I was sunburned and my back hurt from trying to throw soft toss strikes to a lineup of six year olds. We’d played three innings over the course of an hour, and my team was more than a little ready for snacks. As we gathered together by third base, ready to do the traditional “two-four-six-eight who do we appreciate?” chant that was old when I was young, one of my players leaned in to me and asked: “Is now when we get to go hug our moms?”
It’s a simple truth that I’ve learned over the course of our season: If you want to feel joy, watch t-ball. If you want to feel inspired, coach it.
I’ve spent my entire adult life working with kids. As a teacher, a high school coach, and an administrator, I’ve laughed with, disciplined, and taught literally thousands of youngsters. Sometimes I was out of balance, my job taking more time from my family than it should. Other times I got things right. This spring, for the first time in forever, I said “yes” to coaching my son’s T-ball team. It was the most renewing choice I think I’ve ever made.
Not that it’s easy, the best things in life often aren’t, but it provides me with three gifts I treasure.
Coaching six year olds gives me perspective. I work with almost a thousand middle schoolers every day, and see in them so much of what I see in my t-ball players. The goofiness, innocence, and joy that I witness on the baseball diamond is echoed at my school. Sure the twelve and thirteen year olds are trying harder to be cool, struggle with the changes of adolescence, and feel self conscious in a way no pack of outfielders chasing a rolling ball ever have, but in their smiling faces and hopeful eyes I see the exuberance of youth.
Coaching T-ball puts me in contact with the raw energy and joy that is childhood. It reminds me that we all need to cry sometimes, get a hug from our mom or dad, and then pick up our glove and get back in the game.
It’s why I end every practice with the line: “go hug your parents!” And it’s why I honestly believe I’m a better middle school principal because of the kids on my team.
Coaching T-ball gives me hope. I see such goodness in the kids I get to play ball with, and such generosity in their parents, who volunteer to help out at every practice, love and support their kids, and show kindness and patience (even as they bite their lower lips as their sons and daughters swing at that soft tossed ball).
Coaching my team inspires me to be my best self. At spring break, when we went to soft toss in lieu of a tee, I was worried that the kids would cry. A lot. To my surprise, they hit! At least a bit. And even those to whom hitting did not come naturally were willing to try. To swing. To miss. To learn. To improve.
As an educator, the lessons for me are many. And even when I’m sunburned and sore, the kids’ determination to improve, their desire to have fun, and their ability to burst into unscripted happiness is magical.
This weekend my son gave me a drawing. Newly obsessed with major league baseball, I figured it to be a sketch of Matt Kemp or Clayton Kershaw. I was wrong.
“That’s you,” he said, pointing to the paper. “Throwing baseballs to me.”
He didn’t see me cry right then, but I melted inside.
I know that coaching T-ball has made me a better person, and I hope and believe that it has also made me a better educator. I know there are lessons there on patience, and believing in others, and kindness there if I am willing to listen.
I have a feeling that at this spring’s 8th grade promotion ceremony I’ll have feelings not unlike I had last week at third base. Tired, hot, and ready to go have dinner with my family, I honestly believe that I’ll also feel that hope, happiness, and inspiration that youth offer to us all. And whether I say it aloud or just whisper it under my breath, I’ll remember that now is, or should be, the time we get to go hug our moms.