When I was 9 years old, we moved from the country to a small town called Waverly. My uncle lived in this town and the first thing he said to me when we moved was, “We’re going to get you on a little league team.”
Now I was not much of a sports fan in those days. Growing up on a small farm in the country, I was more acquainted with wandering through the woods on horseback or learning to shoot a rifle than playing stick and ball sports. But I wanted to fit in. So, since there were more baseball diamonds than horses in town, I joined the team. It was midway through the season and most of the kids were well on their way to becoming good hitters. Me? I had never hit a baseball pitch in my life. I hardly knew which end of the bat to hold. The only baseball experience I had was hitting a ball off a batting tee a couple times with my older brother. But that didn’t seem nearly as exciting as exploring the forests on horseback pretending to be Daniel Boone.
I’ll never forget the first time I went to the plate as a batter. It was not in practice. I went directly from the farm into a mid-season game. Every player had to bat at least once in a game and the coach kept me on the bench until the last inning. Finally, he had to give me a chance. Remembering the batting tee, I visualized the ball sitting on the tee at my waist. I saw myself swing the bat and hit the ball. I stepped up to the plate.
When the pitch came towards me, I kept my eye on the ball until it was at my waste, right in front of me just like I remembered it sitting on the batting tee.
I swung hard!
The coach yelled, “Keep your eye on the ball, Mark.” Not knowing proper sports etiquette, I looked back at him and yelled, “I did!”
Stepping back into the batter’s box, I was determined to hit the ball this time. The second pitch came towards the plate. I saw that it was a little higher than the last one but I kept my eye on the ball just like coach said. I waited until it was precisely over the plate, chest high, and I swung with all my might - imagining that the ball was sitting on the tee.
“Strike two!” the umpire shouted.
The coach yelled again, “You’re swinging too late!”
This time, I just looked at him. I had absolutely no idea what he meant by that. I kept my eye on the ball just like he said and waited until it was exactly over the plate. Envisioning the ball sitting on a tee, I swung exactly where the flight pattern of the ball had taken it from the pitcher’s hand to catcher’s mitt. What in the world did he mean by swinging too late? I had no idea. All I knew is that I had missed it twice. More determined than ever, I stepped back into the batters box and decided to keep my eye on the ball and hit it with everything I had.
The pitch came. I focused on that spherical object until I could see the seams rotating around the circumference of that white spinning object. It mocked me as it came within striking distance. Just when I saw it cross the plate in front of me, I swung a third time with all my might.
“Strike three, yer out!” cried the umpire.
My first attempt at hitting a baseball was an utter and complete failure. I looked at the coach and he was clapping his hands, trying to encourage me. Then I remember looking into the stands and seeing people shake and wag their heads with a groan…
Oh, what I failed to mention is that when I went to the plate, it was the final inning and there were two outs and runner on third. We actually lost the game by a run.
After the game, the coach consoled me and told me to come to the field early the next day. Expecting to have team practice, I was surprised to see just the coach sitting alone, waiting on me to arrive. He had a box full of baseballs and a bat. He said, “Mark, have you ever hit a baseball before?” I told him that I had hit a couple times off a tee. Then he showed me something that changed everything. He said, “Hitting a pitch is different than hitting off a tee. When you hit a pitch, you have to start your swing as the ball is coming towards the plate. Don’t wait until it’s right over top of the plate before you swing.”
That changed by life!
He then proceeded to the pitching mound and I took my place at home plate. He pitched the ball and would shout out, “Swing!” when I was supposed to start my swing. Within minutes, I was hitting the ball fine. I just had to learn to swing the bat where the ball was going instead of swinging where it had been. Again and again he threw the ball and again and again I hit it.
There are many lessons to learn from this little event from my childhood – like how to predict and take advantage of trends - or having vision for the future instead of the past.
But here’s what I want to focus on – there is a BIG difference between a Critic and Coach.
Critics are people in the stands who don’t play the game but feel like they are experts on those who do. When someone fails in their world, they write them off with jeers and criticism.
Coaches, on the other hand, are those people who see a person fail and try to help. They hit the reset button and give the athlete another chance on the practice field. They offer repetitive do-overs again and again until, through repetition, the player learns the proper technique.
- A coach is invested.
- A coach takes responsibility.
- A coach takes part of the blame.
- A coach works hard to help other people improve. This is what my little league coach did for me.
Coaches are awesome! They are rare. They are to be admired. They change lives. They pour themselves into others.
Critics are common. Any ole fool can be a critic. It takes no patience, no skill, no responsibility, nothing! Anyone can see a person’s faults and write them off.
Which one are you? When someone fails, do you criticize the person and write him or her off? Are you done with them forever? Do you put them on your own personal “naughty list” and refuse to deal with them any longer?
Are you a Critic… or, are you a Coach?
That means when someone has personality issues or even character flaws, you don’t stand off and criticize them - you try to help them. You are patient with them. You take responsibility for helping them improve. When they strike out, you give them reassurance and take time to help the following day – just like my coach did.
Looking back, I think that coach changed my life.
We need more coaches.
Let’s commit to one another that we will be coaches and not critics!
© Mark W. Pfeifer/ http://www.somafamily.com
Mark W. Pfeifer is founder and Senior Pastor of Open Door Christian Fellowship in Chillicothe, Ohio. He is also Senior Leader of the Soma Family of Ministries, the Soma Network of Schools and the International Director of ICAL (International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders). Heand his wife, Nicki, have been married since 1985 and have three children and one grandchild.