Coaching my boys Tee-Ball team is one of the best things I have done as a parent to date. For those of you not up to speed on this sport sweeping the post-toddler set, it is baseball with the ball placed firmly on a stand at the child’s waist level. The child takes a bat and tries to hit it as far as he can. Sometimes the tee will make it to the pitcher’s mound! Other times they will make contact with the ball which is even more exciting since that is the object of the game. Hank Greenwald, one of my favorite broadcasters, used to say, “You can come out to the ballpark and see something new every day.” Truer words were never spoken than at the tee-ball level.
The time I spent with eleven kids under the age of seven was very satisfying, and remarkably entertaining. Mind you, I am to coaching what the NHL is to etiquette, but my emphasis was on fun and teamwork which appeared to satisfy all involved. Except for some of my fellow coaches, that is.
IT’S A GAME
This is one of the kid’s first exposures to team sports, if not sports in general. I was pleased if I could get them to find first base, throw the ball forward and put the glove on the correct hand (“Remember, not the hand you throw with”). Yet, some of the other coaches thought they were teaching them how to focus and win games. Win games, you don’t even keep score in tee-ball!
We played against one team who actually had a chant every time one of my players was up to bat. I looked at the kids on this team and they did not seem to be having much fun. Maybe I am off base on this (pun intended), but there will be plenty of times in their life for competition and bearing down for an achievable goal, tee-ball is just not one of them.
I remember in the second game of the season, I was given a new player who stood just slightly higher than the tee. He was assigned the coveted fielding position of mid-second-shortstop. In his first at bat he dribbled the ball up the third baseline. A little unclear on the concept, he felt it was his obligation to retrieve the ball, all the while clutching the bat in his hand. It was quite a sight, the bat flailing in his hand, running after the ball, with me in hot pursuit trying to convince him to drop the lumber and run. No one on the other team interfered with his mission for fear they would get clocked by the bat.
I am confident that the other coach, already holding a low opinion of me, felt I was very ineffectual as an instructor, and you know what, I could care less. My kids were having fun, I knew that much, and the parents did not have any complaints.
In practice they were learning some rudimentary baseball skills (very basic, such as, “This is the ball, you catch the ball with your glove, it goes on your hand”) and how to play as a team, and respect other players. To me those were lofty goals for a two-and-a-half-month season. I made sure that the parents knew where I stood right from the start in my coaching philosophy, and I was pleased to see they all appeared to feel the same way.
NO GROIN INJURIES
I am sure I encountered a myriad of situations that Bruce Bochy never has, but I also did not have to deal with high priced players and hamstring pulls. Loose teeth, yes; donuts after the game, certainly; potty breaks, undoubtedly; but kid durham did not involve a single groin injury.
If you get this opportunity, I have three words for you, jump at it! But utilize the opportunity to educate them on teamwork and the fundamentals of the game. By fundamentals I mean, “This is a bat. This is a mitt. Try not to get them confused.” Take the time to enjoy the kids, their enthusiasm and childishness. Who better to act like a child than a five-year-old? Don’t get into the competitive thing with kids at this age. They will have the rest of their lives to worry about being first.
As time goes on, I hope my boys will excel in some sport, if that is their choice. I feel they all have the skills and the potential to be very athletic. I plan to encourage this, but not force it upon them, and especially not at the ripe old age of five.
Editors note: No groins were injured during the writing of this blog.