Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Put me in, Coach.

We had the end of the season little league picnic/whiffle ball tournament last night.  It was hot and sunny (except our coach snagged a pavilion in the shade – yeah! coach).  The Papa John’s guy delivered pizza to the park.  That was a nice touch and reminded me of October, 2001 when I was traveling with a friend and we had pizza delivered to the train station.  Talk about people getting jealous…

The head coach of the team this year was a woman named Anne.  (I actually don’t know if she uses the ‘e’ but Anne Shirley taught me that, when in doubt, it’s best to use it.)  She had a staff of four assistant coaches and wonderful things to say about them.  I agreed.  It was a great experience for my son and they all impressed me with their attitudes and how they treated the kids.

Then one of the assistants started talking about Anne.  About how the league made an extra team (ours) without having a coach.  It didn’t look good for a week or so and then Anne stepped up.  She said, “I don’t know anything about coaching baseball, but somebody has to do this or we won’t have a team.”

Let me just say that she absolutely knows how to coach baseball, she just didn’t realize it.

The assistant went on to say that once she took on the job it was easy for the rest of them to agree to help out.  They did an amazing job for her.  So did the kids.  There was real leadership there accompanied by the desire of everyone on her team – coaches and players – to do their absolute best.  Even when it came to our end of season party, the parents really stepped up.  All of them.  You should have seen the cupcakes!!!!

So why was she so successful in getting people to follow her?  Part of it was that she willingly took the job that nobody else wanted and never once complained about it.  There wasn’t anything she wasn’t willing to do and it made it easy for someone else to say, “I’ve got this, you have other things to do.”  It was honest humility.  She was also very approachable.  The kids liked her and if anyone had a question she was ready with an answer or promise to get the answer.

But there’s more to it than that.  She’d have been successful even if she’d started out as the head coach.  Anne had a plan.  Right from the very beginning.  It was a plan centered on teaching kids to play ball and letting them find their strengths.  It focused on enjoying the season and playing with heart.  It made the kids want to do well and love the game.

People would ask me what position my son played and I would say, “1st, 2nd, short stop, pitcher, and catcher.  And one game he covered left field.”  During any given game he’d play in three or four different places.  Did he have a favorite?  Sure.  Did he ever complain when he was doing something else?  Well, yes, a little, but not seriously.  And it never changed his hustle.

During the play-offs she built a more aggressive lineup and they kicked butt until their pitchers met the league maximum for innings pitched in a week and forced us to play some “2nd stringers” but nobody was too upset.  They played their hearts out because they wanted to – for themselves, for each other, and for the love of the game.

I don’t know anything about coaching (or baseball or basketball) but I felt like I’d missed a great opportunity with that team.  A chance to be part of something great and to grow as a man and father.  That’s good leadership.

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