‘Hey, coach!’

By John Toth

“Hey, coach,” yelled the young man as he tried to get my attention recently. “Don’t you remember me?”
He played for me in Little League as a kid many, many years ago. I coached a bunch of youth teams back in the day.
Then he told me what team and what year, and everything clicked.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” he said.
“You have,” I replied. “You grew up and have facial hair. You had a squeaky voice and were about a quarter that size the last time I saw you.”
It feels great (although awkward until we square away the team and the year) when one of those kids says hello. It brings back a lot of good memories.
Youth sports coaching is a slippery slope. One bad parent can do a lot of damage. The kids were never a problem, and the vast majority of the parents were great. But every now and then one came along who made things a little difficult.
But we’re not going to discuss those.
I decided a couple of times that I would not coach again, and then a team was put together without a coach, and I agreed to do it for another season.
The pay and the hours were lousy, but the satisfaction was immense. Here is why.
Some of my best years of coaching youth sports were with teams drafted without a coach. The other coaches drafted the kids who they knew were good, and a board member drafted the team without a coach.
Those kids were not exactly the cream of the athletic crop.
We didn’t have winning seasons. Actually, it took a while to get a win under our belts.
After we lost our first few games, I told the kids that I would hold an additional optional batting practice an hour before regular practice. Anyone who wanted to get a few hits in while getting some one-on-one coaching could come out, and we would work on whatever I could see was wrong.
All the kids were on the field an hour early at the next practice. By the end, my arm needed Advil, but it was worth it. That’s the way we held practice from then on.
We started to win a few games we should have lost. Everybody played equal time. Nobody was pulled because someone else needed to deliver a clutch hit.
By the end of the season, we were known as the spoilers. The players jelled into a good team, and we heard some talk around the ball field that this team should not be taken lightly.
Those days made great memories. But the kids went on their way, and eventually I stopped coaching altogether. I focused on my businesses, and the memories of those early years have somewhat faded.
Until someone yells, “Hey, coach!”
Then we start talking about the plays that the kids made, what good times we had at practice, and what a great team party we had at the end of the season.
It didn’t seem that important back then. Sometimes we got caught up in the fervor of the game, especially when I really wanted to beat a top team with my rag-tag bunch.
When we succeeded, we had a great time. When we came up short, we had a great time.
And memories were made.
That’s what youth sports is all about. So, all of you coaches out there, I hope you get as lucky as me and create some memories that will be jolted 15 years from now when someone yells at you, “Hey, coach!”