This past year I coached baseball for my son and daughter, K-3rd grade coach pitch. Our team of mostly six year olds was sometimes outmatched by the Rainer’s with mostly eight and nine year olds (really seems unfair, doesn’t it?). Our team was better matched with the Hawks, which had mostly six year olds. Those games were competitive and fun.
Our kids learned a lot this year. From the beginning to the end of the season they learned about how to throw, catch, what base to throw to when no one was on base, and which base to throw to when there was a runner on first and so on (this doesn’t mean they completed the play but I was impressed if the simply knocked down the ball and attempted to throw it to the right base). We saw improvement from the beginning of the year to the end, and we saw marked improvement compared to the year before.
To successfully coach a team, any team in any sport, you need to know what you are doing. You need to know the game, you need to know how to evaluate talent and experience, and you need to know how to help the kids build on what they have learned in a systematic way so that they master the basic skills and build upon those so they can learn new skills and improve as a player.
At the coach-pitch level my main concern with six year olds was making sure they would learn how to catch so they wouldn’t catch a ball in the mouth and decide to quit based on one really bad experience. So at first I didn’t let them throw to each other. Instead the other coach and I would work with the kids by tossing balls from 10 feet away in such a way that it was guaranteed not to come near their face. The kids that could catch I would let play first base or another infield position, but for the kids who could not catch I would put in the outfield (where balls would rarely travel at this level). They thought it was unfair, but I would tell them they would need to learn to catch first.
For the kids that showed up to practice we saw more improvement than the kids who did not come to practice. They learned how to take infield (this is a term for practicing how to catch a ground ball and throw it to first, and then how to throw it to second and so on). By the end of the year the kids that came every week to practice and games were playing the various infield positions, but for the kids who didn’t come to practice there was no improvement, so they continued to play in the outfield. When they would say, “Ah man! Coach, that’s not fair!!!” I would say, “Well, come to practice and you will improve and then we can put you in the position you desire to play. But for right now I am concerned that if you can’t catch that you might get hurt.” This seemed to make sense to them and they would stop complaining.
I am eager to see what will happen next year, to see how much they will improve and if they will start catching fly balls and turning double plays. This was a fun year of coaching and I hope to have more opportunities to help these kids develop.
Now there was another team we played that had a coach who said that he had never played before and it was obvious in how things played out for their team. When they would take infield it was dangerous. The coach would use three balls that he would throw to the kids at any given time. He would throw a grounder to the third baseman and immediately throw a pop fly to the short stop and immediately a grounder to the second baseman and then catch the ball from the third baseman and immediately throw a grounder to the first baseman and turn and catch a ball from the short stop all while teammates were running on and off the field in the line of fire and while his four year old daughter would play in the sand near third base. I am actually surprised no one got hurt.
Knowing and having played the game matters. Evaluating talent and experience matters. Building on top of previously learned skills mater. And when you do this over the course of time, your team turns into a well-oiled machine like the Rainer’s who would stomp on the opposition, not only because their kids were 2 years older, but also because it was obvious their coach knew what he was doing.
The same is true in church. Discipleship doesn’t happen on accident. It requires a leadership board and pastoral staff that knows the game and is playing the game. Discipleship requires having an intentionality of how to build people up and send them out to replicate the process. Discipleship requires the coaches evaluate where people are at spiritually and to be able to discern how to help them take the next steps to grow spiritually. And by God’s grace, with intentionality, we will develop more spiritual coaches and more small groups and get more people playing in the game.
Our elders and pastors are getting ready to launch a discipleship plan specifically in relation to our Home Communities that is intentional and that will help more people improve at playing the game of life. When we begin this process, our desire is that you would get in the game with us. I believe that as more people in our church understand what discipleship is and become followers of Christ who are transformed to become fishers of men and who work together in teams to fish for souls, that we will see a work of God in our midst that is refreshing and inspiring.