I recently completed coaching another season of baseball. This year I was privileged to have a great group of boys, most of whom were 13 years old. I had only one returning player from the previous season so I had the task and opportunity of getting to know 11 kids new to the team.
At our first practice I spoke with one player who had been on a 12U team the year prior. You could tell by his demeanor and comfort level that he was a good baseball player. When I asked him if he had pitched before he stated that he had — but didn’t get to pitch very much in the last two years because he wasn’t the best pitcher on his team. I watched his facial expressions as he recalled the last two years. I can only imagine what mental images must have flashed in those few short seconds, but the expression on his face said it all.
He had come to this first practice with a clean slate. He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. He had a fresh chance to demonstrate that he really was good at baseball. However, with my one question, I immediately “socked him in the gut” and brought his confidence level back to where it had been the previous year and probably the year before that. Don’t get me wrong, I dont’ think the question I asked was bad or that I asked it in the wrong way. My reflection here is how much influence the previous coach(es) had on his confidence.
I realized something in that moment that would be reinforced throughout the season. A couple of days after this first practice, I received an e-mail from the boy’s father. The e-mail thanked me for a great first practice and that the father had observed more positive comments toward and between players in that first practice then he heard in the combination of the last two years. Wow, what a statement!
I had the pleasure of watching this particular player’s confidence grow throughout the season. Sure, he had ups and downs, but mostly “ups”! Statistically he was our best pitcher. Intellectually one of our best players.
About a week after the season ended I received an e-mail from what I thought was the boy’s mother. It turned out it was the young man using his mom’s e-mail account as he didn’t have one. His e-mail thanked me for a great season and he stated that he enjoyed baseball more this year then ever and certainly more than the last two years. He really enjoyed getting a chance to pitch.
All I can keep thinking about is what if this kid hadn’t taken a chance. His previous two years in baseball were not spectacular. He could have chosen to pursue something else. In fact, I understand he is quite the soccer player. He decided to take the chance. Meet a new coach. Move to the next level in youth baseball. Risk encroaching on that feeling of the previous two years.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet this young man. His end of season e-mail would you lead you to believe that I taught him more than he taught me. Not so. I learned so much about kids and confidence. I learned about resiliency. I was reminded how fragile the adult-youth relationship is. Most of all, I learned that I need to keep coaching as it defines who I am. It’s how I learn, contribute and feel good about myself. Dare I say, how I build my confidence!