When I was playing basketball in the 8th grade, not on the school team, because evidently you have to, at some point play defense, and I don’t, my mother signed me up for one of those junior pro teams in town, I had a coach who taught us a unique way of getting a rebound.
“When the ball is in the air and you are out of position, just pinch the guy’s butt in front of you, hard, and he will turn around and you will get in front of him and get the rebound.”
Huh? O.K. Game two days later, I pinch some guy’s butt for a rebound and you thought World War III was about to break out. I then realized that if I ever have kids, one day, I am going to coach them because there has got to be a better way than what I was seeing.
So, after two kids and countless hours on numerous practice fields of softball and baseball and football and basketball courts all around, my time being their coach, has come to an end. My daughter is off and in college and my son just started middle school football practice at a place with great coaches and administration and also where he will play all the sports, God willing.
End of an era, yes. But, I also leave that era with some wonderful moments and memories that I will cherish forever and the great kids I had the pleasure to coach. Here are the top 5 that would make any youth coach smile and/or cringe.
5) While coaching my son’s baseball team of 7-8 year olds, I was teaching them how to hit the cutoff man when the ball goes into the outfield. There was this one kid who was having trouble throwing the ball all the time more than 10 feet but I told him to keep doing it and who to throw to. A week into practice, he was not getting anywhere and this one practice, I was talking to my infielders, with my back to him and on a dart, as if he is Ken Griffey, Jr., he throws the ball and hits me in the back of the head. I fell to the ground, knowing this was how I was going to die. This was it. As I lay there, my son walks over, bends down and says, “Daddy, is practice over?”
4) My daughter getting a hit in softball with a runner on first, and we were down 2 to 0. Two outs and she ropes one down the left field line and instead of stopping at second for a double, she continues to run all the way home, despite the screaming of her dad. They got the ball into the catcher who tagged her out at home, game over. I will never forget trying to explain to her what happened. She looked like Bill Murray in the “No Coke, Pepsi” SNL skit.
3) My daughter, again, this time playing goalie on the worst soccer team ever assembled. I love her more than life but she was to being a goalie what Gerry Cooney was to boxing.
But, we did have one sportscenter moment. The other team had a breakaway and my daughter was crying in goal and as I was telling her to stop the ball, she turns her back to me, and goes to the other side of the net and as she is walking, the ball hits her in the shoulder, stopping the shot. It was an amazing moment in a sea of disaster.
Still to this day, none of us can explain what exactly happened. Or why.
2) Coaching my son’s basketball team and we only had 6 players for a big game vs. St. Henry. Big game. One of the best parochial teams in the 3rd and 4th grade level you will ever see. My son, expecting to play about a third of the game because he was “tired,” was peeved that 3 of our players were not going to make it, meaning he would have to play the majority of the game.
First half ends and we are up 13-12 and my son has played most of the game and I tell him that he can res the entire third quarter unless we get into foul trouble. I swear the name coach should be replaced with psychologist because Dr. Phil would have quit on this team. As we get ready for the second half, the ref says, “Coach, you only have 4 players.” What? Where is my other guy? “JJ, get back in the game, we can’t find Jeremy. I have no idea where he is.” My son entered the game the same way Tom Cruise walked to the courtyard at the end of the movie, Valkyrie. (If you saw it, you would laugh.)
Meanwhile, I still have no idea where my other player is and neither do his parents. Panic is about to step in and it is not good. On the court, my son misses a rebound because he stood there like a statue, still peeved he is in the game, and the team has a fast break and they are going to score. Now located on the baseline are the bathrooms and as the team is heading down the court on the fast break, my player leaves the bathroom, pulling his pants up and tackles the kid with the ball.
He had been pooping for about 15 minutes and none of us thought to look in there. Needless to say, we lost the game, but really, we won that day because of that play.
1) This one is easy. Seeing them make lifelong bonds and friendships while playing sports and I had a front row seat to every single bit of it. Thank you, Lord.
End of an era. Indeed.