By Eric Kratz
It is hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since I started coaching. The kids I coached at the beginning are now young men and women that can out-play me in the sports I helped them learn, but that’s what’s supposed to happen.
I became interested in coaching in 1992 after walking into a client’s office and admiring his wall filled with team photos. I had many long talks with him about how much work, but tremendous joy it was coaching his son. I was hooked…but a few things had to happen first. Like get married, have kids and buy a house somewhere in Westchester.
Fast forward to about 2002 and me running up and down the sidelines at the Boys and Girls Club coaching five-year-old boys on the basketball court.
I learned quickly that self-confidence and a love for the game were the most powerful things I could teach. Some kids have natural talents; others need to work hard to achieve basic skills. At the beginning of every season I would try to figure out where each kid could play at the start of the season that would get them into the game but not shake their confidence. As they learned and developed, I slowly moved them around to other positions. I explained this strategy to the kids and they really got it. Unfortunately, some parents didn’t. It still amazes me how some people are focused on playing time and winning at such a young age, when we really should be concentrating on teamwork and fundamentals.
The first time I coached 5th grade rec baseball we had a really interesting combination of kids. We were the Mets, and we played like our namesake. (I’m a Mets fan, but, let’s face it, being a Mets fan is tough). We had one really talented kid–I think he is now playing for Greeley–but the other 12 needed a little work. Some of the kids never played before. I tried to build their confidence throughout the season. I first put them in positions I thought they could handle to build up their confidence, then slowly moved them around, telling them what they needed to work on to get better.
By the end of the season, we had kids that could play several positions pretty well. We worked on the basics, base running, how to communicate and, most importantly, to support each other. All the teams made the playoffs, the top two got to play under the lights at the Rec field with the whole league watching in a championship game. It was a great experience. Too bad our town does not have more night sports events like high school football, but that’s another article for another time…
“It still amazes me how some people are focused on playing time and winning at such a young age, when we really should be concentrating on teamwork and fundamentals.”
We were not supposed to get past the first round, but we kept on winning. The kids played with confidence and supported each other. We ended up winning the championship in extra innings. I know most of them probably forgot about it the next day, but it was the realization of my amateur coaching dreams.
This spring will be the last season that I coach a sport. It has been a fun ride. I hope the kids I coached enjoyed the experience and will have the confidence to compete in anything. I moved my office recently, and kept one wall to hang all of my team pictures.
Sometimes, when the day is not going the way I would like, I take a few minutes to look at the pictures and remember all the fun and great reactions the kids had when they made a nice play. I hope that wall of photos, and maybe this story, inspires others to coach and continue the tradition.
Eric Kratz has been living in Chappaqua since 1997. When not coaching, Eric owns a software company and can often be seen jogging along Seven Bridges Road.