Jersey Magazine with Jim Monaghan

Jersey Magazine

Talking Youth Baseball With Coach Ballgame On Fathers Day

As you may know, I am heavily involved in youth baseball and I've worked with players from T-ball to the Major Leagues. A couple of months ago, I'm scrolling through Instagram and I come across Coach Ballgame. He's wearing a fedora and a baseball glove and I'm thinking to myself, well, this is an interesting look. So I look at the video and I go, Hmm, this guy makes some sense. I start scrolling through more of these videos. This guy really makes some sense. James Lowe is a former Division 1 college baseball player who now goes by the moniker Coach Ballgame and he is joining us on Jersey Magazine this Father's Day morning to talk baseball. Coach Ballgame On Youth Baseball https://youtu.be/k-UTr88u124 Coach Ballgame Interview Excerpts JIM MONAGHAN - Where did the whole coach ball game persona come from? COACH BALLGAME - Well, uh, I was Jimmy Ballgame in college. I went to Brown university, uh, played four years there. Absolutely loved it, but I was, uh, I wasn't the most talented guy there. So I figured, well, I'll be the grittiest, guttiest, craziest ball player there. So I was the guy diving into, uh, fences and jumping over tarps to try and catch fly balls and, uh, just always a head first slide kind of a guy. So I got the nickname Jimmy ball game. Uh, not to didn't get drafted. Thought I'd be a major leaguer. The rest of my life didn't get drafted. So I had to figure out what to do with my life. And at age 22, I moved to California. A teammate of mine at Brown was starting. It's baseball camps. And so, uh, instead of calling me Jimmy ball game, he just said, well, let's call you Coach Ballgame. And, uh, 20 years later, here we are and it's taken a life of its own. JM - You are a youth ambassador for Major League Baseball's Play Ball program, and in fact, you were just in London. The Mets and Phillies played a two game series in London. What was that experience like for you? CB - Let me tell you 500 kids playing on a, uh, a football pitch, uh, what we call soccer. They call football. And let me tell you, it was proper. It was keen as they say over there, the kids, a lot of them had never held a bat or held a ball, didn't know how to stand, didn't know how to run the bases. And I just love that. I love being the introduction to the game for any kids. And the first thing I do is I ask them, "Hey, what do you love to do?" And whether that's 500 kids or eight, well, it doesn't matter how many I'm coaching, I want to get a nickname for every kid based off something that they love. So, uh, gathering those nicknames in the UK, listening to those accents, so many smiles. They were so eager to learn this new, fresh game. What I found out is, uh, Chase Utley is now the ambassador for MLB Europe, uh, bringing the London Series over the past few years. There is a momentum shift in the game of baseball. It's not just rounders. It's not just cricket anymore. I'm getting messages and emails from, uh, people in Sweden and Austria, uh, all over Germany and the UK - "Hey, I started this T ball team... I started this youth baseball team and would love for you to come over and help us learn more about this game." JM - A couple of videos that caught my eye recently and I wish I had seen them when my kids were younger. One was how to teach a T baller, how to throw and how to teach a T baller, how to catch - two of the most daunting tasks I think a young coach has. CB - That's no joke. I've met many a major leaguer who have won World Series and MVPs, and they are the best of the best. But when it comes to teaching a five or six year old how to catch a baseball or throw a baseball, that's a different ball game. It's like apples and oranges and over the 20 years, in my, my first few years of the rookie coach, it wasn't good. But I learned from those mistakes. I learned from me being a passive aggressive or trying to teach them like they were 18 or maybe teach them like they're a five year old version of me who absolutely love baseball. Once I learned to meet every child on their own playing field, get to know them, then I realized, you know what? I've been listening to you kids and you love animal references. You love poetry. You love songs. I try and implement all of that into every skill that I teach and they go home and they start singing these songs to their parents and they're like, Hey, mom, dad, let me teach you what I, what I learned here about catching. So, um, all the catch raises, all the things that rhyme. It's memorable. It sticks in their brain and they laugh. That's the biggest thing. If they laugh at something, then they remember it better. So took a while, but I figured it out. JM - Kids having fun in sports is such a huge part of them learning how to love a sport, whether it's baseball, that you and I, both coach or whether it's basketball, football, whatever the sport may be, they have to have fun. Sticking with baseball, I think sometimes we forget just how hard this game is to play because it looks easy to quote Bull Durham, "You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball." It's simple, but it's not. It is such a difficult game to play. And I think we forget that too many times. CB - I learned it from doing it wrong. At age of 23, I'm coaching an eight year old. I'm hitting ground balls and they're not doing what I'm asking them to. They're not getting their glove down. They're not moving their feet. There were moments where they were lacking effort and it looked like they didn't want to be there. So me as the coach, as an insecure rookie coach, I went into, well, I'm a failure mode. I'm failing at this or they're disrespecting me. Either way, that translated into a path of aggressive tone. And sometimes it would even get militant and angry. Luckily, I had a mentor put his arm around me and say, ball game, you have the energy of 500 camels and 3000 humans. But that kid does not love baseball anymore because of the way you spoke to them, because of your tone. They're walking away and let's be honest, none of these kids that you coach are going to make it to the major leagues. The math says that, but they're all going to be teenagers one day. They're all going to be in college. They're all going to be adults. They're all going to be fathers and mothers one day. So how about you just try and mentor them to be a good human and baseball is the vessel. That's what happens. I do think it's just not being equipped, not educated on how to engage kids and then just that insecurity of, man, I don't know what I'm doing here. So I better yell. And I've heard enough of those stories of kids wanting to quit baseball because of a bad experience with a coach that I said, all right, I got to go all in on this. I've got to teach people what I learned from my mistakes. I really leaned into that as I quote my friend Kirk Gibson, who I ran a Sandlot with in Detroit, Michigan just a few weeks ago, he said, "Ballgame, you got to coach the coaches." So that's what I'm doing as I travel around the country. JM - I think you also have to coach the parents too. CB - 100%. They like to, they like to sit in those bleachers, sometimes stand and sometimes wrangle the fence with their fingers and micromanage everything that their child is doing. And nobody's trying to sabotage their own kid's career. They think they're doing the right thing. They're getting them ready for the next level. They're setting them up for success. But what happens is when you get a kid swing and miss and then look at their parent for approval, you notice something, you notice there is a fear of failure. So what I try to do is I try and create this culture where 0-for-4, I don't care. O-for-12, that's okay. How can you respond? Can you bounce back? And can you be, can you fall flat on your face, be it be okay with that, but not be afraid to fail? I say, hey kids, is it okay to strike out? Yes, is it okay to be afraid of striking out? No. So what I talk to the parents, I say, hey, I love your energy and I'm so glad you're present. A lot of parents, they don't even show up. You're here, you're very present. But so there's the positive reinforcement. Go ahead and let them know what they're doing right. But now this is what I noticed. That kids afraid to fail because they really want to do something good for you. They are afraid of the car ride home if they messed up. We've got to make sure that car ride home is joy. We're not talking about baseball. We're not talking about what you did wrong. I loved the big moment and I was very clutch. I only batted like 240 at Brown, but I batted 500 with runners on scoring position because my dad sat beyond the left field fence in a Hawaiian shirt, sitting in a lawn chair and he would smile at the 0-for-5's. He'd laugh at the 5-for-5's. Nothing was life or death. So I'm just trying to get parents to eat a little more popcorn, smile and clap and just enjoy watching their kid play. That's the best thing you can say to your kid before a game - "I love watching you play the game." Period. JM - You've mentioned the sandlot and you actually have two dates coming here to New Jersey in September on the 10th in Union County at Scotch Plains and then the day after September 11th up in Bergen County in Allendale. What goes on on one of these sandlot tour dates, Coach? CB - Well, you know, you could think of it as a three hour baseball camp, but I think of it as a birthday party and an experience. They're going to show up and we just sold out who 100 kids sandlots in North Carolina in 24 hours. People are getting pumped about this, but they show up as soon as they get there, they get a nickname. I'm greeting them and I'm asking them questions about who they are. Paint me a picture of who you are, John, Samantha, Billy, and let's get you a nickname. We've got volunteer coaches who we've prepped and equipped that are ready to run a bunch of skill stations and we split the kids up into small groups by age and they're doing all sorts of things. We've got batting stations, throwing catch stations, outfield, infield. I like to run a base running station so I can rattle off those nicknames as they run around the bases. We have different kinds of sandlot games going on across the space as well. We use tennis balls. We use volley balls. We use real baseballs, but there's a lot of different ways to play this beautiful game. I think sometimes we think, oh, we need a dugout and we need a real bat and we need a beautiful baseball and we need a beautiful glove. No, I want to open people's eyes and let them know it's just as easy as soccer. Soccer, you need a goal and a ball. Here you need a ball. You need some sort of stick and maybe a brown paper bag as a glove. We just have three hours of joy where I tell some stories about some heroes of mine - Roberto Clemente, Jim Abbott, just to name a few. And then at the end, we unpack it with all of the coaches and parents that would like to stay and we talk, what did we do? How can we make youth coaching and youth parenting better? That's actually my favorite part because those coaches and parents, they're going to touch hundreds of lives that I'll never meet. That ripple effect becomes real. JM - Once again, the Sandlot Tour coming to our area, Scotch Plains on September 10th and the next night, Allendale on September 11th up in Bergen County. You can get all the details online at coachballgame.com.

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