“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” famous football coach Vince Lombardi once said.
Right? Nope, wrong.
This statement just fuels the argument for other coaches to be close-minded and deploy an all work, no play mantra. I get that statement is ironic considering you “play” sports, but when paired with such a serious and hostile environment it becomes work.
Far too often do high school coaches tarnish the passion and joy that athlete’s put into their craft. Don’t believe me? Believe the statistics: nearly eight million students participate in high school sports while just 480,000 compete across all collegiate levels. I realize that there are many factors placed into this stat. One of them is that the sport has been ruined for these athletes.
“Going into high school I was a standout athlete with high confidence but after my freshman year I started to lose interest,” said a high-potential high school athlete for a post on sportpsychology.com. “It just wasn’t fun anymore. I hated practice because I was always worrying about messing up and being embarrassed by the coach. In games, I worried about what he would do or say if I made a mistake so I became less aggressive. When I thought I did something right he thought it was wrong, and when I tried to work hard and gain his approval it was never good enough. It got to the point where I was making up excuses to get out of practice, and I even hoped I would be benched so I didn’t have to worry anymore.”
Work is what baseball became for me in high school. What started out as my first and most loved sport, fell to being another chore. I enjoyed the band of brothers and the feeling of success with each hit and out made, but more than anything, I hated the negativity and political environment, and burnout created by the coaching staff—more specifically, my head coach.
Late into May 2015 the Bunnell Bulldogs took the baseball diamond. Just like many other days of the week, we began practice in our usual routine. We stretched, threw, and setup the field.
As a team, we all retreated beyond the left field foul line and into the back of the bullpen. We picked up the large, ellipse-shaped, batting cage that we carried six out of seven weekdays the approximate 100 yards to sit around home plate.
We ran through our typical game day lineup with live pitching from teammates and a fully-positioned field in a simulated game. As we reached the end of our hitting rotation, my group was set to take the batter’s box and my separation from the game of baseball had begun.
As one of the final players in my group yet to hit, I stepped up to the plate to attack the one ball, two strike count that awaited me.
Sporting an off-grey t-shirt and white baseball pants with a royal blue stripe running from hip to ankle, I dug in with my right foot tightened in a grey and black colorway Under Armour cleat.
Continuing through my usual routine, the pitcher and catcher exchanged signals.
The right-hander began his delivery from the wind-up and released a curveball that appeared to have missed the outer edge of the strike zone. With surprise to myself and the catcher who was prepared to toss the ball back to the mound, our head coach who was serving as that day’s umpire, exclaimed, “strike three!”
Following the strike called, as I was prepared to retreat to the dugout, the coach calls my name from across the field, stopping me in my tracks. “Sam, do you know what we do to players who take a third strike?” Pointing beyond the outfield fence and the etching of “Bunnell Bulldogs” in the wind screen at the blue surface of our outdoor track. As I looked toward the outfield, he continued: “We send them over there.”
While I still consider myself a fan of the sport, this moment defined the ending of my baseball career. To top this moment when I had been told that I didn’t belong on this team, or even playing the game touted as America’s Pastime, I only played the final three outs during my senior day game.
I should mention that we were a skillful team; ranked number one Connecticut’s Class L for much of the season and into the postseason.
Nonetheless, I finished out the season on the team, not to see my name in a lineup card ever again.
To begin my high school career, I had thoughts of playing in college. Never at the Division I level, but Division III was definitely in the realm of possibility. After the ensuing events of my senior season, that dream had evaporated.
Moving into college, I had applied to 10 schools and selected the magical place that is Springfield College. After a short time as a member of the Pride family, I had learned an extremely valuable lesson: a college career is all about discovery.
In just a four-year span, we must select a field of study, decide if this study is in our plans for continuation, and then find a position in our chosen field. Along with these major decisions, there are minors, clubs, and social lives.
Not letting a team bond escape my wants and needs, I discovered Ultimate Frisbee. A growing sport that has grown popular on regional and international scales as well as college campuses.
I do consider myself an extremely competitive person who does play to win, but more than that I play for the fun, for myself and even more than that, for my teammates. That “band of brothers” that I left on the diamond, I find through the chants of lines from “Cool Runnings” before the maroon and white of Springfield College Ultimate Frisbee takes the field.
In just three years, I have learned more from Ultimate Frisbee than I did from my 13 years playing baseball. I have gone from one athletic love to another, and it’s one of the best discoveries that I’ve made so far.