soccer but at that age, if I could get some kind of organization among the kids, get them some exercise, and keep them from just huddling around a moving ball, I was ahead of the game. We organized practices and the games were usually Saturday morning which was always an anticipated time around our house. Jack was a big kid for his age and he was able to handle the ball and score goals at will. It was co-ed soccer, so sometimes the smaller female players ran into Jack and became somewhat of a pinball as they bounced off him and onto the ground with tears ensuing. But all was well until he grew a little older and my usefullness as a coach was outlived. He became part of the school program and youth soccer was in the rear view mirror. My last season as coach, I had them line up in a wall when the other team had the ball and when our team got possession, I told them to shoot it no matter where they were. “You can’t score if you don’t shoot. Pretend Bin Laden is in the goal.” That didn’t go well with the academy faculty and it was time for me to move on and let the school coaches take over.
Baseball was another experience. My friend Dave Blahnik called me and asked if Jack was interested in playing baseball. Would I be interested in coaching with him? Dave wanted to know if I had any experience with baseball because he knew I was kind of an outdoors guy. I told him proudly that I played minor league, little league, and pony league all as a catcher. I was a little chunky as a youngster and it was good for me to put on the “tools of ignorance” as my dad would say and get behind the plate where all the action was. So, I had experience being knocked into the chain link fences by the bigger kids trying to steal home, getting foul tips in the face, throwing kids out at second base, and being the receiver of some pretty fast adolescent pitches. So there I was coaching third base as the games for the McCandless Athletic Association began. I had this habit of waving runners through third base only to be thrown out at home. Dave would look at me with dismay and ask why I would ever wave them on when there was no chance that they would be safe? I said, ” Dave- the fun is to see if maybe they could make it and the thrill on their faces was worth the chance that maybe, just maybe, they would score a run.” In most instances, they were thrown out and I was surely the turnip to the parents in the stands. But, I loved the moment of wildly waving them on with my smiling face and their smiling face as they raced for home only to be defeated at the tag at home plate. Dave replaced me at third and I ended up at first base where I did the same thing with the kids trying to steal second base. Thrown out again and again, my timing was off in my coaching and Dave finally said for me to be the dugout manager and make sure the kids got their turn at bat. An inauspicious ending to my baseball coaching career but nonetheless rewarding.
Chuck Noll, the Super Bowl winning coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, had many famous quotes, but the one that struck home to me was when he referred to the process of the game. He said that,” the thrill isn’t the winning, its the doing.” This was my mantra for youth sports. I wanted the kids to have fun. I was not really interested in the score as much as the process of learning the fundamentals of the game, improving from week to week, and having some success in the process. The kids would have plenty of chances to be competitive in the years to come as was the case with my Jack. But at the youth level, I made it known that although I had limited experience in team sports, I had a passion to work with the kids and make sure that they had fun- first and foremost.
Right before my mom passed away, I was talking to her about coaching baseball and she asked me,” What do you know about baseball? Did you ever play?” It dawned on me that she never saw me play because she only had interest in watching my swimming meets as a kid because she was at the pool anyhow. Baseball games were not her gig and when I showed her my old pictures, she was amazed. The field was right across the street from where I lived but mom never made the trek to see her fat little Patrick behind the plate. We all had a good laugh but those days honed my interest in coaching at the youth level. As the kids got older, I was out of my league and faded to the stands as a spectator. But the memories of the smiling faces, the lessons learned, and the skill improvement, will always bring a smile to my face. ” What was the score,Pat?” ” I don’t know, I am just the coach.” Thanks for reading.