Autobiographical Corner

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Autobiographical Corner

To be a good coach, you have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.

I’m not a good coach. My team won the little league championship last night in a rout, beating the previously-undefeated regular season league champions. I was thrilled, but I’m glad the whole thing is over. I’m simply not fit for coaching. My oldest son moves up to a different league next year. I’m really hoping to ditch out on coaching for the rest of my life, but I have a younger boy on the team who may wonder why I’m not involved anymore. I’ll see.

Thing is, I’m not even a sports guy. I didn’t play team sports after age 11. Although I follow sports and can spit out baseball statistics from 1890 to 1975 like I memorized them yesterday, I don’t know much about the game itself: its etiquette, its dynamics, even some rules. I feel sheepish when kids even ask me for advice. Though I have picked up quite a bit of baseball knowledge over the past two years by watching other coaches and videos, it’s still clearly not my area. My only consolation is that I don’t try to fool anyone about it. I see some coaches put on the Sparky Anderson facade. That just leads to unfortunate results.

The coaching also causes too much excitement and takes up too much time. I’m basically a walking coronary victim right now, with pressures from the office and other commitments piling up, but I had to take out ten hours this week to deal with playoff games.

Yet I was still really into it. Very odd, but common: Once your attention is riveted on something, it assumes subjective importance far beyond its objective importance. That’s me and little league. I’ve never thought youth athletics are terribly important (on the mundane plane alone, not to mention higher planes), and I think youth sports have assumed grotesque dimensions in our culture, but I had two sons on a team that needed me to coach it in a fashion that would let them win the championship (we were some people’s pre-season pick to win it all), so I did it. And I became more absorbed than a tennis dad. The absorption was bad enough that, quite frankly, I hated it every second that I wasn’t actually dealing with it, if that makes sense. Fortunately, I was pretty good at turning the attention faucet off-and-on (which isn’t always one of my strengths), so it became a part-time obsession, not something that absorbed me 24/7. When I wasn’t actually dealing with it, I didn’t think much about it, other than dreading the prospect of going back to deal with it.

The only think I liked about the whole thing: I actually grew fond of the other boys on the team. I suffer from a fairly intense case of what Tolstoy called “family narcissism” (the world can go to hell, just as long as everything’s alright with my little Andre). It’s not a good trait, but I’ve always given myself a pass due to the fact that I have seven children. For the past two years, and especially this year, I’ve had to deal with eleven other children. I was there to spend time with my two boys and help them have a good little league experience. Although I intended to be fair to everyone (my older son played a lot, my younger son–who’s still developing–played a lot less), it wasn’t my intent to grow fond of the other boys, but I did. Very much so, and I think a few of them sensed it. When I walked away from the celebration at Dairy Queen last night, one boy–a highly talented kid who doesn’t smile and often seems to snarl at me–looked up and said, “I’m going to see you at the all-stars! Right?! I’m going to see you at the all-stars.”

I think he thinks that I’m going to help coach. I just weakly smiled at him, patted him on the head, and said, “Sure.”

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