By David Quisenberry
I didn’t mean to be the manager. I just wanted to get my daughters involved in organized sports to be outside, learn to be teammates, and make some friends.
I figured if I volunteered as an assistant coach for their teams it would make going to games and practices that much easier. The thing is, though, most parents don’t have the time or inclination to be the manager. It’s a big responsibility. We doubt our knowledge of the game and ability to corral parents and players to make it a positive experience for everyone.
So when I showed up for the first coach training with Little League, I found out both my girls’ teams had plenty of assistant coach volunteers but lacked managers. I worked from home and have the curse of volunteerism so I raised my hand. If you are going to do it for one, do it for both. Batch process this bad boy.
You would think as a son of a major league all-star pitcher I would know a thing or two about baseball but you would be wrong. Very wrong. As a kid, I played one year of tee-ball and that’s it. Walked away.
My experience with baseball was only playing catch in the backyard and hitting tennis balls to the dogs while I pretended to be Ken Griffey Jr. or Jose Canseco. Whenever my dad would try and give me pointers and coach me, I’d get defensive, pouty, and put up a fight. Playing catch probably stopped by the time I was ten or eleven.
So heading in to being the manager of two teams I felt incredibly inadequate in knowing the fundamentals of throwing, catching, and batting. Embarrassing for the son of a big leaguer. Sorry, Dad.
My preparation looked like going to every possible training Little League offered. I went to sessions on coaching fundamentals, first aid, brain trauma, how to create positive team cultures focused on performance. There were lessons dealing with taunting, the mental game against past mistakes, and what to do with the overly involved parent trying to coach from the sidelines.
I went to town on Google watching video after video of proper grip on a softball, how to hold a bat and what to do with your feet while catching and throwing. I tried to grok it all and built practice plans, warm up routines, and created metrics for tracking player development. Yes, I was that guy, a former Merrill Lynch financial advisor who wanted dashboards and quantification of everything.
At the first practice the parents thought I was crazy. Tee-ball practice went first. Clipboard in hand, I led the 5- and 6-year-olds in our warm-up routine of dynamic stretches, sprints, and burpees. The burpees broke the camel’s back and got the parents rolling in the bleachers laughing.
We worked on the fundamentals of holding a bat, breaking up our throws into distinct movements, and how to prepare yourself to catch a ball. We came up with a mantra for when we would make mistakes: “Shake it off,” Taylor Swift-style. It set the stage for the practice format the girls learned to expect: warm-up routine, core fundamentals, and then isolate a skill or part of the game to focus on. Predictability helped us. We were focused, had fun, and developed as a team.
Then the games started. The pressure to get the hit, outrun the throw, catch the ball, get the out. The pressure of knowing what was expected of you and wanting to live up to it.
The girls amazed me. In the first game or two into the season, Lola, a small petite girl new to Portland, struck out in tears. New to softball as well, she had been practicing hard and really wanted a hit. Her parents and teammates came alongside her encouraging her on and she went home and practiced, practiced, practiced. I can still see the look on her face when I awarded her the game ball after getting four hits in four at bats later in the season.
Midway through the season, the girls started pitching after the third inning. This created new dynamics to the game. The kids caught on early to rarely swing the bat. There were no walks in the league so after four balls a coach would come in to pitch. But a few of our girls, Mattie and Amelia, especially, really got their control down and would consistently throw strikes. After a few called strikeouts the opposing coaches would exhort their team to swing the bat and that’s when it really got confusing for the girls pitching because the other team would start getting hits off them. The girls would feel like they didn’t pitch well giving up the hit, but as their coach I couldn’t have been happier. They were getting the ball in the strike zone and forcing the other team to adapt.
And then there was also hard stuff. Tensions I had to deal with as a coach and mistakes I made. My daughters were used to my attention and it was difficult for them to see me not solely focused on their performance but that of the whole team. Verona rarely would play a whole game, choosing to sit on the side lines rather than bat in Tee-ball. Sometimes they would throw a mini-tantrum to try and get my attention away from the team and I couldn’t play that game and give it oxygen to breathe.
I tried really hard to recognize each player’s contribution to the team and at the farm level gave out game balls to the top performers and most improved. I let two of my girls down.
Alice was a workhorse and natural athlete. She would play any position and never complain. She could crank the ball out of the infield and run the bases like a lion. I could have given her a game ball almost any game. I took advantage of this and would give game balls to other girls figuring Alice would earn one later in the season because I knew she would be consistent and play hard every game. I was wrong, though. As the season wore on and Alice didn’t get as much recognition, her play did suffer some. She didn’t complain, but I could see it in stance batting, approach to the mound, headspace after a mistake made.
The other let down was Maggie. Maggie had the most incredible spirit about her. Full of light and happiness, it was Maggie who led the girls in encouraging each other, making up songs on the sideline, palling around, bringing humor and laughter in to the game. Maggie really wanted a game ball. As a coach, the hardest position to get girls interested in playing was catcher. One game, late in the innings, I was having a hard time getting anyone willing to volunteer to put on the gear. Maggie saw her opportunity to contribute to the team and volunteered. I can’t remember the exact circumstances but for whatever reason, when it was time to hand out the game ball, it didn’t go to Maggie. She was heartbroken. Face flushed, fighting off tears she walked away from our huddle.
I didn’t realize while coaching how much it would mean to me. How incredible it would be to be in these girls’ lives for a few months, get to know their families, teach them about preparation and practice, and develop them as players and people. To be in relationship with them, be proud of them, and care for them. It wouldn’t have been the same without great coaches coming alongside me, helping out in games and practices, and all the involvement from the parents. And most importantly, all the heart the girls put in to every practice and every game and each other.
David Quisenberry is a recovering financial advisor, who rebooted his career into software engineering at Daylight Studio in Portland, Oregon. He served on the Board of Directors with George at The Dougy Center. He’s a proud papa, avid reader, and curious soul.
Editor’s note: I’ve known David for about 10 years now. He impressed me at first with his volunteer spirit and financial skills. He impressed me again later when he became a single dad raising two girls. (He remarried last year.) The moment I heard his last name I wondered, “Could this guy be related to the late Dan Quisenberry, the great relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals?” Why, yes, he could be. He was Dan’s son.
Tomorrow: Lynn St. Georges, Yes, this dog