Thursday, December 22, 2016

Coal really can become the Diamond

The Diamond in the Rough

It has now been 17 months since I last blogged about anything and specifically about the issues facing youth baseball.  As coaches, and truly the protectors of the future of this great sport, we have to deal with many issues.  Most commonly now people think about arm health, "win at all costs" issues, single sport specialization at too early of an age, and many others that I have written about in the past.  And truly these are all important issues that need serious rectification if we are going to save this sport, bring the fun back in baseball, and build these small children into great men and women.  

Like many coaches, parents, and players, I have had many influences in my life when it comes to baseball and how my philosophy as a coach has evolved.  I can vaguely remember when my biological mom and my dad would play coed softball.  It was 1980 something and other than playing in the ditches with the other kids, I can recall that my mother was a true athletic stud on the softball field.  I also remember (sorry dad),  that my Dad had only average skills, but he had a drive and aggressiveness that would make Chuck Norris proud.  Maybe its the cloudiness of my childhood memories but I remember him diving at balls, running into a fence, always giving it 110% (even when he was too old to really play!!!).  

I've learned from people coaching my own kids and their instructors.  I remember when my boys were taking throwing lessons from Scott Terry, a retired Cardinal pitcher, and I asked him, "How can I find a good team for my boys?"  His answer, "Go to the baseball fields and find a coach that doesn't yell at their players and ask him to coach your son."  Great advice.  I remember Matt Whiteside, a retired pro-pitcher and the Director of the St. Louis Gamers, giving Kyle a pitching lesson.  Kyle was having a hard time throwing strikes and he said, "Kyle, throw the ball the same way, but SMILE this time".  Two or three strikes in a row later and you couldn't get the smile off of his face.

All of those memories are awesome.  The memory I want to share with you today and hopefully write about more is about one of Jackson's pitching instructors, Travis Griffin.  A man I can still call a friend today even though I haven't seen him in awhile.  Travis and Jackson hit it off right away...I could tell Jackson really loved the time he spent with Travis.  One particular lesson, Jackson was having an off day, didn't understand what Travis wanted him to do and he started tearing up and was "silently crying" trying to hold back his emotion and frustration.  This was only like 5 minutes into the lesson.  I wish I remember what his exact words were, but the gist of the conversation was Travis telling Jackson that expressing his emotions was healthy and to learn to use his emotional response to make things better, to push harder, but not to let that response control him.  For those of you who dont know Jackson, he is a talented student and athlete, but he deals with attention issues and has always struggled with letting emotional control get the better of him.  Travis understood this about Jackson and instead of telling him HOW to act, he started Jackson down the path of embracing who he is and turning what many people think are weaknesses into strengths.  

Often times as coaches we dont want to deal with players who have emotional control issues, we want to find athletes that seem to "have it figured out" and looking only to find the low hanging fruit.  We ignore or push aside the piece of coal because we are unwilling to put the effort into it to make the diamond.  I will submit to my readers that we are ignoring a large population of children that can grow up to be great adults and great athletes.  

Recently, Travis introduced me to Ryan China McCarney, an athlete turned successful businessman, who has recently made it his goal to improve awareness of those who suffer and deal with Anxiety and Depression.  He bravely tells his own story by highlighting his own struggle with these disorders.  We should all be so brave.... His association Athletes Against Anxiety and Depression will hopefully lift the stigma!

But the thought it left in my head was.....  

What can we as coaches and parents do to help our young athletes learn to succeed by teaching them to embrace their weaknesses and turn them to strengths?  

How can we work to lift the stigma of athlete's who struggle with Anxiety, emotional control, attention disorders, and other issues that tend to affix a negative label on people that they have to carry their entire lives?  

More to come.....