“Don’t cry.” Those two words book-end an era for me. For the last three and a half years, I have coached the same group of boys as a baseball team. It’s a pretty remarkable thing to keep the same group together for that long. We started when they were 8, and we finished our last tournament as a team Sunday with them as 11-year-olds.
Part of my motivation in getting into youth coaching was those two words, often yelled at little boys after they got out, “Don’t cry!” It never really sat well with me to see grown-ups telling small children not to process their emotions. A lot of pain in this world has come from people, especially young men, who simply aren’t able to work through the grief and pain in their lives. I understood the motivation of not letting a small setback ruin their chance at having fun, but “stop crying!” seemed to be a bit of a shortcut to get there. So I did my best to shepherd twelve kids along in learning baseball at a high level in an environment where they could be kids, where they could fail safely (the world’s best baseball players fail two-thirds of the time anyway), where they could build a brotherhood and a passion for the game, and where they could know they were loved no matter the outcome on the field.
Did we succeed? That depends entirely on one’s definition of success. We had ups and downs with our record on the field. We lost sight of our vision and perspective on youth sports a few times along the way. But we kept it together, and I did my level best to plant the seeds of success in them. Joe Ehrmann, a legendary youth football coach, was asked once about what kind of success his high school football team would have in the upcoming season. His response has been my guiding light for how I define success in youth sports: “Ask me in 20 years. In 20 years, we’ll know what kind of husbands and fathers and community leaders they’ve turned out to be. Ask me 20 years from now whether we had success this season.”
To my group of boys, I had the privilege to coach for three and a half years, I am confident we will have had success because of the fine young men you always showed yourselves to be to me, to the game, and to each other. Coaching youth sports is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of time and emotional energy. But for those who stick with it, you ultimately get out of it more than you give. You get the opportunity to watch kids start to figure things out on their own, to work out problems together, to overcome disappointment and doubt, to roll with the punches. Ultimately, you get to watch them in their process of growing up, with all the bittersweetness that entails.
As we finished our final tournament Sunday with me coaching our team, I told them, through my own tears, I would think back on our time together and not cry. I would instead think of the words attributed to Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” Kids grow up so fast. But there is so much fun and joy to have along the way. Here’s me giving thanks and smiling for getting to watch a group of boys go through part of it together.
Nathan Dickson is an attorney with Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C.