For the Kids

I’m coaching Linus’s baseball team again this year.  Last year I was surprised at how much I enjoyed coaching the team and helping the kids, but I shouldn’t have been.  Rather than being a new experience, it was really a reprise of an older role for me, having been a college debate coach for three years in the mid-1990’s.

I like coaching/leading people who I think I can help in some way.  My style is to encourage as much as possible, to teach as much as I can, and to generally let kids work things out for themselves.  That’s true as much with 8 or 9 year-old baseball players as it was with 18 to 22 year-old college debaters.  Some coaches are big on technical detail, or are workhorses who put in large amounts of time and expect the same from their charges, but I was never able to fit either of those molds because I couldn’t lead by example. In baseball or debate, I was never a hard worker or a skilled technician.  I had some natural talents that allowed me to play either game without much hard work, which of course can be a curse.  I did the activities because they were fun, and the people I met while doing the activities were fun, and somewhere along the way I decided having fun and winning weren’t necessarily the same thing.

And fun always, always has trumped winning for me.

Which is not to say winning isn’t fun.  It often is.  But I’ve also known a lot of winners who weren’t particularly happy or enjoyable people, and I typically find winning to require a lot of time and effort that I find to be in short supply.  So fun it is!

It’s hard for me to know where to draw that line between winning and fun when you are coaching.  I think a lot about the kids I coached in college debate.  I know that on many levels I failed them as a coach.  I knew it at the time, and so did they.  I know that if I’d worked harder, or demanded more work from them, we would have won more debates.  On the other hand, I think I had pretty good relationships with the kids I coached over the years, and count many among my close friends some 15 years later.  But of course that’s a false dichotomy, one that’s convenient to my purposes–I also know a lot of debate coaches who were not only friends with their kids but also demanded everything the kids had, and gave all they could give as coaches.  So for me to say I did OK because I was a friend to the kids seems to come up a bit short.  I could have and should have done more, but I didn’t, and I can’t change it now.

I think about that, all these years later.  I think about it as I start to coach another season of baseball, and how important it was to me last year when the kids and parents had such kind words for me at the end of the year.  Some even had DQ gift certificates.  I thought the primary benefit of coaching the team would be the time I would spend with Linus, but in the end he was just another kid on the team (most of the time).  The real benefit, from my perspective, was knowing without a doubt that I had helped the kids, that I hadn’t let them down the way I let my debaters down back in the day.

Of course, most of my debaters went on to do just fine for themselves, thank you, and the truth is that would have happened whether they won 100 more debates, or 100 less.  I know I taught my kids something important along the way, even though that might not have translated into any debate wins, and even though I can’t specifically name any of the things I might have taught them, nor could they.

At least with baseball I can point to a kid and say, “I taught him to get his elbow above his shoulder when he throws.”  And believe me, if I can do that with all 13 of my kids this year, I will be very proud, indeed.

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16 Responses to For the Kids

  1. Bill R Bland says:

    And it was just as easy with a bunch of high school kids who got drunk at a debate tournament, or two high school kids who forever saved their coach from impending doom, twice. Thanks Dougie. BTW, I do read this, retired and all, I have the time. Bill (AARP member) Bland

  2. pipelineblog says:

    Now that’s a blast from the past. I remember saving you once, but twice?

  3. david says:

    While winning isn’t everything, I think you’ll probably agree that, whether it’s youth baseball, college debate, or presidential politics, it sucks to lose. Whenever I’ve coached, the focus has been on acquiring the basic skills and being competitive with the other teams. As long as they know what they are doing, play the game well, and have a close match its usually fun for the kids and the parents. Is there a snack list for college debate?

  4. Doug Hennessee says:

    It’s true, losing does generally suck. Linus’s baseball league has a skills focus and is not an intense program, and I think the balance is just right for 8 and 9 year olds.

    I actually spent a fair amount of time trying to deemphasize the winning/competition aspect of the games for the kids last year (they only offiicially keep score in the last three games, anyway). I mean, the kids were all hyper-excited about the score, but the problem is they barely knew how to play the game. I’d sometimes mention in practice when the other team beat us, but that had no impact whatsoever on how they practiced.

    The motivation at that age has to come from simply wanting to get better, to hit the ball harder, to make the play and get cheers from the parents and your teammates. When those things are all done right the wins happen on their own.

    No snack list in debate, but intense interest in who would be making the night’s beer run.

  5. Nathan D says:

    Let down? Come on, dude — don’t be so hard on yourself. I know most of the “kids” you coached, and I doubt very many of them feel that way at all.

  6. Baisley says:

    Yeah, I completely agree with Nathan. Many of my best memories of debate concern my coaches. I doubt that would be the case if they were crazy work addicts. I think those relationships develop in a mutually reinforcing ways. I was never a debate work horse…so much so that anyone reading that phrase familiar with my debate career would laugh, smile, or make some joke at my expense. Maybe that makes my opinion skewed, but the value I placed/place in those relationships had zero to do with how many cards were cut or how many rounds were won.

  7. Doug Hennessee says:

    Well, granted, I didn’t let anybody waaay down. We managed. It’s just that only I know the gap was between what I did and what I could have done, but I suppose that’s a running theme in my life in most areas save one: peanut butter cup consumption. I’ve overachieved there.

    Matt, I’m not sure how many people were around both of us as debaters to make the comparison, but I’ll bet you something important and shiny that I did less work than you did. Though, to my credit, I did give my own speeches, and I knew a disturbing number of people who were so prepped by coaching staffs that were bigger than our entire squad that I sometimes wondered who was actually doing the debating.

    I also handled all of my own drinking, drug consumption, and attempts to spend quality time with certain female debaters and coaches, though in retrospect I perhaps should have outsourced the last part.

  8. Baisley says:

    I’ll take the pepsi challenge on this one Doug. Brent can settle this. Brent, set the record straight.

  9. Doug Hennessee says:

    Jim might be able to weigh in as well, if he coached you. He’s certainly qualified to comment on my work history. It’s a race to the bottom!

  10. David R says:

    Shit, at least you guys made it the full four years, a presumable requirement to participate in the great race to the bottom. Good thing for you guys too, because otherwise it would be fucking over before it began.

    And don’t forgot to to include Kelly Ross in this. I’d be willing to bet a few ducats on him when weighing the ratio of “natural talent vs. hard work” for various pipeline people.

  11. Doug Hennessee says:

    But I did virtually nothing for FIVE years. (Plus three as a coach.) I spent more time writing this comment than I did working on debate!

    Jim and Brent are really the key arbiters here. Jim and Brent, settle once and for all: Who was the biggest fuck up?


  12. bs says:

    Dave, kelly does not belong in this discussion as he spent a lot of time once he resurfaced at kstate doing debate work. of course he really didn’t attend class, which i think doug and matt did, but he did much more work than either doug or matt in terms of producing debate evidence.

    i wasn’t on the same squad as doug when doug was debating. however, doug was my coach, and i was around the emporia squad enough to get a feel for what was going on in terms of evidence production etc… when he was debating.

    this is an excellent comparison. very close to a draw. matt may have done slightly more work–i remember that he was sort of the go-to-guy on north korea on the sanctions topic. however, the amount of time matt spent in the squad room playing “age of empires” is at least a 50-to-1 ratio compared to his efforts on debate. i bet that doug had one or two issues that he did the same thing on.

    different eras make this tough to flesh out as well. i bet doug would have done a little more work if he had the tech tools at his disposal that matt did. doug had to actually go out of the house to research, whereas matt could squeeze in a few moments from the couch while watching the big lebowski for the hundredth time.

    the two of you should play some billiards to decide. you both spent about 13% of your fucking around time playing pool so whoever is better at billiards probably spent more time ducking debate work.

  13. bs says:

    in seriousness, i’d echo nate’s comments. debate was way more interesting because of those relationships than it ever was b/c of stacks of briefs produced by coaches. i have a lot of great memories of that first year and more of them revovled around bullshitting on van rides, playing pick up basketball or playing tony larussa baseball than having kick ass impacts to the bush(1) credibility disad. 18 years later i still have friendships with coaches like you and becky. plus you are discounting the pre-round coaching that you did quite a bit.

  14. David R says:

    Kelly, my apologies. I took what I knew of your debate habits at ESU and assumed a similar work emphasis at KSU despite the dramatic increase in victories and accolades.

    I’m actually a little disappointed to discover that Jesuit bid was actually the result of hard work. We slackers need heroes too, ya know…

  15. kelly says:

    Brent may have defended me more that I merited, but I did indeed do some work the year I got that bid. But, I really did that work more because I felt guilty about it, more than I probably contributed a whole lot of winning arguments. I can’t remember any of the work, my aff. case included if it comes as any consolation.

    But since we are reminiscing; I’ll say that the circle of friends made there, is pretty much still my circle of friends. And while many of those friends, who shall remain unnamed, even went further than helping me with my school work, they actually wrote some of it. These same friends helped me get my first tech job which is the best career I could have ever lucked into. And if I ever moved from the area I’d comb the network and it would still be heavily influenced by that debate circle.

    Seems like arguing all the time, and fucking off in those formative years, is more powerful than I ever gave it credit for while doing it. (mental note for future child when she drops out second semester freshman year)

  16. Todd Trautman says:

    I know I am over a month late to this thread, but I have been thinking about my days in Kansas lately. At work I am trying to decide if I want to step into a management position, or remain as an individual contributor.

    I know many of the readers of pipeline likely know the turmoil of 92-93 at K-State. I certainly don’t want a repeat of that experience.

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