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Thursday, March 27, 2014

What Makes a Winning Season?!?

*Fanatics is currently running a challenge called Family Fanatics, so I’ve decided to submit this story to be a part of the initiative. Fanatics is an online retailer of all sorts of sports merchandise and apparel: MLB caps, NBA jerseys, and much more.

We all say it when our kids are playing sports..."It's not about winning, it's about how you play the game."  I have heard coaches say this for years as well as parents.  But, do they really believe that?  Do they really mean it?  Is it about how you play the game?

It is more fun to win!  I have been on winning teams and I have been on losing teams...(when I say "I", I mean my kids)  It is always more fun to win.  However, there are good lessons to be learned from losing as well.  Sometimes in the world of sports, it can mean a lot more than just lessons in winning or losing a can change a child's life!

I wonder what kind of coach I am going to be dealing with every new season we start.   In my 13 years of sports, 5 sons, playing baseball, basketball and football I have seen a lot of different kinds of coaches.  I still get anxiety when I see a coach from a baseball season 3 years ago for one of my older sons.  To this day that season still remains my worst season ever!!! I still feel a twinge of anger when I see Jordy's coach from one of his beginning years of football.  They figured out that he had a really high pain threshold and used him as tackling practice for his "X" men until I realized what they were doing!  There have been coaches that are there for one reason...promote their own son, (regardless of the son's abilities).  There have been coaches that don't have a son playing at all.  They coach every year the same age group for our baseball league just to provide an excellent learning experience from coaches that know the game.  (His adult son would come to some of the practices and he was a pro...of some sort?!)  The majority are just good Dad's trying to be involved with their kids and provide a fun year for their teams.

Once in a lifetime though you find a Coach like Rick Medina.  The first time I saw him I was terrified!  He looked really intense and was the coach for Jordy's team for 9 and 10 year olds.  He was showing the kids different baseball hand signals that he would be using.  It was clear he knew the game of baseball, and by appearances it looked like he planned on winning!  I looked over at my dad and said, "We are screwed!"

Jordy was pretty good at baseball.  He LOVES the game.  He is more athletically inclined than some of my "typical" kids.  But, he is autistic, and he has learning disabilities, including auditory processing which makes it hard to understand directions, and even harder to follow them.  His expressive language is much higher than his receptive language, which means...he talks like he knows and understands what people are talking about.  He will even tell you he understands...but in reality he doesn't have a clue of what you just asked him to do.  Up until this year he could blend into the other kids that were just a little naughty and didn't "want" to listen.  Not this year.  The kids have all matured and can understand and follow complex directions.  Jordy knows to hit the ball, catch the ball, and run the bases faster than anyone on your team.  That's what he could do, and that was all he was capable of.  I was going to have to tell the Coach that Jordy had a learning disability and would need everything simplified.  He would always need to say Jordy's name a few times, make sure he had eye contact, and touch his shoulder or arm to have any chance of Jordy knowing that he was talking to him.  It was still unlikely he would do what the coach asked.  I hoped and prayed that this intense looking coach would have some patience for him...and then I prepared for a horrible year, knowing that it was most likely Jordy's last season playing.

Well, I could not have been more wrong in my quick judgment of the intense looking coach.  Rick Medina is a man that knows what is important in this life.  He is a man that wants to teach his son more than just baseball, he want's to teach him compassion for other's that don't have it as easy as the rest of the players.  He wants to teach all the player's patience, kindness and the importance of every player on the team.  But more than anything he wants to make Jordy feel successful, he wants Jordy to know that he is a valued team member, and they couldn't do it with out him on the team.  He wants to build his confidence and provide an atmosphere where Jordy can feel like every other kid and progress in his baseball skills.  He is one of the nicest guys I have ever met.

The first year we played with him we had a losing year.  We won some games and lost some games.  But Jordy loved his team and loved Coach Rick!  They do a draft every two years in our league and I was thrilled we would get one more year to play.  Our second year playing the team really improved.  We were undefeated and having an amazing year.  I was amazed at Rick's patience for Jordy.  At times it seemed better than my own patience for him!  He never once snapped regardless of how bad his timing was.

-To give context to what it is like to Coach (or even be around) Jordy-

We call Jordy the question master.  He asks questions...well, constantly.  He wants to pitch every new inning...he isn't a pitcher.  He doesn't like to play out field because it's "too boring"...and he isn't afraid of saying it.  Last year he had his major OCD breakdown (click here to read about it) during baseball.  He would take his hat off to pray while playing second base every minute or so.  (The baseball season last year during that time was the only relief and joy that Jordy had from his OCD)  He asks the Coach questions during the game, regardless of what is going on almost constantly.  He interrupts the pre-game pep talks, the post-game pep talks, and through the entire game follows the coach around like a puppy dog asking his questions!

I worry every time that Jordy does this.  It wears even the best of people out.  Last season there was a time that I thought Rick would lose it, and I wouldn't have blamed him a bit.  We had an undefeated season so the pressure got more and more intense for keeping it that way with each game.  We had first place in our sights and the whole team could feel it.  Well, we had a few really bad innings and we were losing bad.  I can't remember exactly what had happened but I remember that something had caused our coach to go meet with the other coach and the umpire.  It was a heated discussion.  As coach Rick came back toward the dugout Jordy ran out to meet him half way...I could see the frustration on Rick's face with the call that had just been made.  "Coach, Coach, Coach, can I pitch next inning?" Jordy begged.  (Here it comes...he is going to snap at him and just crush him) I winced...trying to call Jordy back to the dugout.  Rick looked down at Jordy's face, put his arm around his shoulder and with a smile said, "we'll see big kid".  I couldn't believe the pure kindness I witnessed my autistic son receive...this in not something that happens often!

Toward the end of the season Jordy had been practicing his pitching and the Coach had promised to put him in.  Usually he would wait for a comfortable lead to put in kids that wanted to learn to pitch.  Rick had made a promise, so even though we didn't have a comfortable lead he put Jordy in to pitch.  I was a bundle of nerves watching him pitch, worried that he would do terrible and we would lose the game.  Jordy pitched 3 innings in a row striking out most of the players.  They didn't score any runs during all 3 innings and we won the game!  Everyone was cheering for Jordy!  He was the hero of the game and was on top of the world!  It was the highlight of his sports career!  He will always remember that!

During another game it would be the coach's son, Ricky that would cause me to wipe away tears at the baseball game.  We were down 3 runs and Jordy was up to bat, with 2 outs in the last inning of the game.  The pitcher threw fast and hard and it caught Jordy right in the back.  He dropped in pain, (which is very unusual with his high pain tolerance) so I knew he was hurt pretty bad.  Jordy tried to jump up and hobbled through sobs to first base trying to suck it up.  The bases were now loaded.  Ricky was up next...the coach's son.  With a swift swing of his bat he hits a Grand Slam.  The crowd went crazy!  We were jumping up and down screaming for Ricky and for our team!  We came back and won the game!  I rushed over to the dugout to meet Jordy in there and make sure he wasn't hurt too bad.  The team all ran out to Ricky to slap him with their mitts and cheer him on for hitting a Grand Slam and winning the game.  I watched as Ricky pushed through all his teammates and coaches and headed straight for Jordy, he patted him on the back and with sincerity asked Jordy, "Are you ok?  I'm sorry you got hit so hard!"  I honestly cried.  I don't know any other 10 year old boy that after hitting a Grand Slam would give up his moment of glory to make sure his teammate was ok.  Amazing coach=amazing son!

Jordy and Ricky

Last year we ended up in second place over-all.  Jordy will always remember that season.  The league made year books that could be purchased at the end of the season...I almost didn't buy one.  Jordy begged to get one though and I gave in.  He has carried that year book with him for a year now.  He reads and rereads it everyday.  He sleeps with it at night.  It has pictures of every team in the league and has the players names and coaches names in it.  I never really looked at it until a couple weeks ago when Jordy said, "Oh Mom, I just love reading this part!"  I finally took the time to read what the coach had put on our team page.  I had looked at it several times when he showed me...but hadn't read it.  Tears flowed again as I read the words that Jordy had been clinging to for a year.  The first couple lines tell the players names.  Then it tells about Ricky's awesome Home Run that won the game, and another kid on the team catching a game saving fly ball.  Then the words..."Jordy Jorgensen pitched a shutout 3 innings to secure the win for the Cardinals in his second debut of the year."  What a gift for the coach to give Jordy.  I thanked Rick at the next game that we had and told him about the tattered book that Jordy has cherished for the last year.

This year is our third year with Coach Rick and Ricky.  The amazing thing with Rick is that he didn't give up on Jordy once he found out that Jordy was autistic.  He has continued to treat him like all the boys.  Coach Rick has taken the time to figure out how Jordy learns best and coaches him!  He has helped him to continue to improve his skills and become a better player with each game.  Jordy thinks he is the best player on the team...and at times, it seems like he thinks he is one of the coaches too.  To most kids on his team Rick will always be the awesome fun coach that taught them a lot.  To Jordy and to me...Rick will always be the Coach that gave Jordy the best baseball years of his life.  He is the coach that has made it so that Jordy could continue to play in the same league as all his friends.  Coach Rick has made Jordy feel like a star player!  He has been the coach that has allowed me, the Mom not worry that Jordy is going to have a bad experience or be bullied.  Regardless of winning and losing the games, our years with Coach Rick will be remembered as the time when I saw a coach really understand that it doesn't matter if you win or lose the game, it's how you play the game. 

That is how to truly have a winning season!
Thank you Coach Rick and Ricky for all you have done for us...we will never forget it!

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