Impact of a coach should never be taken for granted - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Sports

Impact of a coach should never be taken for granted

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Jason P. Skoda is a reporter at the Ahwatukee Foothills News. Reach him at (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com

Posted: Friday, July 15, 2011 4:00 pm | Updated: 3:20 pm, Tue Jul 26, 2011.

It's hard to think of Major League All-Stars as anything but polished, professional ballplayers.

But they had to start somewhere.

Ryan Braun said he didn't really know how to work out with weights until he got to Miami to start his college career.

Brandon Phillips thought getting drafted meant you went directly to the major leagues like the NFL and NBA.

Matt Kemp was a pull-hungry slugger in high school who wanted to hit home runs. His high school coach preached using the entire field, but Kemp wanted to yank everything to the right side. It wasn't until he turned pro that he realized his high school coach had the right idea all along if he wanted to be successful.

And while Hunter Pence finds the sweet spot on a bat quite often these days, he didn't know there was such a thing until late in his high school career.

All of them had a coach, whether it was their high school coach, their father or some other acquaintance, guiding them in the early stages of their careers.

To me it served as a reminder about how important the relationship with a coach can be with an impressionable young athlete. It doesn't apply to just those who become elite athletes. It's anyone who crosses paths with a coach at any stage of their development.

Almost all athletes - current or former, high school, collegiate or pro - can recall something, good or bad, about their coaches who had an impact on them. Whether it was a stirring post-game rant, a one-on-one inspirational talk, benching them or the time the coach went nuts on a referee.

A lot of the major leaguers that I approached on All-Star media day were still in contact with their high school coaches.

They appreciated what they did for them, for having a hand in preparing them for the next step in their careers, and the way they handled them.

"He didn't treat me any different than anyone else," Boston starting pitcher Josh Beckett said. "I was just another player on the team and I appreciated it. Once I got to pro ball the coaches did the same. It didn't matter how much you signed for to the coaches. Maybe, the front office looked at you differently than (a lesser prospect), but the coaches didn't care who you were."

Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce had a similar relationship with his coach - Kevin McDonald at West Brook High in Beaumont, Texas - before being taken in the first round.

"He molded me but also let me grow up," Bruce said. "As a mentor, as a coach, as a friend he has been there for me in all aspects of my life. He's a great guy and taught me the game. I was with him starting at 14 years old and those are impressionable moments of your life and he taught me the right way to do things."

I recently had a chance to get back into coaching - more like babysitting at times - my daughter's T-ball team and at one point realized that I was the first coach for a lot of the players. After that I didn't want to do anything that might push them away from the game.

The most influential coach of mine was my wrestling coach in high school who was also a psychology/health teacher. He really helped me with the mental approach side of athletics and it definitely stayed with me long after I left the wrestling room.

There are things he taught me about life and relaxation/performance techniques, like mental imagery, that I still use today.

I ended up getting a chance to coach with him years later and thank him and, more importantly, got to know him on a different level as two adults.

But when I was wrestling for him - especially when his normally monotone voice turned angry when the practice was going bad - I never realized how much he was actually shaping who I'd become until years later.

It's a reminder, as the Little League season winds down and the high school fall sports season starts in about a month, that coaches at all levels shape more than the player but the person as well.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com

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Jason P. Skoda
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  • Resident sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News

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