Thursday, March 22, 2007

89. Deserving to win is best

Coaching high school sports was a wonderful opportunity and endeavor. I coached four years of high school baseball- two years at Elyria Catholic, one year at Keystone and one year at Lake Ridge Academy. It was always a difficult arrangement, attempting to "work around work." Coaching high school baseball is a passionate that I certainly miss.

Coaches usually coach because they love the game, the kids, teaching- or all of the above. In my case, it was all of the above. I spent my youth playing and studying baseball, and I wanted to share my knowledge. I also loved being out on the ball field in the spring, interacting with the kids and stirring up my memories and competitive spirit.

Like any other occupation, there are good coaches and, unfortunately, there are bad coaches. Usually bad coaches lack knowledge, teaching ability or a pure interest in the game. However, most coaches are in it because they love it (it certainly is not because of the salary), and I always cringe when I hear of a parent-led takeover of sport program. While some are certainly warranted, I can vouch to the fact that coaching is very difficult. There are a lot of decisions to be made, some of which are very complicated.

These decisions include measuring or weighing factors, such as talent compared to effort, potential versus ability, and, of course, the best interest of the team. Parents are not often privy to what happens in practice- in terms of effort, sportsmanship or attitude. And unfortunately, each coach has his or her own standards for making these decisions. It is rare that a parent has all the information available to note whether or not a coach is being fair. And let us be honest, the opinion of the parent usually hinges on whether or not their child is playing.

One issue that always comes up is the idea that all kids should play. I agree with that notion up until high school- depending on the sport. Sports are competitive, and those players that give a team the best chance to win should play. Sports represent the "real world" much better than other endeavors. And in the real world, people compete for jobs, and they compete with other companies- for it can be tough out there. Much can be learned, both in handling success and failure. If kids quit on their team now or is bailed out by a parent, simply because their personal goals are not being met, one has to wonder what will happen in the future when they are passed over for a job or a promotion. It is a lesson much better taught in sports and when one is young.

When I coached, I attempted to emphasize the idea of maintaining a good work ethic. I did not care how talented a player was, I cared about his commitment. I wanted my players to learn that if you want to succeed, you have to work at it- and those that work the hardest have the best chance at success. For example, if your opponent is taking 30 minutes of batting practice, then you might consider taking 40 minutes of batting practice- less talented players perhaps even longer. In fact, individual sports are better at making this point. You either win or you lose, and it is largely a result of your effort and training.

Rick Patino's book, "Success is a Choice," details the idea that one needs to "deserve success." In life, we cannot always be certain that we will be successful, but we can assure ourselves that we deserve success. This is a great statement. There are a lot of factors that determine how successful we are which cannot control- however, we can always control whether or not we deserve success. Some of us will live according to what we deserve, some will live unrewarded- and still others will get lucky, living far beyond what they deserve. Alas, that is life.

I had some rewarding moments with the kids I worked with. And I was lucky that I never had a problem with a parent. There is nothing like the feeling a coach has when a team has worked hard to accomplish something together. While I was at Lake Ridge, we struggled considerably. Lake Ridge is more of an academic prep school than an athletic power. In fact, we barely had enough players to field a team. We started poorly, something that was witnessed by other teams, coaches and even the umpires. However, at the end of the year, we won the first tournament game in Lake Ridge baseball history- an exciting 10-9 win over a team that had beaten us miserably earlier in the season.

Walking off the field that day, the umpire, who had seen some of our previous performances, looked at me and said, "Coach, I don't know how you did it, but you did it." Of course, I did not do anything; our team did it- by working hard and deserving success. It was a satisfying accomplishment, and I loved it.

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