Don’t Be a Spectator

Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” is something that I strongly recommend to everyone that reads this post.  Its filled with tremendous life lessons and it’s hard not to correlate his messages to anything you do in life.

During his lecture, Dr Pausch makes reference to a former youth football coach he played for when he was young.  Dr. Pausch loved the game, even though he was undersized, but he had dreams of one day being in the NFL.  He told a story about this coach and an unusual method of coaching he brought to the team.  The story (in abbreviated form) went something like this: One day the coach showed up to practice and had no footballs with him.  A few of the kids asked the coach how they were supposed to practice without footballs.  The coach asked the kids how many players play at one time on offense and defense.  The kids answered 11 for each team; so a total of 22.  The coach then went on to say that of the 22 players on a field, only one of those players has the ball.  His lesson to the kids for that practice was to learn what you’re supposed to do when you do not have the ball, because for most of them, they would not be touching the ball during the game.

Shortly after hearing “The Last Lecture” I watched Game 5 of the MLB World Series between the Mets and the Royals.  Most people who watched the game will remember the play that resulted in Eric Hosmer racing home after Mets 3B David Wright threw the ball to first; and scoring on the errant throw from the first baseman.  The play truly sums up how the Royals play the game on the bases, aggressive and hard-nosed.  A good throw from first would have gotten the third out, but the throw was off and the rest is history.

I’ve watched that play a number of times on highlight shows, and not one of them mentioned one aspect of the play that I thought was key for allowing Hosmer to score.  The ground ball found it’s way into the five hole between shortstop and third base, but was softly hit and was easily handled by Wright.  The SS on the play, Wilmer Flores, came up from his position but peeled off to third after he saw Wright field the ball.  Here is where I believe a mistake was made.  Flores’ movement to third was not aggressive.  In my opinion, he trotted to third.  What I believe he should have done was to make an aggressive approach to third.  An aggressive move to third could have possibly caught the attention of Hosmer, and likely draw him a step back to third in fear of Wright throwing behind him.  This would have caused Hosmer’s balance and momemtum to go to third, rendering him off-balance for any sprint to home.  However, Flores’ approach to third was not aggressive and didn’t catch the attention of Hosmer, allowing him to continue his momentum to home.  Any movement by Hosmer back to third could have caused him to think twice about breaking for the plate.

After watching the play a few times I couldn’t help but think about the story Dr. Pausch told during his lecture about his football coach; and how this play correlated to that lesson so well.  As a coach, I see it all the time with kids that are not involved in the play.  They simply do not move where they should if the ball is not hit to them.  And, if they do move, its not an aggressive move.  Too many times, kids become spectators and lose focus on what thier role is for the play.

Don’t let “spectating” become a habit for your players.  You never know when it will come back to burn the team.  Get your players into the habit of knowing what to do during each play; and more importantly, get them doing it with a purpose!

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