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Coaching Air Force values

  • Published
  • By Col. Larry Shaw
  • 927th Operations Group commander
My wife, Kris, and I are blessed to be entering a new chapter of our lives here at MacDill Air Force Base. It's been 14 years since I have been stationed on an active duty base - we forgot how nice it was to have so many resources at our fingertips. I would like to thank Col. Douglas Schwartz, Col. Scott DeThomas and the men and women of Team MacDill for making our move such a smooth transition.

As a reservist for 14-plus years, I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to coach baseball at the high school level. One of my roles as an assistant coach was to instill values that I thought were important into the boys. Since I had the ear of 25 high school kids, I took this role seriously.

It was crucial that I addressed the team early in the season, this way we as coaches could reemphasize our team values throughout the season. It was simple; I used what I have learned from the Air Force and related it to baseball. I spoke about knowing and playing their position, making errors, taking care of one another and how to act on and off the field. As you read this, see if it relates to your Air Force career.

Knowing their playing position is one of the most important parts of the game, I stressed. I'm not just talking about how to play it, but to understand it and take pride in doing it well. In order to better themselves, I challenged them to read, ask questions and work hard. I told them not to worry about what other players were doing, that was for the coaches to worry about.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying not to play well with others; working well together makes a team successful. If there is a 6-4-3 play, the shortstopper needs to rely on the second basemen to be coming to the bag to receive the throw . If each player plays their position to the best of their ability and works well with others, nothing but good things will happen.

I talked about errors. I don't care what level of play, there are going to be errors made. It doesn't matter how hard you practice or how good you are, there will be mistakes. And that is ok; it is what you do and how you react to those mistakes which matters. I told them that they needed to own up to their mistakes and learn from them. Nothing bugged me more than when a player shrugged their shoulders or pointed at the umpire, like it was their fault.

The importance of taking care of each other, both on and off the field, was another topic I emphasized. We needed them to intervene if something wasn't going right, such as if somebody was getting into a fight or making a poor decision outside the school. They needed to pat each other on the back when there was an error made, or when somebody struck out. I stressed that all team members were accountable for each other.
Schools today have a huge problem on their hands - it is bullying. Kids do it and parents don't discipline them for it. Every night after practice, one of the coaches spoke on the issue. Our players knew that the quickest way off the team was to bully a kid.

Our left-handed pitcher was the kid that had more talent than he will ever know. He was the team clown. He had an unbelievable personality, and when he walked into the dugout, the attitude changed. As a freshman, he was the player that would greet the umpires and tell stories and joke with them. He was the player that would greet the opposing coaches before our head coach could. You get the picture.

During practice I overheard him joking to another player about how big his ears were. All the kids were laughing, even the boy that was being made fun of. You could see that he was embarrassed, but he was still laughing.

I pulled the lefty aside and explained to him that making fun of others was a form of bullying. He plead his case and assured to me that he wasn't bullying, he was only joking. I explained to him again, they are the same. I asked him how it would make him feel if the kids joked about his faults. He kept his head down and didn't say anything. I told him to continue with practice and think about what had happened, and he and I would talk after practice. I just wanted him to reflect on the situation. See, our star lefty, even though he had the huge personality, was very confident in himself and was well liked, had plenty of faults himself; too many to list.

Before the team was let go from practice, Lefty asked if he could say something to the team. He stood up and took center stage. He explained what he had done and that he was sorry and he wouldn't do it again. He actually explained to the team that it wasn't ok to put people down or make fun of others. He shook the player's hand and looked him in the eyes and said he was sorry. I have had many proud moments in coaching, but that was my proudest!

I wanted the boys to know that wearing the high school uniform was a privilege that each of them earned. With making the team comes some responsibilities. One of the responsibilities was representing their high school, which also means the community. It's not only when they wear the uniform, it was a 24/7 responsibility. They understood that when they were in the community and not in uniform, they still represented the team.

You too wear a uniform, and in or out of uniform, you represent the Air Force. Remember, you might coach young people someday. If you do, please take this opportunity to pass on what you have learned from the Air Force.