Growing up in my family of five, my father and I had to adhere to a strict “no softball talk at dinner” rule. My mother and siblings were just sick of everything softball and it was agreed upon that mealtime would be a softball free zone. But the moment the plates were cleared my eyes went to the window to see if there was enough light left and if the weather would allow for our post-dinner ritual.
“Wanna have a catch, Dad?”
“Yep. Grab our gloves.”
And out to the front yard we went. I would get warmed up and then always, and I mean ALWAYS, I would throw the first pitch at least ten feet over my father’s head. And then we would settle in to what most people today would call a “pitching workout” or a “bull pen”. But not us and not then. To us it was just a catch. We would work speed and spin. He would advise me. We would try different stuff and figure it out together. So I know I am dating myself here but the softball was white, I was 40ft away in high school and we didn’t have private instructors and camps or even the Internet to find drills and technique. What I did have was a dream and a Dad who was willing to do whatever it took (including reading library books) to help me realize it. During these catches he hid his frustrations, always stayed calm, and we actually enjoyed ourselves. Honestly, we loved every moment of it.
As a Phys. Ed. teacher and a coach it was in his nature to help me learn. And as he loved to share what he knew with others. I became his helper and demonstrator at camps and saw his keen eye for finding the cause of an issue not just the obvious flaw. I watched him use humor to put kids at ease and naturally identify learning styles to help players. He developed amazing team cultures and relationships with players who to this day tell me that playing for him was the best experience of their careers.
Today, many, many, many years later, there are still eye rolls from family members when the talk turns to softball. I share videos of my students with my Dad. We discuss mechanics and how much things have changed. So much progress has been made in softball pitching and he often feels the need to apologize for teaching me “wrong." I remind him that evolution is inevitable and good and that some stuff is just “old school”. He is still always eager to hear about new methods, still setting an example for me that it is my job to keep learning, to be open-minded, to be pragmatic.
Most often he steers the conversation to my students and their personalities; how they support each other, how they are working to achieve their goals, what great human beings and teammates they are, and how much I love what I do. Because three decades ago I may not have known that these are the things that really matter, but he did. And I realize that he is still teaching me now. Through all of this I learned, through his example, the most important lesson, one that has become the mantra of Powher pitch instructors – “Coaching is a profession of love.”
Many fathers come in and out of our facility (Mothers too, but today is father’s day). They sit on buckets, sacrificing shins, shoulders and thumbs to catch for their daughters. Most manage to hide frustrations and follow their daughters’ leads. As much as they have invested in money and time, they still manage to let their daughters enjoy the journey. It’s hard. I know it is. Not just the mechanics have evolved. The stakes just seem so much higher with instructors, trainers, hitting lessons, multiple travel organizations, winter workouts, scouts, skills videos, college camps and potential scholarship offers. With all of that it is so easy to lose sight of the big picture – the relationship between a father and his daughter – a relationship that shapes the rest of her life.
It’s easy to understand why so many pitching coaches are fathers of pitchers. They are men who have sat on that bucket and watched, and learned, and loved the pitcher and loved the process. The building of a pitcher is also the evolution of a relationship. And nobody wants that to end. So to all of the bucket Dad’s out there – but especially mine - thank you for all you do and everything you are – Happy Father’s Day!