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The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)
Last week, I finished off the Unfortunate Trifecta of 2017.
Earlier this year, I watched my beloved Atlanta Falcons blow a large lead in the second half to lose the Super Bowl. Later in February, my Upward basketball team lost in the championship game - our only defeat of the season. On Saturday, my Family Y baseball team lost by one run in the championship contest. Talk about bad luck.
This week is known as the "dead week" for high school coaches. The Georgia High School Association requires all coaches to be off this week. These men and women deservedly get a break from coaching their various sports. I hope all of them are on the beach or in the mountains — somewhere away from the gym or field.
Just coaching my 9 to 12 age group at the Y, I'm ready to enjoy a break from coaching. Kids are exhausting, with their various personalities and demands (but you already knew that). If that's not enough, there's a ton of behind-the-scenes things with coaching as well, like organizing practices and constantly communicating with parents and league officials. Also, you have to make sure you have sufficient equipment (bats, balls, helmets, etc.)
Isaac Green, a great guy, helped me coach our group of 12 baseball players for the second year in a row. He and I worked with a wonderful group of children, who aren't the most-talented or most-athletic kids. We didn't even have a travel ball player on the team.
Many of these boys and girls didn't start out playing tee ball or coach pitch. Instead, they cut to the front of the line, sort of like those drivers who wait until the last second to merge when a two-lane road has been reduced to one. Our brand of baseball isn't what you'd see in Columbia County. Instead, it's more like remedial baseball.
So our group, comprised of mainly 11-year-olds, lost the final game of the season. We didn't play our best. We made too many errors in the field. We didn't pitch well enough. We didn't hit the ball well enough. Still, these kids didn't give up. That's no surprise. They didn't quit all season. We didn't play our best at times, but the kids always hung in there.
This campaign marked my fourth coaching baseball. The first year, my team went 2-4. The next year, same record. Last year, we posted a 4-3 mark and made our first trip to the playoffs. This year, we went 6-2-1 and made our first championship game appearance. I consider that success. As I told the kids before and after the contest, one game doesn't define our season - and what an interesting season it turned out to be.
With 10 returners (five of whom had been with me since they were 8) and two newcomers, I thought we'd annihilate some of our competition, leaving a trail of destruction all the way to the playoffs. Instead, reality punched us in the teeth in the opener when we scored on a two-out hit in the final inning to defeat Augusta South, 5-4. The bad part? Augusta South had just six players.
The low point of the season came a week later. We played a Yankees team with eight players. My kids looked like zombies as we lost 7-2. I spoke in a very unkind tone of voice to the children after the game. We practiced and practiced and they kept underperforming and underperforming. It was frustration at its finest. To make matters worse, we had to play the best team in the league two nights later.
That Monday night, though, we turned it around. Facing a Red Sox team we had never beaten, we fought to a 0-0 tie. We left the bases loaded in two innings. Still, I was proud of how the kids battled. Before the game, I gave the boys and girl some incentive: Win the game and we'll have an ice cream party. A tie was good enough for me.
Sometimes, coaches forget about boosting team morale. Coaching a baseball team, though, is a lot like running a business. You have to take care of the people who matter. For businesses, it's the employees. For teams, it's the players.
So we met a few nights later and enjoyed different flavors of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream, etc.) in waffle bowls. It was a way of showing appreciation to these children, to let them know there's more to our team than just baseball.
While Isaac and I did all we could to help the players improve at practice, the ice cream party was a good team-building exercise. Down the stretch, our team felt more like a team than like a bunch of individuals. We won our final game of the regular season and then defeated the Yankees, 7-2, in the semifinals.
Success wasn't so much about making it to the championship. Instead, it was about helping these kids improve their skills, and hopefully instill in them a love for the game. While we lost the final contest, I wasn't overly disappointed. The kids didn't play their best, but they tried hard.
As for now, I'm taking a break from coaching. I need the break. Coaching a team, no matter the sport or level, is exhausting.
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