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Remember The Little Ones

Within these words,
lies the secret to the magic of sports and the true meaning of

A few years back, on a cool April morning at City Beach, my desire to understand the mysteries of sports and what makes a successful team were about to be answered. The only problem was that at the time I didn't have the experience or insights to recognize it. It wasn't until years later through personal coaching experiences and many hours of observing others at coaching that I came to understand and appreciate the message that I was about to receive.

It was the opening day of Little League Baseball; there I was with my sons standing in the middle of Andrade Field amongst all of those kids dressed up in their uniforms. Toward home plate was a frail looking man sitting in a wheelchair, surrounding him were family members, friends and officials from the local league. The opening day ceremonies were now about to conclude; it was time for someone to throw out the first pitch of the season. The league president stepped forward and introduced the man in the wheelchair as Andy Andrade the one for whom the field I was now standing upon was named. He handed Andy the ceremonial baseball but before he threw it he began to speak. He spoke about the importance for all of us to not forget about the players that usually sat on the benches during most of the games. They were in his words "the little ones." He tried to instill upon us their importance to the league and to their individual teams and how we as coaches and parents needed to come to appreciate this. So with all of his strength he raised the ball and with his crackling voice he cried out "Remember the Little Ones" and so, unknowingly to me, the secret to the magic of sports and the true meaning of team was passed on. Andy passed away not long after but the images of that day have and will always remain with me.

The roots of wisdom stem forth not from that of a strong mind or body but rather from that of a good heart filled with compassion and respect for others.

Years had past, my sons were no longer in Little League, they had moved on to Babe Ruth and then American Legion. They played under various coaches with various coaching philosophies. Through my observations of the kids in these programs and their responses to the different philosophies I came to fully understand and appreciate what Andy had said. It became clear that when dealing with the dynamics of team athletics, it is imperative to the success and health of the team that all of the team members must be equally able to contribute. The coaches who chose to apply this philosophy did so by ensuring that all of the members of their teams were well trained and were provided with the opportunity for equal amounts of playing time, no player was exempt from doing their time on the bench. These same coaches were and continue to be very successful and well respected.

Sacrifices made, "for the good of the team," must be made equally by all or there is no team.

It would not be thought of as uncommon that within athletics the philosophy of equal playing time would be viewed as unconventional, because of this it requires immense courage and an unwavering commitment to implement. For those who dare however, the results will be phenomenal. The results that occur under this philosophy can best be described with one word; RESPECT. It is this respect that the players develop for one another that is the key to the magic of sports. Respect is the essential element that allows for the creation of the TEAM. This philosophy forces the players, through a dependence upon one another, to support and believe in each other. When a coach provides an environment of equal responsibilities and opportunities, he or she makes the statement that, they believe in themselves as a coach, they believe in their team and they believe in every player on that team.

There is no greater force or effective motivator in sports than team members believing in each other and feeling as equally responsible for the success or failure of the team.

I have found there is nothing more important than for a coach to provide an environment in which respect and appreciation for all involved should be the primary goal. Once this goal is reached the magic will present itself. It will be difficult to understand at first but soon you will realize that what has occurred is that, the whole is now much greater than the sum of it's parts. Through your support and belief in them, "the little ones," will rise to a competitive level equal too that of your best players. From this point on, the players together, will play at a level greater than ever imagined. The magic is there within every young athlete, as long as they have hope and feel as an equal part of the team it will remain. Exclude just one team member however, and the magic along with hope will fade and be replaced by resentment and despair.

The easiest thing to do in coaching is to allow oneself to give up on a kid.
The hardest thing to do is to avoid doing the easiest.

For those of you that are now or will someday be coaching young athletes, I extend my personnel thanks and through your experiences I hope that you will choose to carry the words of Andy Andrade with you. For as Andy and others have discovered it is only through full inclusion and equal participation that we will be privileged to witness, the magic of sports and the true meaning and power of the team.

It is not what you will teach the team that you will be remembered for.
It is what the team will teach you and how you choose to respond; this will be your legacy.

"the first key to anything, is always, believing"

Gary Smith
Oak Harbo

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