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By Staff | May 2, 2018

Try to write through your life. My great-grandmother once told me to listen to my life, and to seek a pattern and meaning that is often missed in the living of life but is often discovered on looking back.

I recently found a letter she wrote me on a card on my 11th birthday. “Our eyes are filled with significance, if we only have eyes to see,” she said. At the time, I guarantee, I had no idea what she meant. She wasn’t talking about being blind; she was talking about making a difference, being significant!

My great-grandfather used to urge me to be a baseball player. “Never! No way!” I would say, but he was insistent. I never had grandparents live close by, but my great-grandparents were my role models.

Encouraged by my grandmother (That’s how she’ll be referred to throughout the remainder of this column) to go to the ball fields, the basketball court, and occasionally to pass a football, was something she did with love. Now ask yourself what could be better!

Grandpa used to say, “You can be a professional baseball player.” Remember, I was 11. It really didn’t matter. However, I understood that going to the court or the ball field meant something to them, and was beneficial to me as well.

I have watched the past few years, actually nearly fifty, as local ball players have come and gone. I have coached many of them. I have spent many years on the basketball courts with them, and always my intent was to see them get better.

I came to know which ones had parents, or like myself, grandparents that really cared. Most always, the ones who played the hardest, and were the most dedicated, were the kids whose parents played a significant role in their life

Not the ones whose “parents” cut down the coaches or the referees, but the ones who provided support in a positive way. It’s great to see parents and grandparents helping in any way they can, but the key word there is “helping.”

Down at the ball field the other day was a man helping the young kids on the softball field. I don’t know if he was helping because he had a grandchild playing or not. What I do know is he helps a lot, working with kids to try and make a difference in them. This man is close to my age and still interested in seeing kids get better in sports; he works as an assistant high school football coach and, from what I’ve seen, he’s genuinely trying to make a difference. We need more like him. There are many ways to help, and the best of all is communication. My grandmother used to say, “Sit down here, I want to tell you a story.” We all love to hear stories, because they are mostly about human beings surviving trouble. In stories there is pain and struggle and failure, but also laughter and wisdom and love.

Kids love stories. Your stories can tell about those things as much as anyone’s. You do not have to be good with words. Just tell your stories powerfully, and be encouraging. Also write letters.

This card I found from my grandmother is a great letter of encouragement to me, even to this day in my older age.

Children’s lives are, and will be, difficult – as yours may have been. Children need all the encouragement they can get. They may also need a kick in the seat, but there are many ways to do that.

Speak to them words of encouragement and love. They will then learn to do the same to others. I never became that great baseball player grandpa wanted, but I learned a love for sports that can’t be taken away by the negativity of those who have selfish motives.

It’s not fair that the innocent should go hungry. It’s not fair that the young should suffer. It’s difficult to understand the fairness of life. It’s not always fair that one athlete may get more playing time than another, or that one may be faster or stronger.

What is fair though is that each is treated the same and loved the same and given the same opportunities. No, life is not always fair, and that’s something I’ve learned to live with as a direct result of the influence of my grandparents.

Don’t blame coaches when your local team is not winning. Step in with words of encouragement. I guarantee you no one wants to win any more than the coach. The difference is he wants it for the team and not for his selfish desires.

In small towns like ours, sports are the pulse that keeps the town going. Small town sports can be a way to keep peoples’ minds off their everyday problems. In small towns, student-athletes often play three sports a year. Due to small class size, almost everyone has to play in order to have enough to field a team, which makes it almost impossible to concentrate on one sport. There’s a lot of pressure with being a high school athlete with everyone having high expectations of winning.

There is almost nothing else to do in town, and the people love their teams and almost all have a connection to at least one of the players. Everyone wants to win, and people often get together and talk about what the coach could have done better, and who should be getting more playing time. But the bottom line is small towns live and breathe through their local sports teams. Sometimes people just forget they are just watching young adults who are playing for fun.

Coaching is a very difficult profession and often a thankless, frustrating “no-win” kind of job. It’s an occupation that is most often done in a public fishbowl. In other words, if you coach, you are in a highly visible position that continually exposes you to the public’s scrutiny and evaluation. Coaching is also one of those jobs where your effectiveness is almost always narrowly measured by something very often out of your control: winning and losing.

Much of your success as a coach boils down to having skilled players on your squad. Something which smaller schools have less of than larger, more populated areas. So keep in mind someone you may see as ineffective may really be a wonderful coach, teacher and person.