One Skill Transformed a Sub-Par Player’s Performance…And His Life

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rob monacoA poignant success story from Little League coach and commissioner, Rob Monaco.

When I was a kid, I played baseball. I played for the Tri-Boro Little League in Bloomingdale, New Jersey and while I wasn’t particularly good, I loved the game.

People ask me why I like to coach, and my answer is simple; I like watching kids grasp something I teach them, be it keeping their hands still while they set in the batter’s box, or choking up a bit to help bat speed. Maybe it’s a secondary lead. Maybe it’s something as simple as keeping the glove down on a grounder to second. Whatever it is, there is nothing more gratifying than watching a kid practice what I’ve taught and seeing the play end in their favor. For me, that’s the best damn feeling in the world. That’s because for me as a coach, I want these kids to feel the absolute greatest they can for one at bat, for one play, for one season. If I can do that, I know I’ve gotten them to fall in love with baseball the same way I did at their age.

When I played Little League, I had a coach who changed my life forever. His name was Coach Tedeschi and he was the only coach to pick me after a horrible tryout, and the only one who saw my desire to play baseball.

I was not a terribly good player. But I was also small and fast and my coach knew that. One day he showed me something that helped me change the course of my baseball career. Coach Tedeschi taught me how to bunt.

Bunting is an amazing craft and not everyone can perfect it. You need to square. You need to slide that lead hand down toward the barrel, stopping at the handle. And you need to almost catch the ball with the bat… never hitting it too hard…and never too soft. I hated it at first! But Coach was patient, because he knew that if I could get a piece of one, I’d be down the line in a flash. One night at Anderson Field, it clicked, and my whole world changed.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I bunted down the third base line. Me being a lefty… and a squirt, my only job was to get to first base. When I laid it down,it was shocking to me. My head was scrambled. It was like tunnel vision as I booked toward first base.

“SAFE!”

For me, it became a vital moment. Once on base, my next job was to run. I remember looking at Coach Tedeschi. There were no true baseball signs or anything. He flicked his wrist as if he was swatting at me, telling me to ‘get outta here.’ That was the sign. I stole second immediately. This became routine, and each at bat became easier to me. As I bunted and ran, I found a confidence and courage I never knew I had. I was actually contributing in every game, felt good! By the end of the season,I had stolen a ton of bases and bunted my way on base dozens of times. Not only that, I was now confident enough to swing at a few pitches. While I didn’t hit every time, it didn’t matter. I knew I always had a fall back. I could always bunt. I could bunt better than anyone.

That season took me throughout my baseball career. In High School, still the smallest, I manned first and center field. I was able to play with kids much bigger. It didn’t matter; I was consistent. I was confident. I was taught that I could be great… if only given a chance. And I had been… by Coach Tedeschi all those years before.

These days, I love coaching youth baseball. That’s because I help bring the confidence out of kids who love the game, but don’t get enough direction. I like helping kids learn techniques that work for them. I like giving kids a shot to pitch or to hit in a clutch situation. I like when they realize they did something that helped their team win.

No, I’m not God, and I sure as hell don’t think I’m ‘Coach of the Year’ or anything. But one thing I do know is that if a kid needs help on the diamond, and I volunteer my time to coach, then I need to do it 100%. No, half assing it. I’m all in.

I learned to be a confident man and ballplayer because of a coach some 30 plus years ago. What I offer these kids now are very similar lessons because baseball never changes. Bottom line, kids in youth baseball need to grow, but it starts from within. Sometimes there’s a spark that will light up their world on a simple play. That spark will start their baseball journey. For me, it was the bunt and the knowing that a man named Coach Tedeschi believed in me enough to change my life forever.

I was asked once why I care so much. My answer was simple, “Because I love watching a kid’s face light up when he knows he did something great.”

It brings me back to the 80’s and me with my coke bottle glasses, braces, my gray uniform and no confidence… just a love for the game. I wasn’t a good ballplayer before I met Coach Tedeschi. Butsomething big happened to me back then. I was given a chance and I took that chance and ran with it.

Thanks Coach. If you could only see me now…

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