Lessons learned as a player carry on for coaches

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Posted: Friday, August 10, 2018 6:00 am

I recently saw a quote that read, “Things I wish I would have known as a player: How much time the coaching staff spends thinking about what’s best for the team.”

Understanding those moments as a teenager is especially difficult.

Approximately 15 years ago, I was a lanky pitcher and first baseman for the Hillsboro-Reynolds Blue Sox American Legion baseball team.

On a warm late-June day in Valley City, N.D., our baseball team had just wrapped up play in the annual Leevers Classic, a 10-team pool-play tournament held at Charlie Brown Memorial Baseball Field. 

Our team was nothing special back then. 

We lost far more than we won, and – in the days before pitch counts – a pitching staff of three or four threw every inning for the Blue Sox.

I had just wrapped up pitching my second complete game – and a rare win for our club – of the four-day tournament when our coach, Mark Rerick, told us to head over to the softball complex next door to the field.

“Oh crap,” I thought. 

Generally, anything unexpected after a game was a bad omen.

It turned out that a couple of players had stayed out after curfew the night before, which is why Coach led us to the nearby facility, which housed four slow-pitch softball fields.  

Rerick’s directions went something like, “Start here at home plate, circle around and touch every field’s home plate four times. If you walk, I’ll add another lap.”

All told, the run was nearly a mile and a half, and for a 17-year-old kid who had just pitched seven innings with the sun growing high in the sky, I was not happy.

I struggled on the punishment run, gasping for air as I remembered why I wasn’t a distance runner. 

I was mad at my teammates. I was mad at Coach Rerick.

I was mad that it was hot outside. I was mad that my lungs were burning.

The funny thing is that 15 years later, I smile looking back at Coach Rerick’s leadership and discipline.

After the events of that day, our team became more diligent about hustling on and off the field. 

We made sure that players took all of the equipment off and back onto the bus at games. 

When the coaches asked us to do something, we tried extra hard to make sure we did it right.

Were we scared of being punished again? Yes. 

But in hindsight, we also learned something about respecting the team, the coaches and the rules. 

Playing on a team that struggled to win, I like to think his punishment also taught us to respect ourselves.

Now, my own summer team just wrapped up a long four-day trip away from home, returning from the USA Softball 16U B Northern Nationals in North Mankato, Minn. 

We went 0-4 in the tournament, which featured some of the top small- and mid-sized city teams across the Upper Midwest.

I tried to push the girls to be better by bringing them there, just as Coach Rerick did bringing us to Valley City.

While there were no punishment runs – I’ve warned my players what my coaches made us do when we broke the rules – my girls felt setbacks and frustrations and shed tears.

As a consequence, there were times my players were upset with their coach. That comes with the territory.

I hope that in hindsight the girls can look back and smile at all of the times I’ve told them to work harder and get better.

And I hope they never forget to pick up after themselves and respect their bodies, the rules, their teammates, their coaches and the officials.

Coach Rerick’s lessons were sometimes harsh but never unfair. 

And I know now that I’m a stronger person for having been coached by him.

That hot day in June of 2003 was a tipping point in how I viewed myself as part of a team.

My wish is that someday my players will think of my coaching with the same fondness I have for my former mentors.

I’ve found that teaching the X’s and O’s is the easy, superficial part of the job. 

Instilling life lessons is the tough part – for both the players and the coaches.

But, in the end, it’s the part that’s most rewarding.

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