I’m pretty much retired from coaching now. I guided my oldest (who is 22 now) through all his years of youth soccer and little league baseball, with a couple stints of pee wee football and basketball thrown in. My youngest, who is now 10, doesn’t possess the same competitive nature of his older brother, so I’ve turned the coaching reins over to other coaches with a more “laid-back” style then myself. Believe me; it works out better for both of us that way.
My involvement never stopped at being a coach, at the bare minimum I would normally volunteer to be an age group coordinator, and at the pinnacle I was elected President of the soccer league and Vice-President of Baseball. Over the years I gave numerous speeches to new or prospective coaches about what it was like to take charge of a team. I would usually tell the story about an experience I had early in my career that changed the way I approached the responsibility. It became one of my favorite coaching stories.
It involved my oldest son’s 7-8 year old baseball team. There was a player on that squad named Lucas. Lucas was the type of kid who was picked last for any sport. The poor boy had zero athletic ability. Nada. It was his first year to play organized sports and he even had to be shown which hand to wear his glove on. He was a very quite boy, but he always did as he was instructed enthusiastically.
At that age the boys hit off a pitching machine. They are allowed three strikes just like regular baseball, but they could not be walked. So it was either hit the ball or strike out. Lucas did not get a hit all year long. NOT A SINGLE ONE. All of the coaches tried everything we could think of to help him make contact with the ball, but to no avail. In the field I cannot remember a single thing he did all season long that would have rated an “atta boy”, and yet he received a high five when coming into the dugout just like everybody else. He tried as hard as he could, but he just didn’t possess the skills.
I am not one of those coaches who places winning above everything else. Of course I want to win, badly sometimes, but I always consider the feelings of the boys first (on both sides of the field) and the fact that Lucas didn’t contribute was never an issue for me. It would have made my whole season if he just would have hit the ball once!
But why Lucas sticks with me to this day has nothing to do with how he performed that year. Three months after baseball season had ended I was walking with my son to a soccer game and I passed some bleachers near one of the fields. Sitting on the bottom step near the middle was Lucas. I noticed him and remembered his name (which isn’t always easy). I called out “Hey Lucas, how ya doin?” To my surprise Lucas bolted from his seat on the bleachers straight to me, hugging me tightly around the waist. And it wasn’t just one of your run of the mill hugs either…..there was emotion behind that hug.
I was taken aback. Seeing boys that I coached at the sports complex was commonplace and most of them remembered me with a meek “Hi”, but nothing like Lucas’s reaction. I had touched this boy in some way to a point where he felt comfortable showing that type of emotion to me. Although I had given Lucas as much attention during the season as any of the other players on that team, for him it meant something more.
Lucas didn’t play baseball the next year and I only saw him a couple more times after that. Each time I received the same hug. I still think of him often. I would tell the new coaches that Lucas showed me the affect a coach can have on a young player. It can sometimes be remarkable, and that you might not be able to tell it on the surface.
Sometimes the child who will do the least for the team, is the one a coach will have the most impact on.