My neighbor signed up to be a tee ball coach (his first time coaching) for the Dublin Little League and asked me to be an assistant coach for the Burlington Bees the night the email announcement was sent out. I was asked on the spot and felt like an asshole if I had said No. I agreed to help before I even knew what I was committing to. We had a parent team meeting a couple days later where we figured a day and time for practices, acquired another assistant coach and team parents. Some of the parents with older kids quickly informed the first-time coach how things typically play out. You could tell pretty quickly our newbie coach was in for a rude awakening.
Because the league had so many kids with so many teams, finding a field to practice on was a challenge. The first few practices were taken place on a soccer field. This sucked for a variety of reasons: balls don’t roll on grass, running on grass is very different than running on a dirt field and generally you lack the excitement of being on a baseball field.
A few weeks in, the head coach informed us that he was relocating and wouldn’t be able to do the practices but would still be back on the weekends for games. Myself and the assistant coach took over things from there on out. By this time, I was actually glad it worked out this way and I think the parents felt the same way. I don’t fault him since he never coached before (nor have I) but you could just tell he wasn’t into being coach. He treated practices as one long play time with no real structure or routine for the kids. Things were very unorganized and confusing even for the assistant coaches which meant the kids had no clue either.
When I took over with the other assistant coach, we changed things up by first finding a field to play at a time that worked also for parents. We had more structure to practices where half the kids worked on field drills and throwing while the other half practiced batting. We’d try to hold mock games toward the end of practice so the kids could learn base running which they loved most.
Our goals were simple. Teach the kids about the game of baseball and make sure everyone had fun. We streamlined the chaos of position playing in games by defining the lineups and positions before the game even started. When kids would ask, “Where I am playing?” we could look to our cheat sheet and tell them without having to guess where they played before then rotate them around so everyone got a chance to play the key positions that got the ball a lot. No one liked playing outfield so if you played pitcher, catcher or first base before, you went to the outfield next and the infielders moved up. That way kids and parent were happy to see their kid playing a new, key position each game.
These little things made a huge difference.
We don’t need no stinking tee!
We started coach-pitching about half way through the season and to our amazement, they did pretty good. So when we practiced, we skipped the tee and worked with them hitting pitches. By the end of the season, our team was getting solid hits off the first pitch! I know I’m a bit biased but seriously, no other team could hit like our Burlington Bees!
When the parents saw how well they were doing, everyone really got into the games and cheered them on. You could see the kids smiling when the crowd would cheer their names too. The cheering really made these little ball players feel like they were in the major league.
Making time to be Coach
Admittedly, I was concerned about how much time this would consume from work. My office is entirely single, childless people that like to come in late and work into the evening. I, on the other hand, prefer to get working early and leave by the afternoon. As the only one with kids, the others rarely understand. It’s obnoxious as-fuck but there’s no point trying to explain it. You either have kids and understand or you don’t. A few times, I catch snarky reactions about me cutting out early so I could get back in time for practice. For about a minute I would feel guilty but remembering how much those kids depend on me being there, you forget the petty comments and leave it behind.
After hearing the kids call you “Coach Ryan”, you become hooked. They don’t know that you’ve never coached before. They just want to play ball, learn how to be better so they can hear you say “Great throw!” or “Awesome hit!” When a kid hears their coach is proud of them for whatever reason, you made their day right then and there.
1) Being “coach” and “Dad” has it’s perks. Miles and I would play more baseball outside in front of the house then ever before. He always wants to play catch or just practice hitting. He would genuinely try to be a better ball player and constantly ask, “How am I doing?” “Did I do good at hitting this time?” “Did you see me get the runner out?” He respected me as coach which translated at home too.
2) Parents respect a coach that respects their kid. All kids open up differently and rightfully so. I’m just a stranger to them. Respect them and earn their trust individually. Some kids are more shy than others so giving them one-on-one attention to show them their team needs them too.
3) Work will always be there. The baseball season only lasts a couple days a week for a couple months. It goes by faster than you think. These moments with the kids are fleeting. Seeing their progress is worth any extra effort required to keep projects moving along.
4) When your players all sign a baseball to give you at the season-end pizza party, you treasure it forever.