Stories indexed with the term ‘coaching’

Column: Saying Good-Bye to Coach Mac

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The summer before Mac McKenzie became our little league baseball coach, I spent the season picking dandelions in right field, and batting last. But just weeks after Coach Mac took over, I rose to starting catcher, lead-off hitter, and team captain. Trust me, I was no bigger, faster or stronger than I was the previous season. But I had one thing I didn’t have the year before: confidence. Instead of playing back on my heels, I was up on my toes, and swinging for the fences.

I’m sure Coach Mac’s influence planted my desire to become a coach myself – and later, a teacher, too.

Last summer, when I wrote about Coach Mac, I admitted I had no idea where he ended up after his family moved to California the next year, or even if he was still alive. Well, a couple days later, I got a thank you letter from Coach Mac himself. [Full Story]

Column: Why Jim Leyland’s Way Worked

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

When you’re 68, working in a young man’s game, announcing your retirement is not a surprise. But Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has a few underappreciated qualities that are worth remembering.

Jim Leyland was a baseball man to the core. Raised in Perrysburg, Ohio, the son of a glassworker, he grew up wanting to do one thing: Play baseball.

He was good, very good, so the Tigers signed him up to play catcher in their minor league system. But just to get to the majors, you need to be great – and after seven years battling to get to the big leagues, Leyland realized he wasn’t great. Not as a player, at least.

So he decided to become a manager, and worked his way up from Detroit’s lowest minor league team to its highest. That climb took him from Bristol, Virginia, to Clinton, Iowa, to Montgomery, Alabama, then Lakeland, Florida, and finally Evansville, Indiana – Detroit’s top farm club. [Full Story]

Column: How Coaching Changes Lives

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

I loved baseball from the start – but it didn’t love me.

When I started in tee ball, I was so short that if the catcher put the tallest tee on the far corner of the plate, I couldn’t reach it. Yes, I struck out – in tee ball.

Our first year of live pitching didn’t go any better. One game we were beating the other team so badly, we were about to trigger the “Mercy Rule,” and end the game. Coach Van pulled me in from my post in right field – where I kept company with the dandelions – and told me to pitch. I wasn’t a pitcher – I wanted to be a catcher, like Bill Freehan – but I’m thinking, “This is my chance.” I walked three batters, but miraculously got three outs before they scored any runs. We won – and I figured that was my stepping stone to greater things.

I was surprised my dad wasn’t as happy as I was. He knew better – but he didn’t tell me until years later: Coach Van was not putting me in at pitcher to finish the game. He was putting me in to get shelled, so the game would keep going. He was putting me in to fail.

The next game, I went back to right field, and the dandelions, never to return to the infield the rest of the season. But when Coach Van and his family moved, our assistant coach, Mack MacKenzie, became our head coach – and my world changed almost overnight. [Full Story]

Column: Paying the Price

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Just a few hours after Michigan State beat Notre Dame with a gutsy fake field goal in overtime, Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack.

Granted, Dantonio is probably wired a little tighter than most. If you see a picture of him laughing, the photo was probably taken with a quick-reflex camera. But the fact is, every college coach is wired tight – simply because they have to be.

Anyone who’s coached their kids’ soccer team knows how nerve-wracking even that can be. But for my money nothing beats college football for pure, mind-frying stress. [Full Story]

Column: “We Believed”

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The surprising United States Olympic men’s hockey team will play Finland today in the semi-finals, inspiring some to compare them to the last U.S. men’s team to win the gold 30 years ago, Lake Placid’s “Miracle on Ice.” Sorry, even if the U.S. wins it all, it will not qualify as a miracle. We are not likely to see anything quite like it again. And there will never be another coach like Herb Brooks.

I will never forget the impact the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team had on our country – or the impact the coach, Herb Brooks, had on me.

On Dec. 13, 1979, my best friend was heading home from hockey practice up north, when he was killed in a car accident. I found out the next morning, seconds before my Huron High School hockey teammates and I walked out onto the basketball court for our first pep rally. What started out as one of the happiest days of my life, had suddenly become the saddest.

I didn’t come out of it for months. But when the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament started, I watched every second of every game – I was transfixed by this team and their coach –  and that’s what brought me back. [Full Story]

Column: “Thanks, Coach!”

Julia Friedman, a member of the Sharks team coached by her sister Rebecca, scores a run.

Julia Friedman, a member of the Sharks team coached by her sister Rebecca, scores a run. (Photo by Louise Chang.)

We were in the field and there was a runner on second. I yelled a reminder from the dugout that we could only get an out at first base. The batter hit a soft grounder right to my shortstop, who fielded it cleanly and made a perfect toss to the third baseman.

The two girls looked quite pleased with themselves. It would have been a textbook play – that is, if anyone had been running to third base. Despite our extensive discussions in practice of what makes a force play, some of the girls still seemed completely confused. I felt that no matter how much I tried, I was doing something wrong as the coach. I felt like I was in over my head and worried that I wouldn’t be able to help the girls. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake taking on a team as head coach.

My dad had been my sister’s Ann Arbor Rec & Ed softball coach since first grade and all I had asked was if I could help out occasionally. He instead offered me the head coach position and a group of 16 nine-year-old girls. Having absolutely no coaching experience, I thought the job sounded like fun and relatively little work. I accepted eagerly.

When it came time to start preparing for my first practice, I began to realize that it might not be as easy as I had anticipated. [Full Story]