In 2003, my son’s little league team needed a coach so I volunteered. I had just completed 2 books, which have since heavily influenced my coaching career: “Positive Coaching” by Jim Thompson and “Championship Team Building” by Jeff Janssen.
I was eager to try some of the fresh ideas.
Any who has been around Little League knows the tryout drill. 3 fly balls, 3 grounders, 5 swings, and run the bases. They give you a spreadsheet to grade each player on a 1-5 scale. The columns are labeled “Glove, Arm, Bat, Speed” and the widest column, “Comments”.
Then there’s a draft where coaches choose their team members.
As the draft progressed, I was running out of guys to pick. For my last selection, I was left with a choice between a 12 year old no one had chosen named Lance, and 3 guys with “DIA” beside their names–my code for “Dad is A**”.
In the comments block beside Lance’s name, I had written:
I chose Lance.
What Were They Thinking?
We began our practices, and I was feeling really good about myself for implementing many of the ideas I had read. I was building a team! After a few practices, it became clear Lance had never played the game before. He hardly knew which hand to wear his glove on, and he couldn’t throw, run, or hit… at all.
Other than that, he was a pretty good player.
I became frustrated at how much extra time I had to spend with Lance on the simplest of skills. I was bitter and a colossal failure at trying to help him get any better. I remember coming home and venting to my wife: “In Florida, these kids have all been playing baseball since they were 4 years old! What kind of parent sends their kid out to play baseball for the very first time at age 12? Don’t they know they are setting this kid up for failure? Why didn’t someone teach him at least to catch and throw a little before they sent him out there?After practice tomorrow, I’m going to speak to his parents.”
What Was I Thinking?
When practice ended the next night, every player was immediately picked up by a parent–except for Lance. We waited on a picnic table for about 20 minutes. I organized some papers, Lance said nothing and barely made eye contact. He was incredibly shy.
Lance’s Mom arrived in an obvious hurry.
I was fuming.
As she approached our location I thought, “This is my chance. I need to let her know the deal!” But she disarmed with an oozing apology about how she had gotten tied up at work and caught in traffic, etc….”
I was about to ask her why the boy’s father hadn’t properly prepared him, when she abruptly stopped her apology and said the following:
“Coach, can I tell you something? This team has been the best thing to happen to Lance in a long time. I can’t thank you enough for the impact you are having on my son. See, last year Lance’s dad committed suicide. He took it real hard and has hardly spoken to anyone or even come out of his room in almost 10 months. I was driving by the ballpark a few weeks ago and saw the sign for registration. I thought it would be good for him to get out of the house and make some friends. Since joining your team, he actually comes home from every practice happy. He talks to me all the way home about all the things you are teaching him about baseball.This team is just what he needed.”
I felt like I had been punched square in the solar plexus. The air left my lungs and I felt all the blood leave my head. My brain was spinning. These are the brilliant words I came up with in response:
“It’s my pleasure. He’s a good kid.”
That was it…..that’s all I had.
As Lance and his mom walked away, I came up with one more penetrating thought:
I was utterly ashamed of myself…. How could I presume to know anything about this young man’s situation? Who was I to pass judgement on him or his family?
I went home and thought about it all night.
At the next practice I redoubled my efforts to help Lance and spent an extra 15 minutes after every practice throwing tennis balls to him in the outfield.
Our team went undefeated that year… Won the championship.
Lance made an incredible game-saving diving catch in right field in the semifinal of the league tournament… I couldn’t complete my post game comments in the meeting after the game… I just broke down in tears and gave him the game ball.
Ever since that day with Lance and his mom, I have made a pact with myself.
1) I will meet every player exactly where he is physically, mentally, and emotionally and do everything in my power to help him improve himself as ballplayer and a person.
2) I will always respect that every child, teenager, or grown man I teach or coach is someone’s most cherished loved one—their pride and joy. Every player matters.
3) I will always give every player entrusted to my tutelage my very best effort every second of every day, no matter how I might feel at that time.
I take keen interest in the players everyone else has labeled as “not it”. I relish the opportunity to help the underdog, the one they said couldn’t get it done or would never amount to anything.
We truly have some great players who have trained at The Florida Baseball ARMory. I won’t take up your time with our resume. Let’s just say, WE HAVE SOME STUDS!
But let me tell you what I am the most proud of.
We have fostered an environment where the most skilled and the least skilled among us train side by side and everyone takes delight in the accomplishments of all.
Our students celebrate a guy breaking a personal record at 70mph with as much joy and excitement as a guy busting 97mph. Our highest achievers enjoy sharing their ideas with even the youngest and weakest performers in the program.
It’s a beautiful thing, and it creates a training synergy I think is largely responsible for much of our success.
If you want to learn in a no-judgement zone where every player thrives at his own level, with the help and encouragement of everyone around him, The Florida Baseball ARMory is the place for you.
Get started by calling, our CFO/COO Amy, at 866-787-4533.
We’ll see you at The ARMory.