To coach or not to coach… should never be a question

I coached youth sports a few years back.

I was living in Orlando and decided to volunteer some of my spare time at the downtown YMCA.  I coached boys 11-13 years old and can say without hesitation, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

ymca1I’ll spare you the details of how my team ended up winning the championship or how I wrote a letter to our team captain’s school headmaster asking to allow him to play in the championship game or about how I called several last-minute full-court presses in the title game to create turnovers and uncontested layups to win us the title or how I fought back the tears as I announced each of my players by name during the trophy ceremony.  Good screenplay, huh? 

As my kids would line up for opposing teams’ free throws, they’d make fun of me as I shouted frantically from the sideline “WHO’S REBOUND IS THIS?”  They’d laugh, shrugging, answering from across the floor “Mine, coach.”

The kids were young so I didn’t focus on extensive or complicated play-calling, just the basics: pick-and-rolls, boxing out, etc.  There was no assistant coach, just me.  We held one practice during the week and then the games on Saturday.

The reason I bring all this up is because, during a recent meal with my folks in one of Tampa’s finer Cuban establishments, I ran into an old coach of mine.

2nd-baseGrowing up playing athletics, I never really had any good coaches, from little league all the way through college tryouts, from junior varsity basketball on up as well.  In fact, it’s safe to say I learned more about how NOT to coach from this motley cast of characters.  My high school baseball coach/sociology professor was a personality but he was definitely the exception rather than the rule.

There was one man, however, who gave of himself completely.  He was an elderly gentleman even back then, but having seen him again the other day, over twenty-five years later, it was as if he hadn’t aged a year.  His pharmacy, Lefler Drugs, sponsored our team at Tampa’s Skyway Park back in 1981.  As is often the case in little league, his son was on the team, but Coach didn’t play favorites.  He was supportive, friendly and educational.  He took time when you had a question and was never condescending.  He didn’t yell, he taught.  Heck, we were 12 years old at the time.  We didn’t need a drill sergeant, just a baseball coach.

The question is not whether he remembered me so many years later.  I only played in that league for a year.  But for ten minutes, as he was leaving the restaurant, we both looked back on that time fondly, as my mom smiled proudly and snapped photos in the background.  To this day, she and I still joke about his “Be A Hitter, Son!” words of encouragement as if we were quoting a line from our favorite movie.

be-a-hitterI told Coach Lefler during our brief conversation that I too had given of my time and coached youth basketball, after which I saw an immediate smile light up his face, almost knowing he was partially responsible for paying it forward.

I asked him if he still coached, to which he responded that he had quit years ago.  I was sorry to hear that, but I was even more sorry to hear the reason why.

Apparently, there are several local lawsuits pending, one in which parents sued a third base coach for sending a runner, their son, who went on to break his ankle in a collision at home plate.  I was stunned.  Coach mentioned there were similar cases as well, so rather than continue to give of himself to the community, he decided to quit coaching for good.

I’m no parent and if I were, I would definitely take all necessary precautions to ensure my children’s safety.  But I would also understand that lumps, bumps and bruises are part of growing up and playing athletics.  The fact that a man like Emilio Lefler no longer plays a role in teaching tomorrow’s youth for fear of litigation is a sad statement as to what we have become.

Coaching is an invaluable part of our growth process as human beings.  Coaches mold us, they mentor us, they provide us with an environment outside the household that breeds sportsmanship, competitiveness and fair play.  Coaches can leave us with invaluable memories of our youth.  Think back to how many fond, childhood moments were spent on the diamond, basketball court or gridiron.

We now enter an era of political leadership with a renewed emphasis on community.  For those of you who have never volunteered time to coach or teach, I highly recommend you do so and understand and appreciate what imprint you will have on tomorrow.  It might just provide you and our future with memories that last a lifetime.

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54 Replies to “To coach or not to coach… should never be a question”

  1. Chris …

    There’s nothing greater than looking into a child’s eye once they finally get what it is you’re trying to coax into them. Especially when it concerns an athletic endeavor. It’s one of those really special moments that we all yearn to see.

    Remember I told you about the mess concerning the Cubs ? Now look at the proverbial path that owner Sam Zell wants to lead them down ? Bankruptcy in order to facilitate a sale ? That’s complete BS ! This ain’t GM or friggin’ Chrysler for that matter ! All the while Selig remains as a docile as a church mouse as to his silence and indifference to the situation.

    Alan Parkins

  2. Excellent stuff Chris! I have been coaching youth sports for about a decade now and I think it is so rewarding. It is a sad testament to our litigious society that coaches and league administrators are an easy target for lawsuits. When I was president of my local pop warner association in Florida I was always afraid of lawsuits. The fact that I needed a $2 million dollar policy to do a volunteer job for a youth sports league was wild but a reflection of todays society. I know of a coach who was sued because he did not let a kid play QB and the parents alleged that it would have negative economic ramifications because he would not be able to get a college scholarship.

    Like James Hetfield once said. “you know it’s sad but true.”

    Excellent stuff Chris. Sportschump has truly become a must read for me.

  3. Chris ….

    Winning is everything ! I believe that was what Lombardi said. Well in the case of the Cubs’ fans that’s something that they won’t be relating to anytime soon ! It’s not within their DNA at all. They’ll continue to be the lovable losers on the northside of Chi-town.

    Alan …………..

  4. Maybe you should keep coaching, A Chuck Dailey on the making. Did hear the Mgics match Dallas offer to Gortat and he is not happy. He wants to be stater you cant blame him.

  5. Boys my keys are not working well today is Magics not mgics, is starter not stater .

  6. Frank, you’re the man. Appreciate the love.

    Once I get in and settled in Tampa and know I have the time, I may volunteer to coach once again.

  7. DB…. I think that was probably developed at an earlier age.

    Tophat… As a Red Sox fan, I almost feel for fans of the Cubbies. It’s hard, man, particularly when they show no signs of progress.

  8. Salsero, no way Gortat would start with Dwight in the lineup. I can see where he wants minutes. He’ll get ’em in Dallas because Erick Dampier is inconsistent at best.

  9. Yeah but Dallas offer 34 millions and the Magics match the offer so he is unhappy that the Magics match because he was going to be starter in Dallas.

  10. Great post. Excellent read & message. Hope you will coach again … the kids out there need you.
    ps: LOVED the pix! 🙂

  11. Chris ..

    In all honesty I’ve no real faith in the hierarchy of baseball to oversee themselves. And it’s no more than the fait I have in the members of Congress, much less the present administration. Whatever they thought that they were doing terms of altruism has been completely thrown out the window with the actions of Pelosi , Reid and the idiocy of Schumer. They’re like the Three Horsemen of The Apocalypse.

    What they state that they’re trying to do for the betterment of the country ahs been a joke from the get-go !

    That being said the Republican aren’t without blame themselves.

    Alan Parkins

  12. Tophat… for some reason, I’ve never been a huge Jay-Z guy. Don’t tell my cousin, primito, who knows every word by heart.

    I’ve been more of a Tribe Called Quest, Jurassic 5, Roots, People Under The Stairs and Beasties guy (Check Your Head and Ill Communication only).

  13. I coached baseball for 8 years for my two sons teams. Unfortunately, 80% of the coaches were jerks and cared more about winning games by playing the stars all the time in the key positions and writing off the rest of the kids. I never had the best record during the season, but we won the championship (kid pitch) in 5 of 7 seasons with my older son and 3 of 4 with my younger son. All of our kids played an infield and outfield position and if they could pitch or catch, it was a bonus position. All players sat out atleast one inning, even the superstars, and none sat out more than two in a six inning game.
    Unfortunately, I felt the need to take out a $1 million liability policy because coaches were getting sued by parents. Most of the time it’s the parents begging you to let their kid play a position and then he gets hurt and the coach gets sued. I now coach cross-country and track. Hope one of them doesn’t have a heart attack!

  14. Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Much like Emilio Lefler, Dan Monteau is exactly the kind of man we want coaching our kids.

    Aside from him being a Georgia Bulldog and Notre Dame fan and his occasional taste for Southern Comfort, he is a model citizen.

    Hey, nobody’s perfect.

    I see it now, Dan. Soon we’re going to have parents suing teachers for their kids not being able to read. Such is life.

  15. The Haitian Sensation is in the house!

    Hey, Maxy. The Don Calvino will be making his way to Orlando soon. I’ll keep you posted so we can reserve a Barbancourt night.

    Just don’t make us have to carry you out of the club like last time, Rutgers.

  16. Chris

    Whilst I do like ‘Hove’ , I’ve got to admit my leaning are in-fact more towards Talib Kweli, Mos-Def and Common. But at the same time Jay has been innovative in his own way.

    Hell , wasn’t”> CC just outta’ the box last night ? That catch was phenomenal ! Were he playing for a large market team then his exploits’d be front page news. Just as much as Jeter , Pujols or even Man-Ram.

    But because he plays for the Rays, he gets little or no pub’ whatsoever. Perhaps after this display things might actually change ? It’s not as if the Rays’ ownership has ever really done enough to market their stars , nationally , much less in their own local market . Or even across the state for that matter. Their sales , communications and PR office borders on being completely asinine and anemic !

    There’s a great article on the Gators and their upcoming season in the sport’s section of USA Today. I’ll leave a link to it below. And here’s a piece I did on Iverson’s future at present.

    Florida leads presseason hype as unanimous #1

    And this is the piece I’ve completed on Iverson. Bear in mind that allegedly the only team that’s said to have shown interest in him are the lowly Clippers . Which at this juncture tells you all that really need to know.

    Alan Parkins

  17. Chris

    The strange thing is that now Selig is still harping on about the Rays’ stadium issue. Wherein he’s stating that they need to get a new facility built. His words …’ the demographics are there and the fanbase is as good any franchise around the league’. WTF ? . Does he not realize that economic climate at present ? And also that it could be at least 15-18 months before we might even see an abatement within the economy ?
    Nevermind that it’ll be public funding that’ll be entirely used and it’ll be at the taxpayers’ expense as usual.

    Now he’s talking about bringing in his #2 Bob DuPuy to assist in the faciliation of making it happen.

    I’d have thought he’d have bigger concerns considering what the Cubs are about to do ? And also one ought to consider that the Tribune Groups’ creditors aren’t at all happy with Sam Zell and what he’s about to do. Much less the Cubs’ creditors as well.

    Tribune Group filed for bankruptcy and so too are the Cubs about to do allegedly to facilitate a quick sale ? That’s complete bull_hit !

    They’re looking to completely avoid paying off the vast majority of their debts , altogether.

    See my piece on the Cubs’ predicament.

    Did You Hear The Joke About The Cubs ? Stop Me If You’ve Heard It Before ?

    Alan Parkins

  18. I said one two three… it’s kind of dangerous to be an emcee.

    I also dig Mos Def’s “Umi Says.” There was a time I think I put that track on every mix I made.

  19. Thanks for the Gators link. I’ll be right there to check out that and the Iverson piece.

    I can’t believe with the star power the Rays have, they’re not getting more run.

    What’s up with their starting pitching? That’s why I thought adding Price to the rotation would give them the boost they needed.

  20. Re: The Gators, Al, I think we’re all cautiously optimistic.

    I don’t think it’s boastful or cocky to expect an undefeated season. They know the task ahead of them. They may very well need to run the table to get into that BCS game this year.

    Many inside and outside of that locker room think anything less will be a disappointment.

  21. Chris …..

    In all honesty it’d be completely naive to think that they’re not the team to beat. Much less being the presumptive favorites to win their third national title in six years.

    If Meyer were to achieve that ,then he’d be set for life within the state of Florida. He wouldn’t have a bar tab at all and he could well run for high office within the state and trounce every opponent he’d face. He’d become that popular !

    As to the Rays and CC and his stature here within the state. When even he isn’t as visible as say Pam Iorio, then you know what a pi_ss poor job the Rays press, communications and PR dept is doing altogether.

    AsI alluded to earlier were in a major market then he’d be getting major pub’. The Rays’ hierarchy are so set on this stadium issue that they tend to forget what’s really important as to the real intrinsic value of the community and the fans as a whole.

    Alan Parkins

  22. Chris ….

    Rays’ pitching ? Isn’t that akin to numbing mindset… the consistency of remaining inconsistent ?

    Check out the team’s pitching stats on the link provided and let me know what you think is the most glaring thing about it all ?

    Rays’ pitching stats ……..

    Selig and Dupuy will press ownership as well the county governments of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties into making some sort of decision that could well come back and bite them in the as_s !

    Alan Parkins

  23. I love the Gators D this year.

    One of the most underrated elements in their three championship teams has been their D.

    With all the attention paid to the Danny Wuerffel, Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, lost in the shuffle is the fact that those teams all allowed anywhere between 10-12 points a game. Stingy!

    I’m still amazed Spikes came back this year. Watch him lock up a top 5 draft slot with an insane year. He’s in on every play.

  24. Can’t say I follow enough Rays baseball to know what’s wrong but the numbers on those starters just don’t add up.

    They need to get it together because the Sox show no sign of folding and the Yanks will give them everything they want.

    Did you happen to catch the MLB players’ reaction to Obama last night? Everyone was awestruck, except for Jeter of course, as he’s the bigger star of the two.

  25. Chris, I had a lot of coaches like you did….learned what not to do….how not to act.

    But, you always remember that one, or two, coaches that loved the game, loved the kids, and loved to teach. I still think about them from time to time.

    Sadly most coaches in youth sports are only there to make sure their kid is the star of the team. It was that way 30 years ago, and I suppose it’s still like that. Wonder if any of those rag-armed pitchers, shortstops and QBs ever went on to play that position in college?

    Coach again, dude. I could tell by that video of you ‘watching’ a game that you would be a great coach…lol

  26. Chris…

    I was really moved by your article. I think it is amazing that you, a single guy, coached a youth basketball team. Here in the Peoria/Dunlap area…the coaches are all parents. To know that you would devote your personal time to these kids really says a lot about your character and your passion to the the sport and sense of community. I absolutely love it.

    I also love the bit about your coach…it’s amazing that you ran into him at the restaurant and got a picture of him. That you were able to tell him of your experience coaching and feel a sense of “pay it forward” in a way…I am sure he went away feeling absolutely proud of you.

    Again, nice article. Hope to see you coach other teams for some children in the future — obviously, it is your “element”.

  27. Han…. thanks, man. I just might. Although I’d be putting my championship record on the line.

    Reyna of Nido fame… thanks for cutting and pasting, he he.

  28. Chris ….

    Last year the Rays were consistent and that was the high that seem to run throughout the team. And nowhere was this more marked than with their pitching.

    This time around it’s been anything but that. Garza’s stats aren’t bad but what’s happening there is that he’s not receiving any run support.

    I’d sent you an e-mail with regard to Facebook.

    And there’s also an e-mail with regard to my most recent pieces.

    There’s a storm brewing with regard to the Cubs’ impending situation. If they’re allowed to maneuver themselves in and out of bankruptcy with such ease , merely to avoid creditors of the parent company. Then there’s something implicitly wrong there.

    And oh , the oh so annoying and listless silence from Selig , just goes to what an a_sshole he really is !

    Alan Parkins

  29. As always, your stories are always enjoyable to read. Its nice to read a writer’s stories who is intelligent as well as entertaining. This article touched me as a parent of an 8 year old boy entering the world of sports. I have observed that parents have become so ridiculously uptight about simple injuries that come with the territory that they lose sight of kids having fun. As well as not accepting responsibility of the phrase, “sh*t happens!!” Why are we so quick to blame someone for something that may not have been foreseeable not prevented?
    I have encountered several T ball and rookie baseball coaches in the past few years and if they all had the heart of your coach and yourself, it would be much more enjoyable from the stands!!
    Great article! I love your stories!!

  30. Al… I’m gonna make more of an effort to watch some Rays games in the 2nd half. Like I said, if you ever plan on rolling over there for a cheap home game, I’m in. I’m cool with bleacher seats if you are.

    Dana… thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed reading. Like I said in the post, growing up I had good coaches in bad. Either way, coaches provide memorable experiences that your boy will remember into adulthood.

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  35. While I was moving, i found the team photo. I don’t remember how many games we lost or won nor the position I played. Though i do remember the people on the team and the good times we had together. I still stay in touch with some of them.

    Larry Lefler

  36. Larry…

    SO glad you read this post so you could appreciate the impact he had on my life and the life of so many others.

    As I recall, this was probably around 1980-81. We had just moved to Tampa from New York City and found Skyway Park, which is still around and was only about a mile from where we lived at the time.

    I only played there one year but it was long enough to make a lasting impact.

    Love to the family.

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