All Good Things…

It had been seven months since that hot August night we said good-bye to our new friend, coach and pitcher with the Texas Rangers organization – Jimmy Reyes.  A few weeks after that last home game, we set up our ways to keep in touch across the miles.  We “friended” each other on Facebook, followed each other on twitter and exchanged addresses for holiday cards and gifts, but the months dragged on.  Every time he liked a picture or post, I shared it with the family.  We kept the contact to social media except for the big occasions like graduating from college, holidays, birthdays – which of course warranted a text message.  Ahh technology!  Taking the personal connection out of almost every relationship.  But as impersonal as it all was, somehow the “likes”and facebook comments kept things feeling close.

During spring training, Jimmy was pretty absent from social media.  I scanned twitter incessantly looking for news, updates, pictures, but most of the talk was about big league camp, not the minor leaguers.  Still, I began following a few of the writers/reporters who focus on the minor leagues and prospects to get some updates.  They probably all thought I was some sort of crazed baseball stalker, but one writer who knows Jimmy pretty well was kind enough to send me a tweet a few days before the end of camp telling me that all was going well.

Then, at 10:29pm on March 25 I hear the familiar beep of my phone receiving a text.  When I looked at the phone, I was surprised to see that the text was from Jimmy.  He wants us to know he is headed to Round Rock, Texas (The Rangers AAA affiliate) to start the season.  This is fantastic news!  I immediately send him a congratulatory text.  He has worked hard and moved up a level every year in the minors.  This is his last step before the big-leagues and it is not an easy one!  This year is pretty crazy.  A number of the regular starters for the Rangers are injured sending a ripple effect throughout the organization and creating some crazy roster moves as a result.  One reporter noted that a number of pitchers in the organization are in a sort of roster purgatory and remain unassigned the week before opening day.  Yet another announced that there were currently 112 men on the AAA roster.  A bit of an exaggeration, but for now we celebrate the accomplishment of his goal! I feel so proud of him and so excited to share the news with the family.

10153795_10203639690338640_589973812_nThe very next day, we get another text from Jimmy.  As it turns out, he is traveling with the major-league team for three exhibition games and the first one is in Arlington at the Ranger’s home stadium.  He thinks he can get us tickets if we want to go.  (Is this really a question?  OF COURSE WE WANT TO GO!) He does not want me to get the kids’ hopes up, since he is not sure if all will work out, but promises to let me know as soon as he can the next day.  Needless to say, it was a LONG day!  We don’t hear from him until around 1:30pm when he sends a text to tell us that our tickets are waiting for us at the will call window.  HOW EXCITING!  Jimmy could be pitching in a major league park with the Texas Rangers tonight!  When I tell the kids after school, they begin jumping up and down in the school yard like we just won the lottery.  I am sure the other kids and parents were wondering what we were so excited about.

We head out to the ballpark early, but traffic keeps us from getting there until about thirty minutes before the game starts.  Finding the right ticket window proved to be a bit of a challenge.  The kids are pretty disappointed.  Generally players are off-limits for at least forty-five minutes before game-time, but I still have hope.  Once we get inside the ballpark, I send a text to let him know we are there.  He answers quickly and asks about the seats and their proximity to the dugout.  Fortunately, we are pretty close.  A few minutes later he sends a text saying that he is walking out.  We are on the first level, but pretty far back from the field.  We keep our eyes glued on the dugout.  Nothing…nothing…nothing…  Then, there he is!  He is on the first base side of the dugout and does not look like he is looking for anyone, but just checking out the scene.  We, on the other hand, are waving our arms in the air and yelling like idiots!  He sees us (honestly, how could he not) and is quick to smile and wave.  His easy smile takes me back to the time he spent with our family last season working with the boys to develop their pitching and chatting with us through the bullpen net.  It was a magical time.

1975119_10203640090028632_1576702737_nWe start to head down to say hello, but there is no direct route through the seats.  Our seats are at field level, but to get down to the lower rows, we first have to go up some stairs, down other stairs and through a tunnel to yet another set of stairs to the field and dugout.  I think about going through that labyrinth for almost a second – then I urge the family to crawl over a couple of rows of seats to get there faster.  I am the first one to get down to the dugout.  When I get there, Jimmy has just finished signing a ball for a young fan and is tossing it back to him over the roof of the dugout.  I am almost giggling when I say, “It is SO good to see your face!”  Not really my best greeting, but he doesn’t seem to mind.  We talk briefly over the top of the dugout until a security guard takes pity on us and leads us over to a place in the wall where we can give Jimmy a proper greeting.  We exchange hugs, handshakes and fist bumps all around. We ask how he is, about spring training, if he is excited to be back and more.  He asks how pitching is going for the boys.  Ten year-old boys are funny.  They can’t wait to see him, then have nothing to say when they do.  It is only a minute or two before he says he needs to get back and we thank him again for the tickets and part ways.

1969179_10203640102668948_1288265925_nWe watch the game, eat some over-priced, un-healthy ballpark grub and then head over to the bullpen to watch the pitchers warm-up.  We really enjoy watching the action in the bullpen.  Honestly I don’t know why you would ever sit anywhere else.  Each pitcher has a slightly different routine.  Some stretch a lot.  Some very little.  The basic pitching mechanics are the same, BUT each pitcher has a unique delivery.  We figure out the signals for fast-ball and off-speed pitch and have fun guessing what types of pitches they are throwing.  Pitcher after pitcher is called on to the field until only Jimmy, one other pitcher and a couple of catchers are left in the pen.  It is the ninth inning and they call for the closer to come in.  We are disappointed for Jimmy but he has two more chances on the road with the Rangers as they play the Astros in San Antonio for the next two days.  Maybe he will get a chance to pitch in one of those games.  It is almost 10pm on a school night so we get Jimmy’s attention and wave good-bye.  He smiles, says good-bye and waves at us all the way up the stairs and across the concourse until we can no longer see each other.

And just like that, it is over.  I have mixed emotions as we leave the ballpark.  The kids are energized and also sad about the whole experience.  Jimmy is off to San Antonio with the Rangers for two days and will then join his Round Rock Express team in Frisco for an exhibition game Sunday.  We make plans to see him again then, but it is hard to think about having to say goodbye again.  The end of a very special time is here…or is it?

 

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There Really Are No Stupid Questions

lisacoppinger67:

Celebrating the beginning of baseball season with a re-post from our amazing baseball experience last summer!

Originally posted on texassportsmom:

photoMy husband, Jim, routinely pushes me to ask questions I feel are strange, stupid or a waste of time. After all, I already know the answer is no.  But, he continues to defy the odds by asking these questions and getting what he wants.  He once used a paint sprayer to paint our dining room.  He completed the job, but was not too impressed with how the sprayer worked.  He took it back in a bag, covered in paint and may or may not of even had the box or receipt…I told him it was a waste of time.  He came home with a full refund in his pocket – WHAT?  He proves the phrase, “it never hurts to ask,” almost every day.  But never so much as he did this summer…

The evening of June 21st, my family and I were at a Frisco RoughRiders game.  The RoughRiders are the…

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Mistakes Worth Making

Perfectionist disease.  I have it.  My husband has it.  Our parents and their parents have it.  The excuse for keeping this horrible disease and for spreading it to your children is the pursuit of excellence.  Reaching for the stars, pushing the limits, striving for greatness.  We all want more for our kids right?  BUT – there is one really big blind spot in this relentless pursuit.  If you fear failure, you will NEVER achieve excellence.

Seems backwards at first, but if you look closer you will see that those who achieve excellence, achieve it by trying and failing over and over again.  Babe Ruth said , “Never let the fear of striking out hold you back.”  And Michael Jordan on failure, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  So…if we want to teach our children to strive for something better, we must also teach them how to deal with failure.

Growing up I was afraid of making mistakes.  I was so fearful that when I was asked to try out for the junior high track team, I did not for fear of not being fast enough.  When I was playing my instrument and was unsure of the music, I pretended to play and let the other’s in my section make the mistakes – and have the success.  I only tried something if I was relatively certain I was going to achieve the goal.  Never stretching enough to risk failure and never being very happy with the results.

So, how am I making it ok for my kids to make mistakes.  Well, it is a struggle.  I hope that we have given them a large enough space to test their limits, push their boundaries and try different things to see how they work.  Go out there and make a mess of things every once in a while.  If fo no other reason than to prove that there is life after mistakes and often times a whole new perspective as a result.

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Bragging – Good, Bad or Indifferent?

So I’m posting this today because it is report card day and if all goes well, I will soon be that obnoxious Mom on Facebook bragging about my children’s academic prowess.  Of course, receiving all As in fourth grade may not actually constitute as PROWESS, but it still seems worth some sort of public acknowledgement – right!?!?!?!?!

Dictionary.com says, bragging is boastful talk or behavior or in other words a person talking about how great he or she is!  Now if I went around talking about my daily accomplishments it might be seen as bragging.  I can hear it now, “Guess what?  I actually vacuumed the ENTIRE house today!  Awesome right!?!?!”  or “I shaved 15 minutes off of my grocery shopping time in just three weeks!  It was tough, but I persevered and did it!”  Not only is it obnoxious, but not really even brag worthy material.

But, is bragging about your kid’s accomplishments ok or a total no-no?  Especially if I understand fully that I really have very little or nothing to do with it!  My Mom tells me I got good grades in Elementary school, but I don’t really remember it that way.  I did not play sports, I was not in band until sixth grade, I entered some art fairs and wrote some poetry that a community college teacher once used in his classroom, but I don’t remember many truly braggable moments.  But my kids are AMAZING – to me!  Why shouldn’t I celebrate all of their wonderful moments on the web for all to see FOREVER.  (ok, that’s a little creepy!)

For me, the jury is still out.  Obviously, I think my kids are the most interesting people on the planet, but they are mine.  I expect that no one else, other than my husband and parents, agree with my assessment of them.  If you follow me on Facebook or twitter, you know I brag about my kids.  Hopefully, since you are still my “friend” or still follow me, you are cool with it.  Most of all, I hope you know that I am not comparing my kids with your kids.  I celebrate the accomplishments of all of my friends, their kids, and their kids’ kids alike!  So I guess…I’m a fan!  Brag on people, I wanna hear all about it!

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Confessions of an Overzealous Sports Parent

IMAG0242Ok – I admit it.  I am a recovering overzealous sports parent.  I was the one on the sidelines screaming instructions at my kid so loudly they could not hear the coach.  I was THAT parent in the stands who screamed, “How many times are we going to make that same mistake?” at the top of my lungs at a 7-year-old baseball game totally embarrassing my son – not to mention myself!   I’ve been the scorekeeper, the team photographer, the competitive research analyzer, and even the coach!

My crazy behaviour did not stop there.  We wanted to “support” our kids in the sports they played.  This included hours of sports camps, weekends on playing fields between seasons and private lessons.  Thousands of hours (and dollars) to give them the best chance to experience success in sports.  We were present for each and every lesson, practice and game “encouraging” them to kick the ball, crowd the plate, stay on top.  We fought with them every day about what they should be doing with their “free” time.  Towel drills, tee work, cage time – none of it really equaling PLAY-time.  And all for what?  An inning each week on the mound or pitch with some other grown man pretending to be a major league manager or coach yelling at them to throw strikes or shoot the ball?

After a number of bad situations with an equal number of youth coaches, I decided to do some research to find out if there was a better way to support my kids in sports.  I read blogs and books written by sports psychologists,  former coaches, Dad’s of current sports superstars and even former athletes themselves.  I watched numerous sports documentaries some about successful athletes and sports programs, some about those who have lost their way.  With this ridiculous amount of information now swimming around in my head, I came to one unavoidable conclusion – We were doing it all wrong!

The best of these books was called, “Just Let the Kids Play: How to Stop Other Adults from Ruining Your Child’s Fun and Success in Youth Sports” by Bob Bigelow.  Bob was a former NBA athlete who had done a ton of research about the professionalization of youth sports and how it is affecting professional sports.  His ideas are somewhat radical, but I saw myself in this book and I was ashamed.  He gave examples of folks trying to make a difference in their own hometowns and the consequences of their efforts.  I am aways up for a challenge, but taking on youth sports in North Texas was too much and even if possible would take years to implement.  I needed to do something for MY kids right now.  I looked in the mirror, owned up to how I got myself, and my family in this situation and set out to forge a new path.

Unfortunately, there was a mountain of baggage in my way.  Honestly, this blog is one way I am trying to work out of the tangled mess our family’s participation in sports has become.  But piece by piece, I am moving the bags out of our way.  My husband Jim and I have re-set our sports priorities.  We are less concerned with how the children perform and more concerned with whether they enjoy themselves, try new things, take chances and generally the size of the smile on their faces when they leave the field.  I try not to care so much about whether they know what they are doing and more about whether they want to continue to play.  I have vowed to do whatever I can to keep them playing as long as THEY want to play.

When you read this blog, my posts on Facebook, or even see me sitting in the stands with a tootsie-pop in my mouth (it’s basically a plug!) do not see a person throwing stones at a glass house.  See a recovering overzealous Mom looking for redemption and reminding us all that these times are precious, these experiences important, and our participation in our children’s lives although infinitely important, is also fleeting!  Remember that this is about play, fun and fitness…not about making a high-school team, getting a college scholarship or playing professionally.  IF those come later, it will not be because of your efforts – THAT part is up to the KIDS!

Peace!

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A New Year, A New Focus

62556_1610242941796_7832177_nI help coach my 6-year-old daughter’s soccer team.  I first signed her up when she was just 3 through the YMCA and a friends’ friend had already agreed to coach a co-ed team.  My daughter was not too sure about it all so the first game or two, I was on the field with her holding her hand.  By the end of the season she got it and ran out there on her own.  The experience was a good one, but I did not like the way the Y organized the field assignments or communicated changes to the teams so I decided to coach her team myself.

40835_1556322953830_6960267_nMy boys had attended a soccer camp run  by the local MLS team FC Dallas.  They have an academy program and I thought it might make better players out of my boys.  I attended EVERY day of their camp so I would be able to reinforce the skills they were teaching them in each session.  But, they did not teach skills the way I expected.  They did not show my boys the proper way to kick a soccer ball.  Not what part of the foot to use, not where the knee should be for proper delivery of a certain type of kick, not even how to aim for the back corner of the net on a goal shot.  They played games all day, every day.  Sharks & minnows, pirate ship, stuck in the mud, number scrimmage, kick the cone…never a lecture or white board diagram and never a full on scrimmage.

13845_1261040531954_1535229_nI will say, although I enjoyed watching the kids have a BLAST playing games with a soccer ball, I did not think it would make a big difference in how the boys played.  BOY was I WRONG!  The next season was no less than AMAZING!  My boys went from average or below average players on their team to leaders and an integral part of the team.  I talked with the head of FC Dallas’ player development program at length about his views on youth sports and what was missing in our area.  He had determined that we had worked the creativity out of our players by focussing too much on a set way of doing things.  The games reinforced finding solutions to problems the kids would face during competition while also creating a love of playing the game.

318564_1591498523420_1407211143_nSo, armed with his coaching materials, I set off to make a difference. Even after all that talking and mentoring, I still expected the wrong things from my daughter and the team.  I did not want to focus on winning, but also did not know how to handle the girls asking me if they won each and every week.  It was a humbling experience to try to give the girls fair play and equal opportunity to learn positions when I really still just wanted them to win myself.

Now here we are several seasons later.  My daughter loves playing soccer although it is tough for me to call what she does playing soccer just yet.  Mostly she stands on the field or runs after the pack while twirling her long hair.  Sometimes she loses the ball all together, sometimes she cringes instead of kicking the ball, sometimes she throws the ball in toward the wrong goal – but she still LOVES being out there.  There are those who would have me tell her at the ripe old age of 6 that she just isn’t any good at soccer and should give up and let the better players have more time to play.  But she wants to play NOW, so I will be a soccer coach as long as she wants to PLAY!

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Put Me In Coach!

Disclaimer:  This particular post took me a LONG while to write.  Weeks in fact.  I keep getting caught up in the details.  Explaining my actions, explaining the history, reasoning and rationalizing the CRAZY that happened as a result.  But in the end – none of that really matters.  What matters is NOW.  Not what I did a few days or weeks ago.  Not what happened after, but what am I going to do to make sure it does not happen again.

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As you know now by reading this blog is that we are a sporty family.  The kids really had very little choice in this.  I wanted them to play sports because I did not.  I pushed them to reach higher, move faster, try harder, be better.  I said anything worth doing is worth doing well. I purchased training sessions, bigger and “better” bats, balls, gloves, training aids, and whatever else I felt would help them excel and gain confidence in sports.  And as a result I devalued the most important and relative part of their sports experience – the FUN of PLAYING!

These realizations did not come easily to me.  They were the result of many years of witnessing more than my fair share of the intimidation tactics that have become all too familiar in youth sports today.  Name calling, sarcastic “jokes” really meant as digs, rolled eyes, thrown bats and balls, yelling and even physical violence.  Each and every year I hear more and more excuses for this bad behavior.  Friends who are former high-school and college athletes have said things like, “Well as they get older, the coaches have to get tough on them.”  I say that is pure crap – especially when you consider the fact that my children are 6 and 10 years old.  In fact, the 10 year-olds have been hearing this stuff since they were the ripe old age of 7.  If your child had a teacher who resorted to those tactics to push your child to get better grades in the classroom, you would be in the principals office faster than the teacher could blink – right? What about your boss?  Jobs are essential – they pay for our basic needs.  But, would you allow your boss to treat you in this way?  You might not up and quit, but you’d be searching for another place to work.  How about as a parent?  Is this how we should parent our children with threats and name calling?  Is it ok for a parent to act in this way?  (Just to be clear, I’m not saying I haven’t done it, just saying I try every day NOT to do it!) NO!  None of us want to be treated this way so why do we give coaches a free pass?  

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The reasons, or should I say excuses, I have given myself in the past for allowing this type of behavior have been things like; “We made a commitment to the team for the season”, “We are not quitters, we have to stick this out” or even “Maybe this is just how it is in competitive sports.”  If we would not allow a teacher, boss or even parent to treat us in this way, why is it acceptable for a coach?  Children are more vulnerable.  They do not have the benefit of experience we have.  They do not have a tough enough psyche to cast out the negative comments and substitute the positive feelings we hope they have built.  Instead they internalize them and believe they are not good enough or worthy enough to play.  And, in the end, they quit sports all together.  

Research shows that 70% of the kids playing youth sports today will quit completely by age 13.  They are not quitting because the sport is hard or they have to work at it.  In fact, kids, like ourselves, take greater pride in accomplishments that were harder to get than those that came easily.   So then why?  Some of you will say it is because they are not talented enough to continue playing.  I say that research is beginning to show that it is really more a result of the open acceptance of this type of negative and even abusive coaching.  Not enough parents are standing up to this type of behavior.  And there is good reason.  If I take a stand or question the coach, they punish the child by benching him or her.  

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Coaches act as if they are beyond reproach.  Sure they say they are interested in my concerns, comments and ideas, but once I share them – watch out!  Now some of you are thinking, “What types of things are you telling these coaches?”  Well here’s what I have NEVER told a coach…

  • Where my kid should play. (what position)

  • That my kid does not need to come to practice.

  • That my kid was the best kid on the team.

  • That my kid was the worst kid on the team.  

 

I HAVE talked coaches about the following:

  • The positions my kids were interested in playing.  

  • Their advice on how to help my kid overcome an issue.

  • Their opinion on the value of training drills I have found on the internet to help my kid with a specific issue.

  • I have asked for the reasoning for a change in where or how often my kid was playing.

Yep, the last one is THE deal breaker.  Your kid may have played one or two positions in every game so far this season.  They have showed up for practices, they have listened, done as they are told, never refused the coaches request, cheered on their teammates, not made any more errors than any of their other teammates, had a positive attitude in every situation – but when they are suddenly moved to another position without explanation and you are CRAZY enough to ask for one – you are now the difficult parent.  You dared to question the coach and your kid will now split the difference between their new position in right field and the bench for the rest of the season and will likely not be asked to return for future seasons.  The coach will not offer an explanation, but if they do it will be something like;

  • It was a critical game.  

  • It was only one game.

  • I can do that. (This one is my FAVORITE!)

So the message you are sending this kid is that they can not be counted on when it matters most?  That sounds like a strange way to teach a kid about the game and how to stretch when the task is tough.  If we don’t put the kids in a position to fail, how will they ever succeed?

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Do not get me wrong.  I have taken a good long look in the mirror and I did not like what I saw.  I have been the screaming mother on the sideline berating her kid for an error.  I have used threats and intimidation to get the results I wanted out of my kid.  I have allowed coaches to tear down their self esteem and punish them for my questions.  NO MORE!  Help youth sports grow stronger by standing up to this behavior.  If you have a really talented kid who deserves to be on a competitive team, find one that focuses on teamwork, character and skill rather than winning.  If you have a less than talented kid who wants to play – make sure they get the opportunity!  And, if trophies are what you really want – I’ve got plenty.  We would be happy to hand them all over for just ONE coach who cares more about the KIDS than the standings.  

So, end the end I offer my letter to all youth coaches.  Please read if you have kids who play, coach a team, or might even have kids sometime in the future.  These are important times and experiences.  Do not let them continue the way they are today.

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Dear Coach,

YOU have signed up for a very tough job!  You will spend your money on equipment, your off hours emailing and calling parents and league coordinators and a ridiculous amount of time working the numbers, developing a strategy, evaluating players and scanning the competition to try to give your team the best possible advantage against every opponent.  DON’T!  These things are not important!

What is important is simple!  THE KIDS!  They are the only part of the youth sports equation that require your time, thought and effort.  Whether you have a competitive travel team where the players were selected by tryout and the parents have made a significant financial contribution to the team, or a recreational team made up of neighborhood kids who just want a chance to play – the kids on the team are the ONLY thing that matters.  And YOU as their coach have the opportunity to make participation in sports a wonderful memory or a horrible regret.

It is indeed a heavy burden – and one that you should remind yourself of EVERY DAY!  No doubt you had a coach in your past who made a HUGE impact on your life.  He or She may have been tough on you, required the best of you, made you a better athlete – but did that coach call you names?  Did he or she try to humiliate you in front of your teammates?  Did your coach become physical when you made a mistake?  If so, was the impact positive or negative?  In hindsight, we can find all kinds of positives that came out of negative situations – it is how we are built.  But, can you imagine the different turn your life might have had if the impact had been flipped?  Who might you be today of the coach had encouraging words, empowering nicknames and the only time your coach touched you was to give you a high-give or pat on the head? I think it is time to find out.

If you watch the kids on your team right now, you will see that they recover from a loss much quicker than you do.  It is, after all, just a game.  They are in it for the moment and not the season.  They would prefer a high-five for a good play to a trophy for the strategic win.  Just look at their small smiling faces.  Think of the HUGE potential sitting on the field or bench in front of you and help them reach it.  Encourage rather than scold, lift up rather than beat down, enjoy the moments rather than rushing to the finish line.  I’ll bet you will have more fun and even learn a little from these wonderful little people in your care.  It is an honor and a privilege to coach children.  Please, be the one they remember for the great times, not the tears!

Sincerely,

A Sports Mom

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