People who have near death experiences all talk about a peaceful, euphoric , bright light enveloping them. From the moment we are conceived, we are moving towards that light. This is my heels diggin' in, I don't wanna' go, reluctant journey, into the light. Stephen

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How To Succeed Coaching T-Ball

"the future of our youth,  depends on us all."     stephen

I miss coaching T-Ball badly.  The gullible innocence.  Little lumps of pure joy, entrusted to me.  Me, given the opportunity to introduce these lovable kindergartners to the slice of  Americana called team sports. Being the biggest kid on the block, I was a natural fit for the job.  I had already been volunteering in our little school's kindergarten and 1st grade classes. Think storytelling, and play directing, and being the smartest 7 year old in the whole dang school. That was me.  So I signed up to coach.

At the initial coaches meeting, I remember a pretty Gung Ho dude up there talking about developing their skill levels, about past league championships of older kids, about his own "Uncle Rico" moments of past glory. A loser, talking about winning.

Not ONE time did I hear the word fun. He was totally clueless about the subject matter. Five and six year olds. That guy had never once been hijacked when dropping his kid off at school by the kindergarten  teacher with these words: "Could you please come tell them a story?  Barbara is home sick and I have a meeting with the principal.  PLEASE."  Off the cuff, 15 or so enthralled 5 year olds, hanging on your every made up word.  Words like:  spinnerooski,  or holymacaronidoodlepopper.  I had been making up and telling stories to my boys at bedtime for years.  I was good at it.  Coaching T-Ball was an extension of that.

I decided that T-Ball was going to be fun. For the kids, the coach, and the parents.  And I knew all the mothers would love me. I was right. 

When you go pick up that equipment bag it kinda starts setting in.  You have to arrange practices, teach, entertain, sooth ruffled mother feathers, make phone calls, calm Johnnie Hardball fathers down, chart the weather, on and on.  There is no turning back. First practice is on Tuesday, at 4:00 p.m.  First thing I did was get down on my knees so I was at their height. Eye to eye. And eye to some running snot noses as well.  I went over the rules.

1.  When the coach yells "SMILE,"  you have to smile at somebody until the coach says "OK."

2.  No swinging bats without looking around first so nobody gets conkerized.

3. You must "high five" every teamate at least once during every practice or game.

That was it.  Three rules.  Plus one reminder:  The coach likes hugs. By the end of the season, due to some bear-trap huggin', tittie rubbin' mothers, I was rethinking that reminder.  Seriously, when you fall in love with little Johnnie, or Susie, just like they were your own kids, a few Moms, especially the single ones, push the limits a little. I was immune to their affections, I was there for the kids.

Just imagine for a moment, little mothers dropping their precious pearls off at school for the first few times. Hovering hens, clucking, proudly sheparding the little chicks into the coop of higher learning.  Their children ARE their life. It's all they talk about, all they think about.  Just the way God designed it. And the little chicks don't venture too far without checking with Mom first.  A mutually beneficial arrangement.  I decided to use that dynamic.

 For instance:  The uniform t-shirts were numbered. In order.  Alot of stuff with kids that age is getting them to "organize themselves."  Who is going to bat first?  I had all the kids turn and face the "much too close to the field" lawn chairs right behind the bench,  occupied by a gaggle of overseeing cluckers, and do funny faces.

  You know, fingers in ears, pulling the corners of your mouth back, looking cross-eyed, etc.    Funny Faces.  The adoring hens in the lawn chairs decided amongst themselves each game who had the funniest face. Funniest face bats first.  Everybody else line up in numerical order behind this week's big winner. Fun and a mathematics organizational lesson to boot.

 And, then the kids and I would have this secret huddle, and decide which Mom had the funniest something.  Shoes this time, sunglasses next time, and so on.  The winning Mom was our "Head Cheerleader" for that game.  The kids looked forward  to the funny faces and funny Moms more than the baseball. Kids like fun.   Meanwhile, they were outside, having some of that fun, with friends, getting exercise, belonging to a team.  I was a super-hero to the Moms for that one.

As to baseball skills, I stressed a couple basics.  Step and point your toe at the person you are throwing the ball to.  For throwing, I taught them the peace sign. Index, middle finger extended, other fingers closed.  I made them say "peace brother," or "peace sister,"  with the peace sign, and then put the peace sign fingers on the ball. Nothing better than a kindergartner yelling, "Hey Coach,,,,,, PEACE!"  and then chuckin' one right into the old pocket.

 Getting kids to use a baseball glove is not easy.  That whole opposable thumb thing which you use to squeeze the glove closed is not a natural action for 5  year olds sporting big clunky leather thingies on their hands.  I went the cartoon route.  I had them open and close their gloves while quacking like a duck.  QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.  I would yell "Duck Time,"  and a dozen 5 and 6 year olds would start flappin' their gloves open and closed while quackin' like mallards. When we did it during games,  the assembled mother hens from the opposition would whisper amongst themselves, "why didn't OUR coach think of that?" Ladies, it's because your coach was more worried about some possible future league championship instead of allowing kids to be kids.

  However, my favorite little player had trouble quacking his glove, and flashing a peace sign. Nathan was special.  That's his signature on the ball at the top.

Nathan had "clubbed" hands.  Birth defect.  His fingers were only 1 joint in length instead of 3 and his little  fingers were webbed.  He was the most loving adorable kid you ever saw.  His Mom was single, had other kids too, barely making it.  Dad long gone. She, like many women, sucked it up, sacrificed, and got Nathan to every single practice and game.  And this kid, never EVER quit smiling. I loved that kid.  I would have faced down an army of Satan's soldiers in his defense. And I would have beat their horned asses silly.  Nate would jam his little hand down in that glove, and grip the bat as best he could,  and from the look on his face you would have thought Ted Williams wasn't in liquid nitrogen after all.  The high point. THE high point of my coaching career involved Nate.  On a scruffy little baseball diamond in Grass Valley, California, on a beautiful spring afternoon,  prayers were answered.

You get your T-ballers playing catch at practice and before games and eventually they start to not cringe, or flinch, or jump out of the way when the ball is coming at them.  But fly balls. Forget it.  Grenades dropped from the claws of flying firebreathing dragons couldn't make them get out of the way any faster.

  McDonalds had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stuff in their happy meals at the time.  So I went and got a bunch of happy meal gift certificates and gave one to the coach's "player of the game" each week, keeping track, so at season's end everybody had gotten one.   AND.....anybody who caught a fly ball got two.  Nobody caught a fly ball all year, until the last game of the season.

  Nathan was playing shortstop when the batter undercut one and a fly ball was coming Nate's way.  His stubby little hand was stuffed in the glove, he stumbled, he bumbled.......he caught it.  The place went wild.  Every single kid on the team in a dead sprint to high five him. Mother hens crying and embracing, Sisters squealing, Fathers yelling, the coach got dirt or something  in his eye.  T-Ball Pandemonium.  Tears of justifiable pride overflowing the spillways of the heart. What a little dude!  What a moment.

I continued to coach baseball, basketball, and soccer till my boys reached middle school age. Lots of good  times,  But the memories I treasure most are T-ball times.  When innocence reigned.  When smackdaddydiddle was a real word, and you got hugged by the kids, hugged by the Moms, high fived by the Dads, and smiled all the way home.


Anonymous said...

SCOTTtheBADGER Posts: That posts makes me feel like I have been cheated, by being a batchelor.

Sandi said...

You made me cry! Thanks for sharing. KIDS are the BEST!

Jane said...

Wish my kids had had a coach like you. Beautiful story.

Marla said...

Awww... what a sweet post. Working with little kids really is the best. You sound like a great coach.

Last semester, I volunteered to read to the 2nd grades for an hour twice a week. I sometimes see the kids around town and you would think that I was a celebrity or something. It's awesome.

Marla said...

P.S.- I bet those kids still remember you. :)

Overflowing Brain said...

Stephen, this is lovely. What you did with those kids is magical. I wish that there were more adults who cared so much about the well-being and happiness of children.

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