Times Free Press staff writers Jay Greeson and Barry Courter will periodically 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
JAY GREESON: Barry, I'm not sure where we should begin. This could be a Kentucky basketball moment or Coach K. We could be one-and-done with this puppy, or it may be something that takes off. Either way, because it involves their kids, there's no fan base more passionate. Well, other than Alabama football, of course.
BARRY COURTER: Anyone who doubts what you say should go watch a 6-year-old baseball game. You'll see a lot of purple-faced parents. I think I learned more about sports, and life, coaching my kids at that age than from maybe anything else. It's hard to see it when you're in the middle of it, but a lot of priorities take shape then. Mostly what I mean by that is that the things you thought were sooooo important, really are not. But, man, was it fun.
JAY: Speaking of 6-year-olds, we are undertaking another season with my 6-year-old son Lee. We had a blast last year, and you are so right about the lessons you learn -- the kids, the coaches, the parents, all of us. You did this for almost two decades, Barry, so after that kind of time and as we approach a new season of 4-footers in oversized ball pants, ...
BARRY: Helmets with cleats, I call them ...
JAY: ... what's the one thing we should all remember as we head to ballfields for another swing? (Well, other than that the true MVP is the parent who brings the juice boxes and the snacks.)
BARRY: I'm not sure I can do just one thing, but if I did, it would be the snacks. Very important. It is the last thing the kids will remember when they leave. The second thing is it has to be fun. Cliche, right?
One of the biggest aha moments for me early on was realizing that kids are like a blank canvas. Don't assume they know the difference between first and third base, or even whether they are right- or left-handed. Start from zero and work up.
The best coaches I ever saw for kids that age were the guys who found ways to make everything fun and a game while they were teaching. Practice sliding by seeing who can get their pants the dirtiest. Who can make the baseball cry the loudest when it's hit. Put a colored dot, or a number, on the ball and ask the kid to call it out. They are learning, but also having fun.
JAY: Wow, good stuff, especially the dirtiest pants. Who doesn't love dirty pants? I have a slew of questions to follow that one up, but we'll save that for another day. I want to end this first episode with another first-things question: When your kids Carson and Grace transitioned from youth sports to high school sports, you went from coach to parent. What is the best advice you can give the parents?
BARRY: Well, first, I should say that 99.9 percent of the lessons I learned over the years came from making a lot of mistakes, and watching a lot of really good coaches and daddies do a lot of things right. The hardest part is knowing when to push, when to pull and when to get out of the way. But never forget it has to be fun.
JAY: Thanks, Barry. This was fun. And for those of you out there with any specific questions about any youth sports issues, email either of us. Until then, see you at the ballpark.
Email Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Barry Courter at email@example.com.