When I was young, I loved to play sports. Basketball was my favorite, but I liked other games, too.
Most of the games I played were pick-up games in the backyard or in the street. One of my friends even painted yard lines on our street so we could play football.
But I also played some organized sports. Some of my favorite memories came from playing church-league basketball and softball games.
One year, my cousin’s father, Jack Llull, said that he’d coach our softball team. Now, most of the guys on the team were pretty decent athletes, but I didn’t think we were going to be that great.
That year I found out how much difference a coach can make. Mr. Llull knew softball (and I found out later most every sport) like no one I’d ever known.
He’d pay attention to the smallest details. When a player on the other team hit the ball we always had them played perfectly. It seemed like they’d always hit the ball right where we were playing.
When we were at bat, Mr. Llull had a rule. We could never hit until we had a strike and we could never hit if we had three balls and only one strike.
There was only one exception to the rule. We could hit away when Mr. Llull, who always coached third base, would say, “Now’s the time.”
I loved it when I’d come up to hit and I’d look down at Mr. Llull and he’d say, “Now’s the time, Steve.“
I’d almost always get a great pitch to hit. I was so excited, I usually knocked the tar out of the ball. I think I hit better that year than ever.
One day I asked Mr. Llull why he only let us hit like that in certain situations. When he explained it, I understood it immediately.
When he was coaching third base, Mr. Llull was studying the pitcher. He first determined whether or not the pitcher could control where he pitched it.
If the pitcher didn’t have much control, we had to keep waiting until we got a strike to hit it. We usually walked a lot, which helped us score runs.
But sometimes, the pitcher was pretty good and could pitch strikes and balls whenever he wanted. After a while the pitcher would start figuring out that we were never swinging until we got a strike. So he’d start grooving the first pitch down the middle trying to get ahead in the count.
That was when we’d hear Mr. Llull say, “Now’s the time.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mr. Llull taught me about more than just softball.
First I learned to be observant.
I had played a lot of softball and had never paid much attention to what the pitcher was doing until I got up to bat. It didn’t occur to me that what happened to the batter before me or even several batters before me might impact what the pitcher pitches to me.
In life, opportunities sometimes come along in unexpected ways. If we’re not paying attention, we might miss them. We can learn from our mistakes, but we can also learn from our successes. And we can learn from the experiences of others.
Next, I learned that there are times to be patient and there are times to act.
We were always excited to hear the words that meant we could swing, but often it was just as important that the batters before us had walked because they didn’t swing when they shouldn’t have.
There are times in life when planning and analysis are needed. But there are also times to act, times to move forward and do what needs to be done.
Finally, I learned how everything fits together in softball and in life. That year, we won the regular season softball championship. We didn’t have the best players, but we were the best team.
In life, we often get too focused on ourselves and our situations. To be successful, it takes a team. As we help others, we often help ourselves.
After that year, I was a better softball player and a better person.
Coach Llull, I never told you that, and now it seems like I might not get that chance. I’ve got a feeling you knew anyway.