A Better Way To Coach Kids

Bobby Curran
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Friday - March 31, 2010
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Taking in my first youth baseball game involving my own boys the other day, I realized times have truly changed. Granted, this is the Shetland level, featuring almost 5 through 6-year-olds. Expectations are not terribly high and neither are the performances, but you’d never know it to listen to the coaches, who are constantly encouraging and endlessly supportive.

The result seems to be happy players who look forward to practices and games. A lot different from my first experience playing in the Baldwin, N.Y., Little League. Teams were sponsored by local businesses, and I was proud to be a member of Pat’s Cleaners, coached by Mr. Yulico. Coach Yulico wasn’t just old school, he was a one-room schoolhouse. Praise was sparse, criticism frequent and usually tinged with sarcasm. “Let’s see if you can avoid striking out this time,” he’d yell as you carried your bat to the plate. Or “Try to get on base this time. Maybe the pitcher’ll hit you.” Errors were roundly castigated. “Porcelli! Do you have two left feet? My grandmother makes that play.”


I remember the great feeling of relief if, at game’s end, I’d managed to avoid being singled out. It was not unusual to see a teammate leaving the field in tears. It wasn’t enough to take away the enjoyment of playing, but a certain level of apprehension accompanied every practice and game. And truly, nobody thought a thing of it. In fact, our team was grateful we weren’t playing for Meadowbrook Bank, whose coach was far more brutal.

So sitting at Koko Head District Park and watching the next generation of aspiring baseball players, I was grateful that the Hawaii Kai League has adopted the strategies of the Stanford University-based Positive Coaching Alliance, where positive reinforcement is emphasized and negative juju is discouraged.

Infinite patience is required for the age group, and the most positive strategy is only as good as the coaches implementing it. The Shetland Dodgers have four coaches, each of whom have children on the team. The head coach is Chad Willing, and he’s assisted by Ryan Kalahili, Malu Napoleon and Carmen Abellira. Every one of them is terrific with the kids, willing to teach and patient with the sometimes glacial pace of learning. My own boys Max and Finn can’t wait to go to practice, and treat games like Mardi Gras. And I know what happens with our coaches is repeated on teams all across these Islands. On behalf of the 14 Shetland Dodgers and for all the players in all the leagues, I want to say thanks, coaches, for making it so much fun to play sports and for helping to make Hawaii such a special place to live.

* Recent news reports are hinting that Tiger Woods and longtime caddie Steve Williams may be parting ways. Williams has been adamant that he never knew about Woods’secret life, even mentioning that he’s never been in a nightclub with Woods. Williams has been publicly critical of Woods’ behavior and speculation is that some members of team Tiger think that Williams must go. But he will be on the bag for The Masters.

After that, it’s up in the air.

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