Funny, I just realized that I haven’t written about this yet and it’s been a big focus this spring – I’m managing a T-Ball team! Mateo’s team, you probably already figured. Back in January a flurry of emails went around between moms of several kindergarten boys at Teo’s school, asking who would be interested in coaching the T-Ball team. When no dads stepped up, another mom and I did! It’s T-Ball, how hard could it be?!
In our neighborhood, T-Ball is part of the local Little League and it’s fairly intense. Dennis and I attended a half day coaching training and then there was a legit draft. I went in with a list of 11 boys from our school, all ready to pick my team, only to discover that they were all considered “6 year olds” by Little League age cutoffs! Turned out, I couldn’t pick all of them since every team had to have at least 3 “5 year olds”.
Our team is called The Friar Force, which I’m proud to say was my idea! Teo and many of his buddies are really into Star Wars right now, so that was the inspiration. There’s another team called “The Padres Strike Back” – every team in the league is Padres themed because they sponsored us. The uniforms are pretty awesome!
Practices were the hardest part. Getting 12 boys between 4 and 6 years old to pay attention and follow directions for an hour was tough! But, I got to practice my assertiveness skills on the little guys. They learned quickly enough that when Coach Kelsey says no, that means no. I was relieved when the practices ended and we transitioned to two games per week. It’s nice to have the structure of a game to keep everyone engaged.
Early on this season, I was helping one of our players practice hitting the ball. When he made really good contact on one swing, I looked him in the eye and said, “Good job! How did that feel?” He replied, “Great!” For some reason, that moment stuck with me. I recognized how important it was to get the boys to enjoy the feel of the game. There’s pressure already for the kids to play to their parents expectations. I can see it. Parents are excited for their sons to “be good” at sports and encourage them with praise when they achieve something. This moment helped me formulate my own coaching philosophy. I want the boys to learn skills, but more importantly to love the game. They’ll love it if it feels good. They’ll love baseball long term if they feel a connection to it. By asking them “How did that feel?” I hope they’ll connect on a deeper level and own their actions on the field.
Another lesson all the coaches and parents had to learn was lowering our expectations of what we’d be able to get boys this age to do. Catching a ball requires a high level of hand-eye coordination, that simply hasn’t developed yet. On the other hand, hitting, throwing, and fielding are coming along great! We’ve seen huge improvements in the boys over the past couple months. The growth aspect is so fun and rewarding!
My favorite is when the boys call me “Coach Kelsey”. Six of the players on the team are in Teo’s actual kindergarten classroom. At Family Lunch Day last week, I sat with 5 of that gang and was so tickled to chat with them. “Coach Kelsey, did you know my birthday is in August?” “Coach Kelsey, I have a swimming pool!” Getting to know the boys has been a true joy.
Going into coaching this little team, I kept reminding myself “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.” I wasn’t out to be the best T-Ball coach ever. It was busy season at my office and I had other commitments that were important to me. I wanted to put my heart into it, but not stress myself out over every drill, practice, parent email, or logistical issue. It was supposed to be fun and I’m happy to report that it has been a blast!
I played softball for nine years and spent a lot of time playing sports in our front yard as a kid. Being out in the field with the boys (the coaches are active the entire game in T-Ball!), I feel like a kid again. Cheering on the players, chatting in the outfield (which can be so boring!), and (my favorite!) running up to give high-fives to a player when they get an out, it’s just pure fun.