Adults and Kids - Key Moments

This is more of a personal story so if you want more Giants Fantasy Camp, there is only a tangential connection. If you've heard me talk about family and raising kids you have probably heard me talk about mentors.  When I was on the school board, experts would talk to us about student success factors. They would talk about things are indicative of student achievement?  There are many.  Kids have to be fed, safe and supported.  These are some of the obvious ones, but there are others that aren't so obvious.

One of the non-obvious ones has to do with whether a student forms a bond with an adult mentor/role-model who is not one their parents.  Think back to who that person was for you.  Often it is a coach or music teacher - someone you spent time with outside of the 30-1 student-teacher ratio.  A club advisor, a drama teacher, sometimes even just a family friend fits the bill.   

As an aside, this happens more to teachers, as a profession, than any of the others.  Think about that incredible responsibly.  Teachers are awesome.  The ones that aren't, know it.

As a parent you can't pick this person for your kids.  You can't predict who it will be either.  Our responsibility is to put them into as many situations as we can so that they can pick.  And sometimes it is a surprise. 

Nelson decided all on his own that he really enjoyed the dog adoption events put on by Lake County Animal Services (LCAS).  His mom or I would drive him to Novato or Petaluma every Saturday were he volunteered his time working for Karen - who is LCAS.  Later he drove himself.  Karen didn't treat him like a kid.  She treated him as a valuable volunteer.  She talked to him and listened to him often while giving him a ride home.  They picked each other. 

That's just one example.  We all have similar stories.  I would love to hear yours - add a comment to this post and tell me your story.  Or email your story to me and I will post it.  Name names, these people deserve to know that they had a positive impact on a fellow traveler. 

I had two mentors, both coaches, one in junior high and one in high school.  In different ways, they each changed my life. 

Ron Puccioni was the junior high Gym teacher.  He also coached a number of the junior high sports.  I had never played organized sports, no little league, no CYO basketball, nothing.  I was in seventh grade and was just hanging out in the gym on a rainy day playing pickup basketball.  It must have been early in the year because the basketball season hadn't started yet.  Coach Puccioni called me out of the game and asked if I would like to try out for the team. 

As an adult, I am 5'10" tall.  As a seventh grader, I was 5'10" tall, so you might see why he was asking me.  I agonized over the decision.  It was pretty intimidating to go out for basketball having never played with a team.  Everybody else on the team had been playing CYO since 4th grade.  They knew each other, they clicked.  I was definitely not part of the sports clique.  In the end I decided to give it a try.  I think a lot of it was my mother being tired of me having nothing to do in the afternoons.  She encouraged me.

So, I showed up for practice and made the team.  I wasn't good.  I couldn't shoot, or dribble.  Coach Puccioni showed amazing patience with me.  He taught me how to shoot.  Interestingly, I have a nice shot to this day because I didn't learn how to shoot until I was old enough and strong enough to do it right.  So, I never had to unlearn bad habits. 

Much to my surprise, I started the first came at center.  And the second, third, and fourth games.  I didn't take many shots and those that I did take, I missed entirely.  About that time, I decided to ask Coach what in the world he was doing.  I knew I hadn't scored a single point.  I was resented by the other team members; after all, I was taking somebody else's place on the court. 

After the next game when everyone else had left, I approached the Coach.  I explained that I didn't understand why he was playing me for the whole game even when I wasn't scoring any points.  The first thing he did was show me the rebounding stats.  Did I mention that at 5'10" and 7th grade, I could touch the rim?  I couldn't shoot or dribble, but I could jump!  Rebounding was fun and it was easy.

Then he spent some time telling me that the rest of the skills were going to come.  Be patient, he said, some of your shots will start falling.  Trust me, he said.  I did.  Shots started to fall, I had a great year and a great junior high sports experience. 

My organized sports career started because a coach saw something in me that I didn't know was there.  He also spent the time to encourage me.  He put me in a position to succeed while still contributing to the team.  He was demanding but kind and a wonderful role model.

At the time, I think that Coach Puccioni also coached high school baseball.  So in the spring of eighth grade, he took some of us "athletes" out to the pitching mound during lunch.  He was prospecting for the Freshman team, so he had each of us throw a few pitches.  I *think* that if I had thrown a few strikes, I might have played baseball in high school.  Instead, I couldn't pitch at all.  So, he moved on to the next prospect.  In my mind, I interpreted my inability to pitch as equivalent to an inability to play baseball. 

Today, at the Giants Fantasy Camp, I tried to pitch again.  It's been 40 years since that 8th grade tryout.  I am no better.  It's amazing how easy it is to play catch with someone who is 60'6" away,  and yet, it is so hard to throw a pitch to a catcher.    It was a humbling experience.  I am not a pitcher.  By the way, I did this in front of two awesome retired professional pitchers.  Yikes.  Thankfully, it was just on the practice mounds, not in a game.

When I got to high school I met John Stepp was the varsity Basketball coach and, in time,  a friend.  He is the first adult, not a parent, who actually talked to me about important things in life.  He asked questions because he had a daughter who was about my age in a different school.  He wanted to know how young people thought.  He didn't tell me much of what was going on, but I did get the impression that raising kids was hard.  This was probably the first time I thought about it from a parent's perspective.

When I was a Sophomore, he asked if I wanted to come up and play Varsity.  Who wouldn't!  The next thing I knew I was on the court with Juniors and Seniors and the level of play was far beyond my abilities.  I was out of my league.  I knew it, and Coach Stepp knew it.  But he waited.  He gave me a week or so of practice and I finally went to him and told him that I needed to move back down to JV.  Amazingly, I didn't feel like a failure.  I just wasn't ready and he allowed me to make the decision saving a lot of my dignity. 

After that first Junior High experience, I found that sports came pretty easy to me.  I was fast.  I could jump.  I had great hand-eye coordination.  From 8th grade on, I was a three sport a year guy.  Football, Basketball and Track in a continuous cycle.  I had a huge advantage over other kids early in my career because of my size.  I remember one Pop Warner Football touchdown where I literally reached over the top of a small kid and took the pass out of his hands.

As I got older, this advantage went away.    Whenever I see coaches working with kids who are young, I think about this.  They think that they can pick the kids who "belong" at shortstop.  They think they can pick the team superstars and the awesome hitters.  We have all seen it when a coach picks the "strong" players at a point in their lives when you can't know who the strong players will end up being. 

It's why the Healdsburg Little League Positive Coaching approach is so valuable.  Somewhere there is a kid who can't hit, and can't catch at age twelve.  But that same kid may turn into an amazing player at age 15 or 23.  Teach all the kids equally.  There are plenty of people who are passionate about a sport, who can't play (trust me I am with many of them right now!)  You can't predict the future, so inspire kids to find something they can be passionate about: as a player, a fan, a coach or an official.

Amazingly, some of the ex-professionals here have spoken about really mixed skills at early years.  In some cases, they were much better at other sports, and only in college developed into baseball players.  I don't remember who it was who went to college on a basketball scholarship, but was injured and was "offered" a position on the baseball team in order to keep his scholarship.  Turned out he could pitch.  He didn't start playing baseball seriously until college.  Wow.

I started every single Basketball game from 7th grade until my Senior year when a couple of those guys who had barely made the team in prior years, took my place.  They deserved it.  They had worked hard, they just grew late, but when they did, they were awesome.  I know, I got to watch them from the bench and it was amazing.  We had a great team and a great year!