Coaches have tremendous influence, and it continues long past when the game is over. Here are two principles Keola Birano wants to see in his children’s coaches.
I am someone you would call a worry wart. I see my 2-year-old on a chair reaching for a spoon and I think, “If she falls she’ll crack her head.”
It’s graphic, I know, but that’s kind of how my mind works.
Danger seems ever present, and I’m not sure if it’s magnified because I have two little girls, one of whom is at a time in her life when she can start getting involved in organized youth leagues. I should be excited to watch her go down the road of athletics as I did, but that’s exactly why I’m not jumping for joy.
I started playing baseball when I was 6 years old, and for the next 12 years from January till August I was competing. When I got involved in Pop Warner football in 5th grade, I was busy with sports all year round.
I played for the best teams and the worst. On every team I’ve seen the power that coaches have to inspire their players or destroy their love for the game. Coaches can also affect the behavioral conduct of his or her players by creating an environment of bullying or acceptance.
You might be surprised to note that it doesn’t matter the style of coaching when it comes to winning. Sadly, teams can win with terrible coaches.
Now I don’t mean terrible in terms of strategy or knowledge of the game. What I’m talking about is the ability to help players become better people on and off the field.
This skill doesn’t always affect the wins and losses. Nonetheless, its effect is far-reaching in our homes and community, which is why I’m concerned about my daughter:
- Who will be teaching her to swing the bat, as well as respect her opponent?
- Will she learn how to win at all costs, or will she be taught how important it is to play fairly?
- Do the coaches pay attention to their kids’ behavior?
- Will they stop bullying if they see it?
The answers to these questions help to answer what it is that makes a good coach. If I could create the perfect coach for my daughter I’d like for her to have one who practices these two principles: perspective and compassion.
In high school I played for one of the most decorated and storied high school baseball teams on Maui. Every year we were always in the mix to win the title on Maui and head to states. I tried out for the team my junior year and barely made it. Quoting my coach, “Keola. You have the least amount of baseball talent but you have the biggest heart than anyone else on the team.” I could have taken it as a back-handed compliment but it was the perfect speech for me. I used his words as my mantra as I hustled up and down the field. We were competitive that year and I was able to move into the starting rotation for a game or two. It was a great year. Surprisingly, however, our coach never really celebrated our winning as much as he did our grades.
Coach had an important rule. No one plays unless their GPA was at least a 3.0. He never wavered on this. In addition, any player who averaged a 3.5 GPA would be rewarded with a steak and shrimp dinner. Now I’d be doing the dinner an injustice if I just focused on the steak and shrimp because that was just one portion of a large feast. There was poke (raw fish), chocolate covered strawberries, cake, etc. He celebrated with us as if we had won the state title.
That is what I call perspective.
Throughout my entire playing career I have never met a coach who was willing to put grades above winning. This is the type of coach I want for my daughter. Someone who understands winning is important but not everything.
On the other hand, I have also played for a team whose main goal was winning. Everything else was secondary. When we were on Spring break during our seventh grade year we were forced to do two a days that had us conditioning from nine in the morning till lunchtime. Then we’d break for lunch and come back an hour later to run baseball drills till five pm. In the end we were well conditioned but was it worth it? Could we have just practiced in the afternoon to give us time to be kids or spend time with our family? On the field we were successful but off of it we were poor. Some players, including myself wanted to quit during the season because no matter all the hard work we’d put in we would never get any playing time. This created two factions on the team. Those who were considered the most talented and the others like myself who were there to fill out the roster. The animosity was so thick that when we had gone to dinner as a team one faction would get their food while the other wouldn’t stand until they had cleared the buffet line.
During a transitional period of my life, I lived with my grandparents. I had suddenly become an only child after being the oldest of three. My parents had moved to the other side of the island, which isn’t easily accessible. Even though my life was great with my grandparents I struggled during those quiet moments. When the noise of the world died down I wondered how my family was doing and a part of me missed them. I worried about their well being especially for my younger siblings. Being the oldest child I was used to looking out for them and when that responsibility was no longer mine I felt disoriented. No parents. No siblings. I had to learn how to live without my family. Tears would sometimes wet my blanket at night as I found myself missing them.
Baseball would become my safe haven as I used it as a place to forget my problems and make human contact with people my own age. I was a quiet player and hardly acted out, which meant it wasn’t obvious to anybody that I was dealing with some emotional issues. Most of the time coaches would have never noticed and for good reason because the time they have is minimal when preparing their players for a game. If I had the atypical coach I would have never gotten the support I needed. Fortunately I had a coach who took an interest in the person and not the player.
I’m not sure how or if he even knew I was having issues at home. My grandparents could have told him or my best friend who was his son could have filled him in or he could have noticed my demeanor when no one was watching.
Either way his actions helped me cope with my loneliness.
What did he do?
He showed compassion through little things like giving me a cool nickname like “Special K” or sharing with me his family stories when I’d sleepover the house. Whether I struck out the side or walked in the winning run I knew he would treat me the same no matter what. I was more then a chess piece on the field. I was a human being.
On the other hand, I have also played for a team that fostered bullying. They did this by not paying attention to the behaviors off the field.
For example, there was this one player who would always get picked on. He got thrown in the trash and was always threatened to do things by the talented players on the team. If they had paid attention they would have notice that player withdrawing from the group. He never looked happy when he came to practice. If only they would have taken the time to speak with him maybe he wouldn’t have left the team in the middle of the season.
These positive and negative examples are why the type of coach matters to me. One who has a balanced perspective on the game while being compassionate or connected with his or her players on a human level; I don’t care if she loses every game, because in the end that’s easier to overcome than failing to teach our kids the lessons needed to be successful and happy in life.
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