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Coaching youth is preparing tomorrow's leaders

If ever you want to take a glimpse into the future and see what kind of people are going to be in our community's work force, get involved in coaching any youth activity – sports, Lego Robotics, Math Masters, or Boy and Girl Scouts. I've helped coach a youth baseball team for two years with kids of all talent levels. I see who shows up for practice on time. Who works hard. Who will listen to constructive criticism, and who does what's asked of them to help the team.

In two years, I've seen boys who would be starters in higher level leagues if they had a better work ethic. These are the most challenging to coach and will likely be challenges to manage in the work place.

I've worked with boys who are timid, knowing their fielding and batting skills are lacking and are afraid to give their best effort for fear of failure. I tell them they're a part of the team like everyone else and, yes, they will give their best effort, just as we ask all team members. I never give up on them. I try every angle I can think of to motivate them and sometimes get bowled over when they step up to the challenge. I'm not saying these boys with less skill or time playing the game hit in the park home runs or make double plays consistently – but sometimes, they do. When it happens these kids get mobbed by their teammates. Team parents reactions are just as boisterous and supportive. For a moment in time, if I could capture the look of these boys in a photo and make it a poster, the caption would simply read "Bliss." Doing something to help the team makes them a part of something – maybe for the first time in their lives – and no one can take that from them.

Our head coach worries about the big stuff. I look for the kids who struggle with basic skills and work with them. A majors youth baseball coach just wouldn't have the time. After almost an hour working with one of our boys, he made a beautiful catch of a fly ball deep to right field and relayed the throw to the infield in time for a double play. I told him he became a ball player that day. I can't describe the look of pride on his face. He continues to improve and the parent gallery always cheers him on.

Coming from a large family and not a lot of money to spread across kids, I never had the newest, best equipment to play a sport, nor did I participate in many youth organized activities. But a large neighborhood full of kids gave many summer hours of free play where learning to run, catch, and throw were just a part of the day.

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Sandlot baseball is a thing of the past, I guess. Today's environment, with many single moms too busy working as the sole source of income, or families where both parents work, leaves little free time to just go out play with your kids.

Coaching kids for a Math Masters competition, a Lego Robotics League team, or with the Boys or Girl Scouts provides a golden opportunity for any adult, young or old, to teach life lessons: work your hardest, help those around you so the whole team succeeds, and never give up. Never give up running to first base – being called safe or out just might be that fraction of a second where you didn't pull up from a dead run.

Think that might translate to a tough problem at work one day? Maybe. Maybe not. But, as an adult, anytime you have a young person in front of you, there may be one of those magic teaching moments. Maybe I'm just a naive optimist, but I look for these moments. I wish as a child I had more adults around me to share their life experience and wisdom. You can never have enough coaching in the bank to enter the world competent to face its challenges, whether it's from a sports coach, a scout leader, a teacher, or your parents or family.

There may be people who would disagree, but I'm bought into the "it takes a village" idea. After all, as a coach, teacher, or family friend, you may be giving advice to a future business owner, lawyer, teacher, or engineer. When you're dealing with kids in any mentoring role, give your best — they'll all be running the world when we're in the old folks home.

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