Editor's note: Times Free Press staff writers Jay Greeson and Barry Courter periodically will discuss issues in youth sports. Barry spent 20 years coaching his son and his daughter in a variety of sports; Jay is starting his second season coaching coach-pitch baseball. If you have any questions you'd like addressed in this discussion, email them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
JAY: Well, Barry, it has taken two of these youth sports columns to generate some feedback. I got two letters last week, and I'd like to share them.
First one is from someone who did not sign his name. I could put his email here, but in truth I want to foster questions -- that way we can discuss the youth sports issues people are wrestling with. So if someone wants to be anonymous, so be it.
"Man, why are you writing on kids baseball? No one cares. And what makes you think you are qualified to be a coach and teach the game anyway? You write about sports -- you don't coach sports."
Straight out of the box I took a high heater under the chin. And the reader is right: I am not a trained coach. But I do know my fair share about it, and most importantly in my mind, I enjoy being around the young people and the ballpark. It's fun, you know.
BARRY: I wonder if the writer has kids. Doesn't really matter. Most youth sports coaches are daddies or mommies, except in area soccer leagues, but that's a topic for another day. Leagues would shrivel up and die if daddies and mommies didn't coach. My kids benefited a great deal from some of these folks who donated their time, and I'm thankful.
Like you, I did it because my dad did and I loved him being around all the time, and I learned later that the other kids he coached really appreciated his time and efforts as well.
My hope in doing this column is to maybe share some of the good things I learned over the years and to maybe prevent someone from making the same mistakes I did. Like the one year I coached football. That was a lesson-packed experience.
JAY: No doubt. And it's a fair question in some ways -- a touch mean-spirited, maybe -- but still fair.
BARRY: Fair maybe, but I disagree that no one cares. A person just has to visit area pools, ballfields and soccer fields to see the number of kids, and their parents, participating in youth sports. People around here love it, as they should.
JAY: I'm not going to teach these kids the hidden ball trick any time soon, but we can learn how to slide in a wet outfield or learn how to turn the corner on the bases by pretending the edge is a spider.
As for the other letter, well, this one was pretty special:
"Jay, it's been 25 years since we last spoke to each other. My name is Mark Milliorn. We grew up on the baseball field together with your father as our coach. Baseball season has just gotten under way here in Fayetteville, Ga. and I felt the need to reach out to you and let you know how much those years impacted my life. I am blessed with a wife and three children -- two girls and finally a son who was born in 2002. I tell everyone who will listen that since he was born I couldn't wait for the day I could play baseball with him. I've been his coach since he started playing at the age of 6, and we have been the Fayette Tigers from the beginning. Yes, the same team name from my childhood. We've always had opening day ceremonies, but this year was our first parade ride in the back of a black Ford pickup truck. Maybe that is what stirred me to find you and send you this letter. You should know that your father enriched my life so much that decades later I modeled my coaching style after him and I use some of the same signs as we did all those years ago. Every year I promise parents that I am having 10 times more fun than the kids, and at every season's end I can barely make it one sentence into my speech before I am in tears from the wonderful emotions of those memories from past and present. We've had some good seasons lately, and last spring I had the honor of putting together our 12U all-star team. We won our sub-state tournament championship on Father's Day, and I cried like a baby. BEST FATHER'S DAY PRESENT EVER!!! It is amazing that a sport can be so powerful in my relationship with my son. I wish you and your family all the best."
Good times indeed.
BARRY: That's hitting for the cycle right there. I hope every kid has a coach like your dad or mine. Not all of them do. My very first baseball coach tried to get me -- I was the chubby kid, so, yes, I was the catcher -- to accidentally on purpose miss a pitch so it would hit the umpire. I was 8.
Not every youth coach gets into it for the same reason, or for the right reason. I think if your No. 1 goal is to ensure that EVERY young boy or girl has such a positive experience that he or she wants to do it again next year, you've done a good job. It's not as easy as people think.
JAY: Wow, that guy sounds like a real peach. Did he cheer for the Denny's Yankees in the "Bad News Bears" because "that team wanted it more," too?
Hey, that guy probably thought he knew everything about the game, too. Give me a couple of dads who know why they are out there every time.
BARRY: He also protested every game and spent his free time loosening bolts on walkers and wheelchairs in the area.
Anyway. For some reason, I keep replaying an image in my head from the ballfields when my oldest was 6. I was watching him play and couldn't help but notice the purple-faced parents yelling as if life itself was at stake. I looked over to the 11-12 and saw a daddy I knew. He looked like he might fall asleep. I mentioned the contrast to him and he said, "You'll learn that what happens over there doesn't mean near as much as you think."
He's right except for one thing: You can turn kids away from a game at any age.