Sometimes we lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes we need a slap in the head from the Universe to remind us – not of what we’re doing – but why we’re doing what we do. Our “busy-ness” comes from the what. Our fire comes from the “why”.
Nice Day for a Ball Game
It was a gorgeous Saturday morning in our fair city. And the championship game was on. Some of you know that, in addition to working in the education field, I have also moonlighted as a Little League baseball coach for the past four years. Four years ago, I didn’t even like baseball… but that’s another story altogether.
I coach the little guys… six and seven year-olds, fresh out of T-Ball. Our division is known as “Single A”… or, basically, the “little guys”. I’m happy with that division because, at that level, it’s not so much about winning as it is about learning basic skills and having fun. Once you get into the upper divisions,
it, sadly, becomes all about winning.
On this particular Saturday, I was watching the championship game of the AAA division (10 – 12 year-olds). It wasn’t just the league championship. It was the city championship. It was the first place team of our league (the American League) versus the first place team of our cross-town rival (the National League). One of the kids on the American League team was older brother to one of the little guys on our Single-A team, and he had helped us throughout the season with basic baseball skills, so I wanted to get out and support him in the city championship.
By the time I arrived, the game was already underway.
What Did You Just Call Me?
“Hey Coach!” said the man a couple of people down from me in the crowd (even after four years, I still find it a bit unnerving that grown men will call you ‘coach’ when they see you).
“Hey there…” I recognized the man’s face, but I couldn’t place it. I knew that I had met him somewhere in baseball, but couldn’t place him. I hate it when that happens.
I continued to watch the game. One of our batters came up – I recognized him. Miles. I had known him as a member of one of the opposing Single-A teams two or three years back. And, last year, I had a chance to coach him when I took on the managing duties for the league’s 9-year-old “runner up” All-Star Team (a team made up of the twelve second-best 9 year-old players). The “runner-up” (or B-Team as they were called) All Star-Team was a job that no one really wanted to take on, but I agreed to after a conversation with the league president saying that they wouldn’t get to play in any tournaments if no one agreed to coach them… and, like Obi-Wan in the original Star Wars, I was the last best hope for them to continue into the post-season.
Then it hit me… the man who had spoken to me earlier was Miles’ father. It figured that I didn’t remember him that well… the “B Team” had only spent about 3 weeks together – enough to practice and play in 2 or 3 postseason tournaments.
Between innings, Miles’ father came up to me again and provided one of those “smacks to the head” of which I spoke before.
A Friendly Smack In The Head From the Universe
“You know,” he started. “Miles wouldn’t be playing today if it wasn’t for you.”
“Unhh….” With conversation starters like these, I’m never sure exactly what to say.
“After last season, he was ready to quit baseball,” Miles’ dad said. “But because of your positive coaching of the All-Star Team – well, he’s back this year.”
And playing in the city championship, I thought.
At that point, it’s hard to describe what I felt. Pride. Humility. Affirmation. Significance.
And then it hit me, this is why I do what I do.
The whole point is making a difference in the lives of the children and youth that I touch.
And, honestly, I believe that making a difference is the ultimate payoff for 90% of the teachers, coaches, rec specialists… all those who work with children and youth.
But it’s so easy to forget.
Miles may not grow up to play in the major leagues (but then, again, after seeing the way he deftly handled a line drive coming at 50 mph toward his head in the bottom of the sixth, maybe he will). But that’s not the important part. Sure, no matter if his baseball career ends tomorrow or at a retirement of his jersey from the San Francisco Giants in the year2045, I’ll be proud of the small part I played in his development. The real brass tacks of the matter is that I made a difference in this kid’s life.
And Here’s the Real Secret of Your Universe
The killer bottom line here is that, if you work with kids, children, youth… anyone in a mentor-like capacity, you’re making that same difference with them every day you show up.
And my guess is that you don’t remember that you make that difference… at least you don’t remember more than you do.
One of the earliest thought-leaders I can remember learning from in the educational field is Betsey Haas. Her tag line is “I make the difference.”
Go write that down on an index card and put it in your pocket. Or, better yet, in your shoe. Anywhere you’ll notice it. And remember that whether you know it or not, whether you get feedback on it or not, you make the difference.