There are many difficult challenges about being a coach, but there is nothing more difficult than hitting.
Oh, sure. You can say that teaching a crossover dribble is tough or you can say that the pre-game pep talk is a bigger challenge to stay fresh and keep players pumped up about playing a big game.
And they’re all big games.
I don’t think it is going to be a galloping shock to anyone reading this that when I say, “the toughest thing to coach is hitting,” I’m not talking about little kids’ baseball and softball – not college or professional players. A college softball player – like former SoBoCo player Katie Price or Kristin Austin Miller had a few thousand at-bats before they got to college.
But coaches who work with young players at the age of 8- or 9-years old are working with players who have….not so many at-bats. I was reminded of these good times, coaching my daughter’s softball team when she was 8-years-old and trying to get the bat to meet the ball. At this level, kiddos are also learning to pitch, which makes for a situation that requires patience from coaches on both sides of the diamond. And the parents. And the umpires. And anyone walking around the park who might be watching.
At Tuesday’s game, featuring the mighty YMCA Eagles 9-year-old girls against those horrible, awful kids from Harrisburg, it was a case of pitchers attempting to get the ball over the plate vs batters not being too tempted to swing at pitches over their head. And pitches over plate umpire Brian Kent’s head.
Actually, those kiddos from Harrisburg were not horrible or awful. And apparently their parents have not been indoctrinated into the Harrisburg tradition of berating official and opponents – they were just….nice.
Set against the backdrop of Ashland City Park, a beautiful sunset and 70-something-degree temperatures, it was a perfect setting. The beginner pitching, try as they might, would usually throw four pitches out of the strike zone and then the batter’s coach would have the opportunity to come on and throw two pitches to their batter.
Knowing that the coach, who pitches to the kids in practice, the batters are ready to swing away at the first pitch coming down the pipe.
This moment is the toughest coaching moment – the coach must underhand toss the softball in a manner in which the ball and the bat meet in mid-swing.
You’re thinking, “You mean the player has to hit the ball with the bat?”
Ahhh, no. Good try. But you’ve been watching too many Cardinals and Royals games.
In 9-year-old softball, when the coaches pitch to their own batter, it is the coach’s job to make sure the ball is pitched to the area he knows the bat will cross the plate. Some players swing the bat belt-high, others swing it at shoulder level, the coach has to remember each player’s swing and then execute a pitch that will result in the bat hitting the ball.
The pressure on the coach is tremendous. World Series-bases loaded-ninth-inning-tie-game type of pressure.
Actually, for all the yelling and screaming from the girls on both sides, you realize they are doing exactly what they are there for – they are having fun.
As a coach of the 9-year-old Lions team back in the mid-90s, I realized that I could not be that pitcher. At first, I jokingly told other parents that it was my exceptional ability as a lefty pitcher in high school that kept my young players flailing at the ball. “You threw a few no-
hitters, did ya?” a parent asked.
“Well, not exactly,” I said, “but I threw some great batting practice.”
In the end, my left-handed pitching and the fact that I tried to throw the ball too slow likely kept my kids from hitting my pitches.
I turned things over to my assistant coach.
“Ohhhh, nooooo!” the attorney-dad-assistant coach yelled at me. “You dragged me into this promising me that I would not have to do anything other than high-five little girls, be the head cheerleader and make sure my daughter was wearing a clean uniform when she started at third base. You said NOTHING about having any responsibility.”
He was right. And besides, he had aready agreed to host the year-end team party at his lake house. Suddenly, my first baseman’s dad volunteered. He was magnificent. He led the league in pitching, or, bat-hitting that year. I named him my special assistant coach. I would have named him First Rear Admiral had he let me. He never said more than five words at any one game and they were usually, “Beats me. You’re the coach.”
Being a volunteer coach puts yourself out there for criticism. But I found if you could surround yourself with like-minded parents who focused on the same objectives – teach a little, have fun a lot – you were in for a good season.
Oh, and find an assistant coach who could toss a softball and hit a bat with it.