By R. Scott Reavely
Check out these five lessons from coaching little league as you lead your congregation in the game of life.
My name is Michael and I know what I’ve got
(’cause we’re the best).
Our team is hotter than hot
(’cause we’re the best).
Batman and Superman
(’cause we’re the best)
Can’t do what our team can
(’cause we’re the best).
If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times during our 18-game season in which we won two games. I know–if we were the best, you’d expect a few more wins.
Not only did we not win, but my son had a hard season. On the second throw of the preseason, he flinched, the ball glanced off his glove, and it hit him in the lip. He was nervous the rest of the
season. Actually, it ended up being harder on Dad than on him.
In addition to losing almost all of our games and my son having a hard season, other dads were less than helpful. One dad asked me not to coach his son. (Silly me, I thought that was the idea). Another yelled profanities at the boys. One of the coaches paced the dugout and told stories of the ’50s when he was a boy.
And to add insult to injury, they misprinted our jerseys. We were sponsored by the local paper, the Tidings. But we played the season as the “Tiddings.”
Perhaps I’m writing this article as therapy. Regardless, I learned quite a bit this season. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that everything I need to know about ministry I learned while coaching
LESSON ONE: ENCOURAGEMENT
Find something to cheer about. Most of the season, we desperately looked for something positive to say. “You have your shoes tied! Good job.” “You remembered your hat today–wonderful.” When you’re losing, finding something positive is more important than ever.
Take the small victories. Sometimes striking out swinging instead of watching was a victory. Other times a foul ball was something to cheer about. Still other times, not flailing at balls in the dirt or
seven feet high constituted a good at-bat. After a progression of small victories, I found larger victories came a little more frequently.
But encouragement can also be distracting. The boys had little cheers for everything. “H-O-M-E R-U-N. Home run, Jeff, Home run.” When Jeff struck out six times straight, he didn’t need the home run cheer–again.
Losing is contagious, and so is encouragement. Losing teams require completely different leadership styles than winning teams. When the boys begin to think of themselves as losers, and the external evidence is on their side, encouragement must be sincere and consistent. An arm around the shoulder, a correction for next time, and a raucous celebration over something they accidentally did right prove much more effective than simply parroting, “It’s okay, you’ll get it next time.”
LESSON TWO: COACHING
Help people focus. Almost every boy on the team chased butterflies in the outfield, smiled at the girls, or lost himself in the joy of spitting sunflower seeds. The coach’s job was often nothing more than saying, “Pay attention, Mark!” Sometimes it was part of the game that distracted them. “What’s the score? If we get six more runs this inning, we can tie the game. If they change pitchers, and field a team of second graders. . . ”
“Hello. Snap back to reality kid,” I thought, though I calmly replied, “Pay attention. Don’t worry about the score. Concentrate on what’s important.”
You can’t run a team by yourself–the coaching staff is only as good as the parents who help. Someone else must run part of the drills. Someone else must coach first base. And you can’t win without pitching. You need someone on the field who’s competent. Someone in the game must have a level of skill.
Sometimes there’s nothing a coach can do. The coach can’t hit, field, or throw. Sometimes, all you can do is relax and enjoy the sunshine. It’s even possible to over-coach. In an attempt to be
helpful, we’re not. One player made an out at home, and I quickly pointed out that it would’ve been easier to throw to first. It didn’t make any difference. Let it go. Smile and encourage.
LESSON THREE: RALLIES
Rallies are hard to sustain unless everyone hits. Every person is important–even the weakest batters play an important role in a big inning. When innings end almost as frequently–because of the five-run rule–as three outs, rallies become important. Anything a coach can do to sustain momentum will serve the team in the greatest way.
Nothing’s more glorious than a two-out rally, because you never want to count your team out. Granted, some teams seem to invent new ways to lose. But the comeback is a beautiful thing. If a coach can encourage and prepare her team to recover when it’s down, she’s arrived at the pinnacle of coaching. Anyone can take a group of all-stars and win ball games. But to bring a struggling group back when the game and the season are almost in the tank–that’s good coaching.
LESSON FOUR: PRACTICE
Strategy is important, but execution is everything. The best-laid plans of mice and coaches often come to nothing. Granted, a good plan is important, but without the skills, focus, and timing of good execution, a strategy isn’t worth the space it takes up in the dugout.
Lasting changes come only with practice. Execution comes from practice, not from pep talks at the game. The boys who threw the ball to their moms or dads two or three times a week had a great advantage over the boys who just showed up to practice. What children practice at home prepares them to play in public. The corollary to this rule is that you play like you practice.
Practice doesn’t make perfect–perfect practice makes perfect. It’s possible for the kids to practice wrong and develop bad habits. That’s worse than no practice at all. So any coach knows that you
demand technique and execution in practice. Then aim for repetition of that good technique. Then and only then will it happen in the game.
LESSON FIVE: LOVE
Sometimes the game is slow. Nothing’s longer than four consecutive innings when your pitcher walks all the batters, unless it’s when your substitute pitcher does the same thing. Some games just
don’t go your way. Even successful teams have bad days. Coaches need to deal with it and move on. (Do I sound like I have?)
Sometimes kids will be kids. I put in a request for only bright, attentive boys who always knew where to throw the ball, but somehow it didn’t get processed correctly. Kids make mistakes. They throw to the wrong base. They say mean and hurtful things. They throw the bat and get called out. But they’re still on your team, and you have to coach them tomorrow. Next week they’re still the ones you have to trust to get it right. Coaches not only need thick skin, they need to be able to forgive.
You do it for love of your son, not for the love of baseball. Baseball seasons will come and go, but sons remain. I won’t always be his coach, but I’ll always be his dad. How he does in baseball is
temporary; how he does in life is my main job. I thought my dad threw balls to me because we shared a common love for baseball. It wasn’t until I had a son of my own that I realized that I play catch and coach because I love my son, not because I love baseball. If I get those two mixed up, everything falls apart.
So basically, everything I know about ministry has had some sort of parallel in my coaching experience: Encourage like crazy. Cultivate leaders on and off the field. Sustain momentum. Work hard on the fundamentals in practice. And do it out of love for God and people–not out of love for the ministry.
R. Scott Reavely is senior pastor at West Linn Baptist church in West Linn, Oregon. (RevReav@aol.com)
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISEHD BY REV. MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2000, PAGES 90, 92,93. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.