20: Life Coach

20: Life Coach

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Life Coach

No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined.

~Paul Gallico

I grew up in Florida. There was always a league, always a practice, always a game. My father made sure of that. There was no getting around it. Not that I had a huge problem with playing team sports, though through the grade school years I much rather preferred unorganized sports (sandlot baseball, front yard football and driveway basketball). Of course, the thing about being a kid is that you don’t have much of a choice. Except on the sport itself. I played baseball throughout most of my youth, and for many of those years, my father never sat in the stands. No, he was in the dugout.

My father grew up in the Cleveland suburbs during a time when it was okay for kids to take the bus by themselves to go see a baseball game at the stadium. Which is exactly what he did. He also played ball growing up and was very athletic. I’ve seen pictures. He was a freaking stud. He also had the added task of helping to raise his four younger siblings. I’m sure that stress had something to do with his love for fitness. Eventually it led him to the military, where he served in the Navy.

Growing up with a love of the game of baseball, it was only natural he’d pass it on to my brother and me. It must be noted however, neither of us were super athletic growing up. Sure, we loved to play outside, but there wasn’t any hope we were ever going to go pro. Well, maybe there was. Everyone can dream, right? Instead, sports offered particular lessons that could be applied to any portion of adult life. Working as a team, dedication to a task, and so on. The problem was, as I mentioned before, my father was the coach.

Now that I coach my own children in baseball I can see how having your father as your coach can be a frustrating experience. You are the coach’s son. You are expected to do better than everyone else. You can’t slack on pushups. You can’t slack on ground ball drills.

It always seemed when he was yelling at us, he was yelling at me. Only me. Why me? As I see now, he wasn’t. He was yelling at everyone. But as the son of the coach, you tend to take things less constructively than the other kids. You tend to get in the mindset that you are a disappointment rather than just another infielder who needs to work on the shift when there is a left hander up to bat.

This is not something I would understand for many years. This is not something my son will understand until he’s coaching my grandson. I remember coaching my son in baseball and looking over at my own father with total exasperation. His face was lit up in a smirk, almost saying, “I told you so, jackass.” Only, what exactly did he tell me and how in the hell did I miss it all those years?

My father was an engineer (I say “was” because now he’s a babysitter) and by nature is very critical and cynical of most actions. If you said you were trying your best, he didn’t believe that it was actually your best and he would push you to do better. He’d question your actions and intentions until he got a detailed answer as to why and how. Then he’d want you to break down what you did wrong and what you planned to do to fix things. This made every process in sports a tedious learning experience, not to mention extremely annoying.

However, this is another life lesson I wouldn’t pick up until I was coaching my son and drilling him on the same mistakes I had once made as a child. As an adult I had a different perspective on the game and understood certain fundamentals that had been lost on me in my youth. So was my dad being too hard on me? Or was he just pushing me to be my best?

Either way, his pushing me led to me pushing myself. With or without him, I would be in the yard practicing grounders by bouncing a tennis ball off the side of the house and catching it off the ground. I’d be running around in the yard, tossing the ball high in the air to practice tracking down fly balls. I’d be in the front yard, hitting aluminum cans into the street to work on the mechanics of my swing. Now my son uses pinecones. It looks nutty, but this kind of focus and willpower on a particular task has translated well into adult life. I don’t think I would have had that kind of drive without sports, and without my father I wouldn’t have had sports to give me a reason to be better.

Clearly without his influence, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. I see situations and process them differently. I “break down the play,” as they say in football, to solve problems. This is something my father instilled in me, not only by teaching me how to play baseball, but how to understand the game as well.

Many children watch and play baseball, but there are a rare few who are taught to have a complete understanding of the game. From the strategy in certain pitches in particular situations, to the way the catcher controls the game — these are things he made sure I understood. Baseball is a game of minute decisions and infinite possibilities and scenarios. It’s impossible to figure out each one, but it’s not improbable to understand them when they come up.

We used to go to the minor league games in town quite often, and after a batter would hit a sacrifice fly or bunt towards third my father would turn and ask me if I saw that. I would always answer yes, but then he’d ask me if I knew why the batter took that particular action. It was that interaction and method of thinking that I’m passing on to my son. So thanks Dad, for showing me that baseball is more than just a game — it’s an allegory for life and beyond.

~Curtis Silver

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