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Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday Cardinal Couple - Watson the Coach..


-Watson looks at the role of coaching

(Cardinal Couple Special Correspondent David Watson takes us into Monday with his views on coaching. As usual, David puts a unique twist on it.)

I wasn't the best athlete around growing up. I wasn't even the best athlete on the block and we only had three houses on my block. I didn't play the popular high school sports but made the golf team because they needed four players to compete in matches against other schools. I had coaches, though, because I played Little League baseball and Optimist basketball. 

If you're reading this and ever participated in sports, how many of you remember your first coach? Mine was Mr. Lawson. We weren't on a first name basis. He was Coach Lawson and the skipper of my Little League baseball team, the Pirates. He worked awfully hard along with his two assistants, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Herman. Their sons played on the team. They also started, like Mr. Lawson's son did. Nepotism doesn't fall far from the tree. 

There were drills to learn, points to be made (I'll probably never forget those harsh, shrill words "Get IN FRONT of the ball, Watson!") and games to prepare for. We played on Wednesday nights. A six team league. Ten games in the season. No P.A. announcer. A concession stand complete with hot dogs and fountain drinks. Me, Terry and Matty, vanquished to the end of the bench where we threw pebbles at each other and waited for our chance to play.

Coach Lawson was a larger than life figure to me. He had the power to rule destiny. He decided who played, where they played and who sat. This was before every kid had to play in every game. We had twelve kids on the team and me, Matty and Terry were the odd men out. Only because we were the worst team in the league (by far) did I get the chance to play. Mop up stuff. He'd look down the bench, grimace and wince and yell, "Watson, you're going to right field this inning. Try not to let the ball go over your head." If he could have stuck me, Matty and Terry all out in right field at the same time, he probably would have. We weren't exactly Derek Jeter's out there in the field. 

It's easy to substitute when you're down 8-0 in the fifth. 

I remember my first at bat ever in Little League. Three pitches, three strikes. At least I swung at the third one. Wasn't even close. Unfortunately, it didn't get much better the more I played. 

I gave up Little League baseball after two years. My father gave me his old golf clubs and I became enamored with the sport of hitting a little white ball and praying it went straight. Man against the sport and elements. No whizzing fastballs to deal with and no screaming, red-faced coaches wondering why I was throwing to first when the runner was headed to third. 

I remember my golf coach, Danny Grigsby, most of all. I was a sophomore in high school and it was OK to call coaches by their first names by then. A calm, philosophical man who smoked a pipe on the course during matches. Never given to fits of anger or rage. Just gentle reminders after bad shots. Follow through the ball, keep your head down. Keep your eye on the ball and bend your knees. Positive reinforcement when you did well. The same wise counsel whether you played well or not. I think they eventually committed him to an insane asylum shortly after my graduation. No one coaches like that and gets away with it.

I wonder if they ever checked what he was putting in the pipe?

My youngest daughter recently expressed an interest in playing golf. She's officially a teenager now and two of her best friends play, so -- naturally she wants to learn and I have become a coach. We thought about letting her take lessons from a pro but decided to wait and see if this was going to be a long-term obsession with her or a fly-by-night whimsy. Got her a nice, but not overly expensive set of clubs. We've spent evenings at the driving range, learning how to hit irons, tee shots and chips. When I felt the time was right, we took to the public course for nine holes. All in all, it went well. She has the calm, even temperament and demeanor of her mother. Bad shots don't drive her into a Tasmanian devil frenzy and good shots produce a satisfied smile and occasional fist pump. 

All this from a girl who used to turn up her nose and frown when I'd announce to the family that I was headed to the links. 

This isn't my first time coaching. I did assistant coach my son's Little League baseball team. I stood by third base and told the kids to run or stop. Usually, I got it right. I was a spectator for my oldest daughter's field hockey. They didn't want me running around out on the field trying to teach something I didn't understand.  

You learn when you teach. Patience. Encouragment. Analytical thinking. Strategy. Pride through accomplishment. You also go through the gauntlets of occasional frustration, exasperation and disappointment.  

All that and more and that's just during the drive to the golf course with three teenage girls in the van with you. 

Whether she'll follow in my footsteps and try to participate on the high school level is anyone's guess. Thirteen year old girls change their minds more than Goodyear changes tires, but -- for now -- it's a fun way for her to get a little exercise, learn about challenges and competition and it keeps her off Facebook for at least four or five hours a few times a week. 

I can look back now at the coaches I've had in my life and realize that the time and effort sacrifices they made weren't all self-sufficing or egotistical. I find that the lessons I've imparted to her have even helped me with the sorely lacking fundamentals of my golf game. 

She'll be able to drive a cart in three years though, and that worries me. I remember me in a golf cart at sixteen.  


I'm going to keep this request alive. If anyone has a picture or link to the University of Louisville bulletin board in Springfield, OR. please post a link to it in the comments column. 

Knowing Paul, it's a wonder he hasn't sent Bill the Goat up there in the CARDINAL COUPLE golf cart to snap a photo of it. 

(David's golf game isn't as bad as he makes it out to be. He has a natural ability to find sand, water, trees and tall grass wherever he plays.) 


  1. My little league experience was worse, David. The second time ever at bad for me, I got hit by a pitch and it broke my wrist. I didn't go back for more when it healed.

    --Joe Hill

  2. Don't feel bad, Joe. They used me for third base in Little League. Literally. I had to lay there and have people run over the top of me and slide into me for seven innings.



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