I don't know whether my last post was ironic or profetic. Or was it just pathetic? Alas, stones having been thrown, my fellow coaches and I arrived at our little league game on Saturday jubilant in the glow of a crystal clear sky and a team full of giddy second graders, only to discover that I apparently live in a glass house. Rather than suffer at the hands of the latest set of Rule Nazis, this time around apparently we were the Rule Nazis. At least that's how the Bears saw it (name changed once again to protect the guilty).
Having spent a few years on the little league fields, I have developed a powerful sort of bat sense. A bit like "gaydar," I can smell an asshole coach a mile away. They reveal themselves quickly and clearly. They are the guys who yell at their kids, not to their kids. They order rather than instruct. They get mad about errors. They get mad about strike outs. They just get mad. And they have no idea that they are assholes, so they do nothing to hide their assholic tendencies. They would likely describe themselves as "competitive" and view their "realism" as good for the kids. Like the Rule Nazis, they are indeed another breed of troubling coach -- not overly concerned with the rules, per se, but rather just plain jerks -- simply put, they are Butt Head Coaches.
Saturday's BHC revealed himself quickly. Gathering his kids on the field for some infield practice, he began working the troupes. Nothing unusual there. Perhaps a little snipe here or a little jab there but basically he was doing his thing warming up his kids. With a few minutes to go before the game was to start, our head coach meandered up to the BHC and asked if our kids could grab five minutes of infield practice before the game started. Looking down at his watch the BHC said "yeah, I've got two more minutes." Our head coach smiled and gave back a "thanks coach." And he meant it. Positivity all the way. But not me. I heard the real message there. The real message was "how dare you ask -- you'll get the field when I give you the field." And so it was. By the time the Bears were done with their warmup there was no point in trying to get in some raps, so we started the game.
No worries. Our kids were ready to go. They were a little too ready. They jumped all over each and every ball. If they didn't get the out, they saved the extra base. In ever instance they showed poise, an understanding of the game, and an uncharacteristic degree of coordination. They were just plain playing great and we were thrilled. Through the first three innings, the Bears were scoreless. Our kids were really jelling.
I should stop for a second and give some team history. This well oiled machine was not always so well oiled. Indeed, careful scrutiny of the Wikipedia reveals a picture of the 2004 team next to the term "Hapless." As first graders, our boys stumbled, bumbled and lost their way through the season. They managed to pull out a single victory. And while it was no fun to lose and lose and lose, the unwavering positivity of the head coach kept the boys running back on the field with energy and excitement every game. They had a great season despite . . . how shall I put it? . . . sucking. Big time. So no one was more surprised than we when a year later each and every awkward, distracted first grader had turned into a throwing, catching, concentrating second grader (ok, concentrating may be a little bit of a stretch -- but there have been a lot fewer gloves on the heads and sit down strikes in the outfield this year than last). We parents had prepared ourselves for another year of "great effort," "nice hustle," "we don't even keep track of the score," "you'll get the next one," "you guys were looking great out there" . . . you get the picture. Given the history, the parents cheered with even greater zeal from the sidelines. Everyone loves an underdog and our theme song had gone from "Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog" to "Who Let The Dogs Out?" in a single season. We were all enjoying it.
With that history behind us, I walked over to coach third base. This was a change of scenery for me. I'm a first base coach at heart. I live to scream "run, run, run," and "stop watching the ball and run." It is a relatively unthinking job made for a loudmouth like myself. Third base, on the other hand, is a challenge. It takes more skill. It takes some judgment. Do you send the kids? Do you hold them? Do you have any control over them whatsoever? I was up for the challenge. What I didn't realize was that I was being sent into a war zone. The Bears sat along the third base line and their coaches were growing increasingly disgruntled with the way the game was going. With our boys leading by something like 15 to 0, they were not happy campers. And they were absolutely convinced that my fellow coaches and I were exacerbating the problem by being overly aggressive coaches. Yes, that's right, we were the Rule Nazis.
Calling me a RN may be fair. I don't actually know the rules but I am certainly a loud mouth. And I am not nearly as nice as my fellow coaches. But calling the rest of the crowd RNs is a bit like calling Mother Theresa a selfish bitch. I recently had a conversation with one of my fellow coaches that went something like this.
Him: Did you go to the Positive Coaching Alliance training?
Me: No, I didn't make it.
Him: That's a shame, it was really great.
Now I know who actually goes to the Positive Coaching Alliance trainings. I always wondered. Our head coach is such a great guy that I am absolutely convinced he spends his spare mental cycles coming up with new ways to say "you blew it" in a positive way. He says things like "nice job, you really got in front of that ball" and "way to keep it to two bases." His storehouse of positive coaching one liners is like a bottomless pit. I envy him his patience, his character and his immense creativity.
As the Bears' coach took to the field between innings, he angrily grunted "nice sportsmanship" in my general direction. Judging by his tone, I suspected he had intended it sarcastically, so I inquired as to what I had done wrong. The Bears were angry because we were encouraging our kids to run the bases aggressively despite the fact that we were beating their team by a dozen or two runs. It was a reasonable point and, thus, I stopped encouraging my kids to run hard. But a few slipped by nonetheless, scoring in the process. We went further ahead still. As I headed back to my bench at the end of the inning, the Bears' coach grumbled something derogatory in my general direction again. I didn't bother responding.
But when I headed back to coach third base the next inning, I was once again confronted by the harumphing BHC. Rather than leave well enough alone, I asked the BHC, "what is it we are doing wrong?" This infuriated him. He stopped in his tracks and began lecturing me on the need to slow my kids from scoring so many runs. I suppose it is worth mentioning at this point that the BHC was probably 6 foot 4 and maybe 320 pounds. I, on the other hand, am about half that -- ok, maybe not 3 foot 2, but at 5 foot 4 it looked like the Bears' coach could reach down and literally rip my head off. This guy's neck was the size of my thigh. If he didn't play football in college, he missed his calling. He was just plane huge.
As the BHC continued to lecture me on the finer points of sportsmanship, he slowly walked closer and closer to me. Being a stupid man, I stood my ground. After all, I wasn't doing anything wrong. Why should I back off? Just because this guy was the size of a SubZero and growing increasingly volatile? What's the likelihood that he hauls off and smacks me, anyway? Seemed pretty low to me at the time. Then again, I wasn't really thinking about it. I was too busy being indignant. Who was this guy to question our couching ethics? So I stared right back up at his great hunk of a head looming above me. Apparently for a brief moment the parents on our sideline were fairly convinced that I was about to get pummelled. But there was nothing they could do. The combined girth of our respective team parents would barely have slowed him. Luckily, the BHC decided not to end my life (at least not that day). Rather, he hissed with blood-chilling venom, "stop showing up my boys," and turned to continue his lumbering march into the outfield.
For the remainder of the game I engaged in the near-impossible task of slowing down second grade base runners. No matter how huge the hit, no matter how bumbling the fielding, I would hold my runners to a single base per at bat. The kids would look at me, my arms forcefully raised in the "stop" signal, with expressions ranging from shock to horror to general disbelief. They wanted to make the most of their hits and I wasn't letting them. While no explanation could possible justify the injustice to these kids, I did my best to say things like "great listening" and "nice base running" as each rolled around to third base. Instead of quickly finishing out the inning with the maximum allowable runs, the boys had to get their points the old fashioned way -- one at a time. But eventually the kids did max out their runs and were sent to the field.
We creeped along that way for a couple innings until the game mercifully ended -- final score: a bunch to a couple. The families cheered from the sidelines. The kids jumped up and down. But we coaches kept our celebrating to a bare minimum, so as not to further enrage the BHC. With great care, we walked to the other side to congratulate the boys and their coaches for a game well played but the BHC was nowhere to be found. He was far too upset about our bad sportsmanship to shake our hands. Who can blame him.