So you really want to be a Little League coach?!

Coach Steve White with the G.V.L.L. T-ball Marlins in 2004.
Coach Steve White with the G.V.L.L. T-ball Marlins in 2004.

BY STEVEN WHITE    |  There I was coaching my first Greenwich Village Little League T-ball game in the spring of 2004 on the top of Pier 40, when everything came to a screeching halt.

Little Jimmy (not his real name) and Little Billy (also not his real name) were huddled around something on the ground between second base and third base; and before you could say “attention span,” the entire team had congregated there, too.

Getting ready to apply first aid to some unfortunate Yankee prospect, I hustled over as the kids kept calling out to me, “Coach Steve (my real name), come quick (I know, they should have used the adverb form, but after all, they were only 5), you need to see this!!!”

Now is the time of year that parents start getting reminders from their Little Leagues that sign-ups are beginning for the spring 2015 Little League season.  In fact, Greenwich Village Little League has already begun its online sign-ups at  www.gvllnyc.com. Thus start weeks and months of anxiety about “What team I’ll be on?” “Who will be on my team?” “Will I be invited to be in a higher division?” or “Should I sign up for softball instead of being with those icky boys?” And this is just the anxiety of the parents as they wonder if they should coach.

Well, anxiety be gone, because you will not be alone. Hard to believe, but you are not the first mother or father who has been told to get out of the house and be with your son or daughter on a field of sport, even though you thoroughly despise the MLB, the NBA, the NFL, the NCAA, the CIA and any other organization with a recognizable acronym.

On top of that, even if you do know something about the sport, you know nothing about coaching.  And then there are those Little League dads and moms in the stands.

But help is on its way. If your league is like the Greenwich Village Little League, the training will be provided for you. 

First, G.V.L.L. coaches attend more than half a day of training with Little League of America’s own Al Herback (he’s actually Canadian). Al (a.k.a. “Little Al”) instructs coaches not only on how to teach the technical elements of the game (fielding, pitching, hitting, kicking dirt) but also on how to run a practice.

With Little Al, the emphasis is on keeping practices fun and dynamic — no standing around while you wait for a ground ball to be banged your way. For example, the G.V.L.L. softball T-ball program follows the Little Al tip of tying helium-filled balloons to the fence at Chelsea Waterside Park and giving each child her own bucket of balls to throw at her own balloon, using proper technique, of course.  The result is that the kids get lost in that wonderful carnival moment and have fun learning proper throwing technique.

Second, G.V.L.L. coaches attend training by the Positive Coaching Alliance, an organization that teaches that winning is more than the number of runs on the scoreboard. For example, one Positive Coaching technique is to reward a player, not with a game ball for outstanding achievement (which would probably go to the same three or four players throughout the season), but instead with something like a dirty water bottle for team-oriented achievements.

So, one week my left fielder got the dirty water bottle (literally, a dirty water bottle) for hitting the cut-off person consistently, and then the next week my right fielder won for keeping the outfield apprised of how many outs were left each inning, and so on and so on. This led to fierce competition at practices and games to pay attention and execute on skills we were covering that particular week.

Those were Positive Coaching Alliance “wins.” Consequently, even my most athletically challenged teams were putting in superior performances by the end of the season.

The third preseason training our coaches get is with the coaches at P3, run by Tobi Bergman and Francisco Perez. For softball, we bring in a former Olympian from the Dominican Republic, Elizabeth Sanchez. These professionals drive home all of the principles our G.V.L.L. coaches were taught earlier. We then partner with P3 throughout the season.

So, back to my first week coaching with G.V.L.L.  As I approached the kids, I was stunned to see the following: a ladybug sauntering across the shortstop position. I sized up the situation and did what any coach would do: I got out the rule book. Oddly enough, the rule book did not address our current ladybug situation.

So the kids took over. They said that we couldn’t play because we would hurt “Lady Bug” (articulated as if she were actual royalty). Lady Bug must have heard all this and understood the situation because just then, she spread her wings and flew away.

Immediately, without missing a beat, the kids went back to their positions as if nothing had happened. At that moment, I felt all was right with the world with this enormous show of humanity by the kids. And this was only my first week of coaching.  Twelve years later, I’m still at it.

So you still want to be a Little League coach? Of course you do! It’s the ladybug moments, the teachable moments and the participation in one amazing community that keep you coming back year after year. And when your son or daughter tells Grandma, unsolicited, that you are his or her favorite coach, you simply wouldn’t trade that for anything else in the world.

White is going into his 12th year as a G.V.L.L. baseball or softball coordinator, manager or coach. He is currently executive vice president of G.V.L.L. softball and serves on the league’s board.