Caught in the Middle: Coaches balance winning with lessons

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Blue may know best, but the skipper commands the ship when it comes to baseball.

The right kind of coach can make a significant impact on a child’s life, good or bad.

Today’s coach at the little league level takes on one of the highest levels of responsibility with a child’s growth – both in and out of the athletic arena.

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It is the coach who must not only teach the proper techniques, rules and characteristics of the game, but teach the quick lessons on life, as well.

Dixie Youth Baseball coach Eddie Polk believes this to be true. So do Rachel King and Jimmy Mackin. In their own way, these coaches strive to make this league the best that it can be.

Polk knows that the lessons of the game are also lessons of life. This game represents more than just a child’s ability to throw, catch and hit a ball.

“We try to incorporate life issues into learning baseball,” Polk said. “Yeah, we want to win because wining is fun, but winning isn’t everything.”

In sports, winning has always been seen as the ultimate objective, for there is no greater feeling for an athlete than to win.

But for Polk, the best feeling comes even before the game is played.

“We open every game with an open prayer request, and to see these kid’s open up and tell their coaches and teammates their most personal needs and then watch them all come together in prayer for those needs, is the ultimate feeling,” Polk said.

But of course there is also the ugly side of the game — a side coach Jimmy Mackin witnessed just last week. Mackin, a Demopolis Dixie Girls softball coach, pulled his team from the field of play recently after four innings of dealing with an annoying fan.

“These girls just want to have fun and play,” Mackin said. “They shouldn’t have to deal with that type of behavior, and I wasn’t about to make them.”

Though Mackin said no vulgar language was used, and none of the fans’ remarks were specifically aimed at his team, something had to be done. In the fourth inning, Mackin had had enough and he finally decided to forfeit the game and get his team as far away from the loud-mouthed fan as possible.

“It was such an uncomfortable feeling,” Mackin said. “I felt bad for all the girls.”

But the worst feeling came after the game was called, as remarks flew in the direction of Mackin’s team that would leave his seven and eight-year old players asking him, “Why are they calling us losers?”

After the game, Mackin said that the incident had brought confusion to his team because they did not understand what had happened.

“They wanted to know if we won or lost,” Mackin said. “It’s something I’m sure they won’t soon forget.”

For Mackin the experience was a first in his three-generation coaching career, and possibly his last.

“I’m not sure if I will continue to coach after this season,” Mackin said. “I know that if I didn’t have a grandchild involved in the sport, there would be no way that I would coach.”

While the incident last week may have stirred up a great deal of negative attention regarding the league, there are still positive aspects of the game to consider.

“Seeing that little girl’s face, who couldn’t even hit the ball at the beginning of the season, light up after she hit a double the other night in one of our games is a fine example of the many positive aspects of this league,” King said. The league is a good one. We’ve got some problems here and there, but who doesn’t?”