Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Coach's Son (Part 5)

(Continued from July 23, 2011) ….  From a baseball standpoint, their plan of the assistant coaches worked like a charm! My son banged a double, another single, and drew a walk, knocked in two runs and scored three before the final inning.

Defensively, he made four routine catches, threw a runner out at second who had been trying to stretch a single into a double and  … well, then this happened:

A batter hit a deep flyball to centerfield; my son turned around with his back to the infield and ran like a deer; he turned around to face the infield and make the catch and then … promptly fell down flat on his back! He sat up; raised his glove; and … MADE THE CATCH! The entire crowd was cheering mightily including, again, the fans, players, and coaches from the other team. Our own fans, players, and coaches were going extra berserk!

The opposing manager ran up to him between innings and told him that it was the best catch that he had ever seen. He just might have been correct!

To add frosting to the cake, our team won the game, 11-9!

Well, clearly, the assistant coaches had raised a great point! Leaving my own son in for the entire game, against my fairness plan, had worked, as it propelled us to victory!

So, after the players’ celebration and post-game talk, I began to head to the parking lot, fully embracing for the “favoritism” comments that were sure to come my way.

The first two parents said something along the lines of, “Hey coach – great victory.” Whew! Maybe not as bad as I thought!

The third parent asked to see me privately. Uh-oh, I thought. The parent said, “My own son is not a very good player, but your son is pretty good. I don’t know why you kept taking him out, but I was about to pull my son off of the team, as I really wanted him to have the experience of winning. Listen, my son is good at painting and your son is good at baseball. Just go with it.”

The fourth and fifth parents came together and said, “Great job, coach … really great job.” I said, “Thank you. It was nice to get a win.”

Parents 4 and 5 said, seemingly in unison, “We were being sarcastic! Sure, tonight you did a great job, but why did you keep taking your own son every other inning? We don’t care about fairness- we care to win, so leave him in.”

Those parents were less than friendly in their missive, but the message was now clear. Everybody wanted to win, even if it meant that his or her own kid had to ride the bench!

A few other parents came up to me, obviously in a good winning mood, to pass along similar thoughts of great victory, nice job, etc. It was clear that everybody enjoyed being part of a winner, even if their own kid had to ride the bench more than others!

Well, alrighty then, I threw away my “beautiful plan” of fairness, arranged the lineup to ensure that the best players were in the game for as many innings as possible, only substituting for rightfield and second base, and …. we went 8-1 for the rest of the season!

A lesson on winning for the kids and a lesson for the coach on “fairness” and the true desires of most people - …. WINNING!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Coach's Son (Part 4)

(Continued from July 16, 2011) …… Well, true to form and my “beautiful plan”, my son started in centerfield for the next game. He made a fairly routine catch in the first inning, got a single to start a rally, and then he promptly took his place on the bench, so that another player could get an inning in the field.

The second inning started and another routine flyball was hit to centerfield and …. it was not caught! The batter took second base, from where he later scored the first of three runs for the other team.

Right after the flyball was not caught, one of my assistant coaches came up to me and said in a not overly friendly voice, “Why don’t you keep your son out there for the whole game? This is ridiculous!” I explained my logic on being fair to all players, even though it meant that my own son would have ride the pine.

The assistant coach said in an even harsher tone, “Well, he’s the best darned outfielder that we have and, if you just keep taking him out, we will keep losing. This isn’t Little League, you know – the kids and parents expect to win, so put him in there and don't take him out!"

I threw the idea by my other assistant coach and he quickly retorted, “It’s about time! I appreciate you being fair to all players, but I think that we would all be even more appreciative if you would play to win, even if some kids don’t play much.”

Somewhat startled that my plan of “fairness” had ticked off a few people, I told the assistant coaches that my son would be in centerfield for the rest of the game. Of course, I was fully prepared for the “favoritism” tag that would be assigned to me by some of the parents after the game, but I was prepared to hear all about it.

So, how did it go with my son in centerfield for the rest of the game? How did the parents react? Please come back next week to find out!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Coach's Son (Part 3)

(Continued from July 9, 2011) …. Well, the season started and in accordance with my beautifully developed substitution plan of fairness and, …. we lost badly! To make matters worse, my own son, who was starting to make a name for himself as one of the better centerfielders, was on the bench when a few fly balls were hit to centerfield and missed by the substitutes who would have ordinarily been on the bench!

Oh well, I thought, at least the kids got a chance to play; they participated; perhaps they learned a few things; and they certainly did not rot on the bench … but, we still lost …. badly!

To digress, way back when I was nine-years-old, we won the championship for the league. I, along with several other players, played every inning of every game. Two boys on the team played the minimum of three innings per week in the field and they were allowed to bat the minimum of once per week. With 14 available innings a week, that means that they only played 3 of 14 innings, while only batting once.

Essentially, those two guys rotted on the bench. When we won the championship, they were happy to get a trophy, but there was an emptiness to their season. I have never forgotten the looks on their faces at many points during the season, as well as when they received their trophies. They were lost souls, as they realized that they had contributed nothing to the championship and it seemed to be obvious to them that they only reason that they ever left the bench was so that the coaches would be in compliance with league rules. The fact that they got their three innings when we were way ahead in the game could not have helped their self-esteem much, either.

As you might have guessed, neither boy ever played baseball again and, in fact, neither boy ever tried out for another team in any sport all the way through high school.

So, again, with my newly established philosophy, we might not win as many games, but all of the guys and their parents would be happy, … or so I thought!

At any rate, after we lost about 4-5 games in a row to start he season, my own son was back in centerfield and he ran down a ball that was destined to be a home run for the other team. The ball was hit far over his head. Upon landing, the ball would have rolled forever, thereby clearing the loaded bases. However, my son ran as fast as he could and, at the very last minute and with his back to the infield, reached out and caught the ball, a la Willie Mays at the ol’ Polo Grounds – he then wheeled around and threw a one bounce strike to third base to double off the runner!

Even though he is my own son, I must admit that it was one of the best plays that I had ever seen made by a 15-year-old centerfielder! He is blessed with great speed, but his baseball instincts to run the ball down and then fire a strike to 3rd base elicited major cheers even from the OPPOSING FANS!

Of course, true to my beautiful plan, he was on the bench the next inning. A fairly routine fly ball was hit to centerfield and … it was not caught – it was not even touched! Two runs scored, opening the floodgates for more runs and … we lost again … badly!

So, did this coach stick with his “beautiful plan” or were changes made that led us to victory? Please come back next week to find out!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Coach's Son (Part 2)

(Continued from July 2, 2011) ...... So, the season began and I spent many hours developing lineup cards that would be fair to all. Yes, in some cases, I realized that some of the better players would be sitting on the bench for a few innings, but my goal was to be fair to all and provide a positive experience for them!

As every single player had to be put into the batting lineup, there weren't many choices there. My only choice was where to place each player in the order. The fact that they had to bat in the lineup was a decision that had been already made by the league rule book.

However, the decision-making came with placing players in the field. While I never placed a player in a position where he was doomed to fail, I did try to put the players in positions where they had a chance for success. In any event, all players were going to have several innings in the field. Sitting on the bench was considered to be a temporary position for any boy.

I also developed something different for our team: instead of using the time-honored tradition of playing a boy in the field for the first 3 innings and then sitting for the final 4 innings (a tough position for any kid - knowing that he just has to sit around for an hour or so with ZERO opportunity of getting back in), I rotated their innings.

While some of the so-called “better” players played nearly every inning, the lesser players played innings 1-3-5-7 or 2-4-6 - I was careful to mix up the lineup, so that we had optimal players at the most demanding positions.

By using this method, I believed that I was guaranteed to have a guy's attention on the game for the full game. Fortunately for all, this method worked and everybody, including all of the players sand their parents, seemed to be happy, as every players and his parents were guaranteed 3 or 4 innings per game in the field, regular turns in the batting order, and the opportunity to be directly in each game until the final out.

Wow, I had certainly hit the home run with this long-anticipated philosophy that I was finally able to put in place as a coach. Letting the kids play regularly was certain to be a major success …..........  or so I thought!

(Please come back next week for Part 3)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Coach's Son (Part 1)

Well, as we are full-blast into the summer baseball season on the local front, I have already received more than a few inquiries from dads-turned-coaches who want to know how much their own sons should play in comparison to the other kids on the team.

Similar to how it was when I coached, each player MUST play “X” number of innings per game or per week, thereby ensuring that perhaps better players will be on the bench for portions of the game, while some of the heretofore less than successful players get to play. After all, if they don’t play, they can’t improve!

When one adds to the equation that the parents paid the same entry fee and that many parents believe that their sons just might become the next Ty Cobb with a little practice and coaching, well, life can become interesting for a coach!

Way back in the dark ages when I was a child, my own dad was the coach of my team for 6 of my first 7 years in baseball. With his help on the fundamentals of baseball since I was old enough to walk, I was always one of the players who had been designated to play every inning of every game. There were several of us who fit this role and it was not an issue with the other parents that the coach’s son played all of the time, while others played more sparingly. Back then, the object of the game was to WIN!

Fast-forwarding several years, the object of the local game is to involve everybody on a mostly equal basis. However, since winning is still important, it is understood if certain players play more than others, as long as it is demonstrated that those players are clearly above the others in their levels of talent.

Some years ago, my older son was a fine baseball player. However, on that particular team (I was not the coach nor was I connected to the coaches), the two coaches played their sons for every inning for every game. One of the boys was a fine player, but the other was less than average. Nevertheless, both boys occupied important positions in the field and in the lineup for every inning of every game, while my son played about half of every game.

So, while I sat in the stands watching my son ride the pines while the coaches’ sons played all of the time with less ability, I silently seethed! I also observed what the coaches had to go through with other parents; I gained more respect for my dad’s previous coaching; and I always wondered how I would approach the same situation if I were to ever be a coach.

I had decided that, if I were to become a coach, I would play my son less than a full game, so that other parents would see me as fair. Yes, I had it all figured out: I would play my son for partial games; let others, including the less than talented, play more innings than other coaches would have allowed; and everybody would be happy ….. or so I thought!

(Please come back next week for Part 2)

Paul W. Reeves