by Thomas A. Alston
I originally wrote this in 2005. Recent events in my personal life caused me to check it out, and remind myself that I sent this note forward in time for me to use over and over again. The last few years have been very trying times for me. The economy put me in the position to lay off many friends from my company. An argument inside my family opened a crevice that still feels like it is widening.
When swirling pressure comes a calling, I often contemplate stepping away from baseball. So, I dug out this column to see if I still have the fire. I read it over and said to myself, “silly boy you ain’t going nowhere.” If you feel like letting go of baseball, see if anything in this list helps you decide.
This is WHY I coach baseball.
1. When I am working on my baseball team, I don’t have to confront the dead bodies in the Middle East or the pseudo science called psychiatry that is killing America’s Future.
2. I know I have something great to offer the athletes that I come in contact with.
3. Baseball is my calm in the eye of the storm.
4. I have great respect for my fellow coaches, and I get to watch them practice their craft.
5. Baseball is a magical game once you recognize its differences from most other sports.
6. High school baseball affords me the opportunity to present some few pieces of truth about life, in contrast to the lies that have become part of their education.
7. I know that 99% of the kids I meet will be parents and part of the work force, not big league ballplayers. My business experience is valuable to them.
8. A person is only as valuable as he can serve others.
9. Competitive sports seems to be one of the few places that mirrors real life:
a. Those who can make the plays get in the lineup regardless of whether they are great kids or not.
b. An organized team will always be the best nine, not the nine best.
c. Never get too high or too low, tomorrow always comes around.
d. Respect your opponent, you need the game.
e. Play like someone is always watching you.
f. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.
g. Go hard all the time. Never expect to be out or to lose.
h. Losing is NOT getting back up; it is NOT being knocked down.
i. The only real security in life is knowing your craft and practicing it to the fullest extent every day. There are no guaranteed jobs.
I am sure I could extend this list because I have never had a “bad” day on the baseball field. However, I want to make some other points with you.
If you want things to go well in your program make sure you have a clear picture in your mind of what you want to accomplish. Make sure you inform the parents of your prospective players exactly the terms and conditions of your team. This includes what kind of behavior is acceptable from them.
As I have written several times in the past, I think you are gambling your own sanity if you don’t have a written contract that your players, their parents and the A.D. has signed at the beginning of the season before anyone knows who is in the starting lineup and who are the kids that will create a problem. Signing agreements in a calm moment in a group setting is easy. Trying to recreate a verbal agreement once someone is mad is virtually impossible. The sample contract I published in my book (Baseball Coaches Survival Guide available at Amazon.com) was actually created by my players in a group forum in about two hours of very open dialogue.
The answer doesn’t lie in the wins or losses. I love to win, and I feel great when we win. But years ago when I put myself on the line for one of my former players who was supposed to be cut as sophomore, I had faith in another human being. When he showed me his pro-contract, I wanted to hug him like he was my own son. I opened a door for another young man to touch his dream.
I have other great stories that aren’t related to a baseball success. I remember a kid that when he was entering his senior year in high school and had always been a behavioral problem and the psychiatrists had tried to fill him with drugs. He was constantly scraping up every favor to stay eligible by maintaining a 2.0 G.P.A. He came running up to meet me with something in his hand. I thought it was another of his incredible collection of baseball cards or autographed baseballs. His smile was so large he almost couldn’t talk. “Guess what coach?” He held his index finger up just above his thumb. “I just missed a 3.0 grade point by this much.”
Later this same young man graduated from high school and went on to college. When I met him as a Junior, he had not accumulated enough credits to be a sophomore. Baseball was his passion; I used it to motivate him to do the work including summer school and night school to graduate with his fellow seniors. I know I had more to do with that success than any kid who played for me and played pro-ball.
The lesson here is always the same. If you are looking for appreciation, sell ice cream to small children. At least they will love you until the cone flips over, and their mound of rocky road melts into the sidewalk.
When it comes to coaching baseball, you’ll take your lumps no matter what you do. Parents think that their son is the next baseball superstar, even if he can’t hit his weight. When you make a leadership decision, it always impacts some people positively and some negatively. You can’t lose sleep over it. Do what you think is right and live with it.