BASEBALL IS MORE THAN A GAME

“When the moon sails out
with a hundred faces all the same,
the coins made of silver
break out in sobs in the pocket.”
Federico García Lorca

 

As the ball sailed out of the infield, runners began to circle the bases, and thus another baseball season came to an end.

My son Peter has been playing ball since he was 4. Last night brought a close to his 8th season and 2nd of Fall ball. It also marked my 8th as a coach.

Coaching Little League baseball has been one of the greatest joys, and challenges of my life. I’ve always believed that baseball is more than just a game and that within its confines is an approximation of life itself.

My philosophy on coaching consists of a few basic tenets. Have fun being first and foremost. Focus on fundamentals is next. Develop strong foundational skills and then growing the rest. It’s always at the forefront of my teachings to set a ballplayer up for future success. To give them the skills that, if they desire, they can compete at the next level without a coach having to retool their play.

Wins are certainly important, after all, we do keep score for a reason, but it’s been my experience that teams that have a strong commitment to fundamentals and have a lot of fun playing the game, tend to win a lot. If you think about it, that formula applies to life as well.

I spend a lot of time preaching to my teams about not focusing on the mistakes made, but on what you do afterward. If a ball went by you in the infield, instead of pouting did you set up for the relay from the outfield? Botch a play in the field, focus instead on getting a timely hit at-bat versus being upset. Always be looking at what comes after the mistake, as opposed to what just happen.

Lastly, we always play with sportsmanship. You don’t gloat. You don’t disparage.You play the game hard and you recognize when others do as well. You accept your losses with the same grace as your wins and vice versa.

This year I’ve added a new one – support your teammates and have enough faith in them to let them play their game. Most of these boys have been playing the game a while and with that experience comes a level of knowledge that evokes a need to control the game and the actions of your teammates. Resist that urge.

I encourage recognition that you are all part of a team with a shared goal, but not always a shared approach. It’s important to trust that your teammate is as committed to the goal – in this case winning the game – and that they are bringing their unique perspective and skill set to the endeavor. Instead of critiquing, and trying to force them to adhere to your approach, try to find ways to support and facilitate.

For example, picking a runner off at third base is a scary endeavor for a 12U baseball team. Most catchers are incapable of making a throw with the required accuracy. Most third basemen get tangled up with the runner and as a result, the ball sales into left field and the runner advances to score. As a result, players often caution each other about attempting the pick off. They urge the pitcher and the catcher to just focus on the batter.

For whatever reason, Peter can make the throw and knows he can. Instead of continuing their protests and admonishments, our third basemen realize Peter is going to attempt that play and they need to figure out how to get in position and catch that ball. Yesterday, they did that exact thing several times. Those are the moments I cherish.

This season has been a challenging one. Anyone that has ever worked with 11 and 12-year-old boys will attest that they come with all kinds of emotional swings and degrees of confidence. Some are physically and emotionally more developed than others, leading some to be more invested than others. Bringing this disparate group of individuals together to focus on a common goal is often akin to herding cats.

But oh, when it comes together, nothing is more beautiful. When they are working together and complementing each other in both words and deeds, it’s an amazing thing. I am thankful for the times these boys let me bear witness and share in their amazing collaborations this year. Little do they know how much inspiration to get through these trying times they delivered.

This year was also a lesson about parent advocacy and how a well-timed conversation can alter outcomes.

Early in the season, I was using one player in more of an outfield role and batting him lower in the order. For whatever reason, that’s where I perceived his skill level. His father didn’t agree. One night I received a phone call,

“Coach I respect what you are doing but I got to tell you, I think you are underestimating my boy. As a result, he’s not having as much fun this year. I don’t want to be that parent but…”

Instead of being defensive, I said, “Let’s talk about it.” And we did.

The father went on to tell me about how in the past his son had successfully played the infield and batted higher in the line-up. He felt that the shift to a perceived lesser role had negatively impacted his son’s engagement, that if the boy was given more of a chance, he would rise to the occasion.

I countered that the player had just moved up in age bracket and that based on where I perceived he was in his development, we were best setting him up for success. I was wrong.

The next game after our conversation, I decided to take a chance and started the player at second base. He responded by catching a line drive and smacking a double to the outfield. Needless to say, I used him differently for the rest of the season. He became more engaged. He hit with more regularity. It served as a reminder that developing children is a team sport and we always need to listen to voices other than our own.

Not all of my moves provided that kind of instantaneous success. Pre-teen boys will often display a sense of bravado that doesn’t match what they actually possess. One of my boys is a gifted athlete that is often undermined by his lack of confidence in himself. A symptom of that lack of confidence is when he’s physically challenged, he’ll slip into a laissez-faire mode, acting as if the game has no real meaning to him and he doesn’t care how it turns out. The reality is, he cares deeply.

One night he was pitching. It wasn’t going his way and he quickly slipped into his “too cool for school” persona. After he’d allowed two runs and the bases were loaded, I called time and walked to the mound.

“Take me out, coach. I suck,” was his greeting as I approached the mound.

“Nope. Not going to happen. Not letting you quit on yourself. You are finishing this inning either by them getting 5 runs or getting them on outs. It’s up to you.”

He continued to pitch badly and as a result, the other team scored three more runs. He came off the field holding back tears. I met him halfway, “You can’t quit on yourself,” I told him, “It’s a terrible habit to start. Do you think I would put you in a position that I felt you couldn’t be successful in?”

“No,” he replied.

“You are right. I would never do that. If I didn’t think you had the ability, I wouldn’t have left you in. You have to trust in both yourself and me, and allow yourself the opportunity to succeed.”

I’m not going to lie, that night I didn’t sleep well. Had I pushed him too far? Was it really my place to push him in this manner? Had I inadvertently turned him off to the sport due to my insistence that he keep trying? The next morning I sent an email to his parents checking on him. They said he was down, but good, and lent their support. Later that day they left for a week’s vacation. I hoped that upon their return from vacation he would return to our team. He was in uniform last night for the last game after a 10-day absence.

After the first inning, I offered him the baseball and the opportuning to once again take the mound. He accepted without hesitation. It was quickly clear that he’d spent some time working on his pitching while away on vacation. His stuff last night wasn’t the stuff of legend, but his willingness to once again return to the field of the previous failure in an effort to reverse outcomes spoke volumes. There are no words to express my sense of pride in that boy.

I could spend this whole piece telling similar stories – the truth is, I’ve already rambled on more than I initially intended – but suffice it to say, that these past 6 months were among the most rewarding of my life.

At a time when normality is scarce, we managed to play a Spring and a Fall season of baseball with no negative consequences. Post-911, baseball, and the Yankees helped a nation heal and provided hope for all. This year Crieve Hall 12U baseball season didn’t exist on the same plane, but it would be wrong to dismiss its role in keeping us all a little saner.

I can already feel the hole left by the conclusion of the season, but I’m brought solace by the familiar feeling of a season-ending and anticipation being turned towards February when the games will again resume.

To the parents and ballplayers of this year’s Crieve Hall 12U Rangers, to all our worthy opponents, to the umps that graciously gave of their time, to Todd Carr who tirelessly worked as commissioner to make the season possible…thank you. Thank you for continually enriching my life and allowing me a front-row seat to a season of minor miracles. I am eternally grateful and look forward to the Spring when we’ll do it again.

BUT OF COURSE, THEY HAVE AN OPINION

David Mansouri, Executive Director of the State Collaborative On Reforming Education(SCORE) has weighed in this morning on the subject of Spring’s TNReady administration with a policy memo. Not surprisingly – since SCORE has never met an assessment it didn’t like – he’s calling for the state to hold tight to its testing schedule,

We believe that the summative TCAP assessment is critical for understanding and responding to the COVID-19 complexities, and we support Governor Lee’s decision to conduct the assessment in 2020-21.

Of course, no announcement from SCORE, or for that matter TDOE, would be complete without a reference to Tennessee being recognized as “the fastest improving state in the country” based on a test administered nearly a decade ago. But I do find this pronouncement interesting,

In 2019, Tennessee ranked higher than ever and is at or near the national average in every grade level and content area. Tennessee’s COVID-19 recovery strategy should build on what works for Tennessee students.

That seems to run counter to the message being delivered by Education Commissioner Schwinn and Governor Lee. In applying for a $20 million federal grant Associate Superintendent of Materials and Curriculum Lisa Coons informed the Federal Department of Education,

Though literacy has been a priority in Tennessee for a decade, past literacy initiatives have been neither comprehensive in scope nor anchored by high-quality curriculum materials that provide the necessary roadmap to improve instruction.

Maybe the results of past policy advocated by SCORE are not, as Mansouri asserts, apparent to everyone.

Mansouri goes on to make predictable recommendations.

  1. Administer end-of-year TCAP assessments in the 2020-21 academic year.
  2. Transparently and publicly report student learning and all other 2020-21 measures.
  3. Allow for flexibility on certain accountability measures this year to reflect the extraordinarynature of this moment.

Of course, they argue that scores shouldn’t be used to evaluate teachers or schools, but we all know that’s bullshit. If you are giving the test and looking at results, you are making evaluations. If you are prescribing actions and policies based on results, you are holding schools accountable. Any test administered will create a permanent record for teachers, students, and schools. One whose usage will be impossible to dictate in the future.

One of my favorite points is where SCORE argues,

We recommend that the Tennessee General Assembly take action so that no Priority List is released in 2021 and no overall school ratings in the form of letter grades are issued for 2020-21 results. There should still be a pathway for schools that have met the improvement criteria to exit the Priority List in 2021.

This recommendation defies logic. If you can’t trust the results in relation to negative consequences, how can you trust it in relation to positive consequences? If you can’t trust the data for putting schools on a priority list, how can you trust it in taking them off the list? The data is either legitimate or not. In this case, I’d argue…not.

In response to SCORE’s list of recommendations, here are Dad Gone Wild’s three recommendations. You decide which ones you think are better for kids and teachers.

  1. Cancel all testing and teacher evaluations for this year, recognizing that instruction is being delivered and received in a variety of methods, many without precedent.
  2. Instead of a large summative assessment that provides a rogue department of education an abundance of data that they can use to further their agenda, focus on locally administered formal and informal formative assessments that allow teachers and administrators to guide instruction. In other words, allow the boots on the ground to provide direction.
  3. Instead of focusing on filling school buildings and measuring hypothetical learning loss, focus on ensuring that all students are receiving quality instruction via whatever model utilized. Facilitate the identifying and scaling of best practices in these unprecedented times through collaboration by creating an environment where it is possible to share both successes and failures in an effort to serve all kids.

One thing in SCORE’s policy memo that I do support is their call for increased transparency. As they say,

Public reporting also ensures that it is transparent to the public whether state investments are targeting the schools and districts that need the most support.

Mansouri could lead on this initiative by publically listing SCORE’s donors. It wouldn’t hurt if he got his friends over at Tennesseans for Student Success to do the same. However, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

QUICK HITS

Come 1:15 PM today, the eyes of Nashville’s teachers, students, and parents will be focused on Bransford Avenue. The MNPS School Board has called an emergency work session in order to review the ongoing return to the school process. What this means is anyone guesses, but speculation is already at a fever pitch. It’s worth noting that the board never gave its stamp of approval to the re-entry plan. The argument put forth by Dr. Battle’s cabinet was that this was a decision similar to a weather-related closing, and thus board approval was not needed. Hmmm…maybe not entirely necessary, but I would argue needed.

Since everyone is getting in on the speculation game, here is mine. Today’s meeting is likely to end with a delay in the re-entry plan. Elementary students will continue to attend in person, while middle school re-admission to schools will be delayed. This will take into account both the rising number of infections and the increased difficulty in contact tracing by adding middle school kids while allowing the youngest learners access to in-person learning.

Keep in mind though, this board is fully capable of holding an emergency meeting that does nothing but get people worked up and offer an opportunity for self congratulations to themselves and Dr. Battle. So proceed with caution. Come this evening we’ll know for sure.

NPR education writer Anya Kamenetz is raising the question of whether the risks associated with opening schools are overexaggerated. Preliminary data from international studies seems to indicate there is less danger than anticipated. However, let’s make sure we are paying attention to this key passage,

While agreeing that emerging data is encouraging, other experts said the United States as a whole has made little progress toward practices that would allow schools to make reopening safer — from rapid and regular testing, to contact tracing to identify the source of outbreaks, to reporting school-associated cases publicly, regularly and consistently.

Melinda Buntin, chair of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, who has argued for reopening schools with precautions frames it thus, “We are driving with the headlights off, and we’ve got kids in the car.”

Education writer and teacher Peter Greene tells the story today about a Virginia teacher who gave their school board a live COVID demonstration. Reportedly, Teacher Brent Halstead approached the board, stood about six feet away, took off his mask, and opened up a bag of chips and some drink. This, he explained to the board, is what they are asking teachers to do with twenty kids in a classroom. The board was not amused and asked him to put on his mask while being escorted from the building.

The brand new Springsteen LP, Letter to You, is out today. This one is a full E-Street reunion record. I was cautiously optimistic about this one, but after listening all morning, I’ll give it an “A”. Do yourself a favor take a listen.

Former Hillwood HS principal and current District 4 School Board candidate Steve Chauncy has finally got around to releasing his financial disclosures and they ain’t pretty. The other candidates have all raised a minimum of $9k with the incumbent Nabaa-McKinney raising $20k, By contrast, Chauncy has raised $2700. While the others all enjoy favor by various special interest groups, Chauncy is his own sole donor. If that doesn’t raise some eyebrows, I don’t know what will.

The Lipscomb University College of Education’s undergraduate and graduate elementary teacher preparation programs have once again been named among the top in the nation by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a nonpartisan, not-for-profit research and policy organization, for strong training in classroom management strategies and high-quality clinical practice experiences. Lipscomb University’s undergraduate and graduate elementary teacher prep programs stand out as among only 17 elementary programs in the country that earned an A in both clinical practice and classroom management, and serve as a model of excellence for others according to the NCTQ report. Props to the Bisons!

That’s it for today.

If you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work to accentuate the positive.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy.

If you so desire to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them.

Don’t forget to answer the survey questions.



Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. Those are some fortunate 12u’s with you as coach! Ahhhhh, baseball makes it all better, I think.

    Thank you for diligently covering the tough issues our schools face and putting yourself “out there” in every post you write. Fearlessly voicing your opinion while staying open to the differing thoughts of others is quite a feat. Need more like you.

    -Suzanne Myers

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