Attention to the small stuff almost always leads to a big win.
Story by Steve Wilson, Kiwanis Club of Clarksville, Tennessee
2016 was a season I will never forget.
I have been coaching Little League Baseball for five years now, starting with the smallest tee-ball team. My son is now 9 years old and entering the minor division of Clarksville National Little League in Tennessee.
This is “real baseball”—pitch counts, base stealing—where coaching decisions can make or break a game. My excitement and fear as a coach reached new levels. It’s an opportunity to prove myself as a coach, but also a greater challenge to work with older kids and somewhat anxious parents.
My teams have had little success to this point. A few wins, but mostly losses. I have learned a lot over the years, and hopefully the kids have as well.
Even before this season, I had worked with kids of varying levels of interest and athletic ability. I had seen many different family backgrounds and beliefs. Some paralleled mine while others were wildly different. Some kids had medical issues affecting their play and mental or physical well-being. I had seen military fathers get deployed overseas during the season and the effect it had on their children.
As a coach, I hoped that I had a positive influence on my teams. But it was evident that the boys had an influence on me as well. Working with so many kids from so many backgrounds gave me an appreciation for the things in my life—my family, my job, my health. It also made me appreciate the opportunity to have a small part in their lives as well. It’s a blessing to have the chance to teach young boys how to act, both on and off the baseball field. Not to mention that running and acting like a kid, playing a game you have always loved is a great stress reliever in itself.
But this season seemed different. The makeup of our team was similar to past years. Some new kids, some older. A few with standout talent for baseball, and some that needed my help.
We started the season with high hopes and came back for a dramatic first-game win late on a cold Saturday night. Through the season, we won and lost games, but entered the tournament with a winning record. The boys had good games and bad, both athletically and personally, but I had seen them all grow. One boy, who had only been playing baseball for a year or so, progressed from young player to all-star before my eyes. It wasn’t his skills on the field that impressed me the most. By the end of the season, he had learned to take criticism and coaching better and to shake off many of the distractions that previously would have made him upset. This is a trait that will serve him well as an adult.
However, the true character of the boys came out when it counted most. These boys, dubbed the “Cardiac Cardinals,” fought with resiliency in every game of the league tournament, winning four straight to take the championship. Three games were decided by one run and in the last inning.
These are kids—9- and 10-year-old boys. But the character they showed was way beyond their years.
This season of coaching taught me several things. I learned the coach can be a huge influence on the players. They look up to you for advice, but also confide in you when they are not happy. They trust you to look out for them when they are injured and teach them good sportsmanship when they lose. I learned that my favorite piece of advice to share with the kids is about focus. During a game, the field is full of heckling players, the stands with “professional coaches.” By learning to focus on their position, the team around them and their coaches, players can “tune out” many of the comments that can be more harmful than helpful to them. In a world of growing technology and social distractions, focus can be the key to success as an adult.
For my part, I learned something from them: to enjoy every second of life. I have seen the kids jump with elation at a big win, but also continue to enjoy fun and friendships with their team even after a heartbreaking loss. It’s about getting back up, playing hard and doing your best. And most of all, it’s about enjoying the fun—because it really is just a game.
This story originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Kiwanis magazine.