“Our inner strengths, experiences, and truths cannot be lost, destroyed, or taken away. Every person has an inborn worth and can contribute to the human community. We all can treat one another with dignity and respect, provide opportunities to grow toward our fullest lives and help one another discover and develop our unique gifts. We each deserve this and we all can extend it to others.” - Anonymous
I’m a big fan of thank you notes. There’s something really wonderful about receiving a thank you note in the mail, an honest to goodness, hand written piece of stationary, homemade or store bought, wrapped beautifully in a stamped envelope.
For years it has been a pet peeve of mine. “Send a thank you card,” I say to my kids when the presents come. “You need to send a thank you card.”
“But I said thank you on the phone,” they say in reply. Their aunts and uncles and grandparents are far away and an in person thank you isn’t always possible.
“Not good enough,” I tell them. Call me old fashioned. As my kids like to remind me, I'm often "the only mother in the world" that makes them do these sorts of things. "It's the little things that matter," I tell them, quoting my dear Grandma Maggio.
I met a Little League team the other day, a group of 10, 11 and 12 year old boys. I was writing a story about their coach and I wanted to see him in action. It was cold and windy and I wasn’t feeling very well, but I had said that I would go and I don’t like to go back on my promises. As I stood at the backstop, trying to be invisible, I saw something I had never seen before. Every time the coach spoke to them, the boys took off their hats.
He asked them questions and they answered. He gave instructions and they listened. Not a ball was caught or a play made without the coach's notice. With every catch and with every throw he encouraged. When a mistake was made he taught. He was patient and kind and he paid attention to the little things.
So what’s the big deal, you wonder? Funny you should ask.
I’ve been to a lot of practices over the years and oftentimes Little League practices look a bit like a three ring circus without a ringleader. You’re out in a field in the dirt and grass; the wind is blowing and the balls are flying and things can get a little wild. The personalities take over, coaches and kids. Their talents are unique. Not every one can succeed at the same thing. The obvious abounds. Some are good at hitting, some are good at catching and some aren’t good at anything at all.
Or so it seems.
In coaching it’s important to see beyond what’s obvious. It takes a coach to draw out the potential in a young person, to help them develop into what they can be and I’m not just talking about athletic prowess. A coach is a teacher. A mentor. A guide. A coach has the unique ability to use the experiences gained through playing a game to help a person grow, to teach commitment and dedication, cooperation and respect. It’s a lot of work and it requires intention.
You have to realize what you’re doing. You’re a teacher. Teachers teach. Not just the X’s and O’s, but the other stuff, the stuff that matters later on. When the last pitch is thrown and the last run scored, then what? It isn’t just about winning. When the scoreboard lights on the field go dark for the very last time, what remains?
You have to pay attention to the little things.
I picked my oldest son up from practice the other day. We’re at that point when he’s starting to realize the finality of it all. He’s played baseball since he was a young boy. He dreamed of playing in the “Bigs” one day and whether that was ever a possibility is really not the point. After 13 years, his baseball playing days are coming to an end and he knows it.
And he’s really sad. He loves baseball. It’s been a huge part of his life. The friendships. The memories. The challenges and triumphs. In truth, it’s helped him discover who he is.
I’ve often wondered if the coaches he had along the way thought about that. Did they understand the magnitude of what they had signed on for? Did they realize that they were shaping a young man, many young men, in fact? Did they know that they had the opportunity to teach life lessons and not just how to hit a curve ball?
Did they have intention?
Towards the end of the practice, a couple of the boys came up to me carrying a thank you note in the shape of a small paper sack. “Thank you for coming to our practice,” they said. Inside were two small vials of field dirt, something to remember them by. The rest of the team lined up behind them and each one shook my hand. “Thank you for coming,” they all said.
I was taken aback. “You’re welcome,” I said to each of them. “Good luck this season.”
It's the little things that matter.
How lucky they are to have a coach that gets it.