Before my son bats at home base, he looks left, to his coach, who sends him messages and signals about how to approach the coming pitch. The lights are bright over the dark field. Mist steams up off the warm field, the dew mixing with the cool night air into fog that, after the game, the boys will run to, thinking they can reach it, not knowing it will disappear once they get there.

When a kid is on a base, the coach calls out instructions. At key moments in the game, the coach calls a time-out and the team huddles around him, eager to learn, to hear strategy, to know more, to play better.

This particular coach was equal parts nurturing and challenging, stern and kind. He calls it like it is, but also offers compliments to the kids whenever possible, whenever appropriate. And yet, he calls them on their mistakes, helping them to learn how to do it better. How to meet their goals.

Several of my friends are coaches, and one recently attempted to describe how a personal coach is different from a therapist. It seemed challenging at the time to really understand what a personal coach does.

And then I observed my son’s baseball team and it was so easy. A good coach is a role model, a parent figure, a teacher, a disciplinarian, full of kindness and nurturing and lessons and learning. A coach is someone who has the power to build you up – or the power to break you down. A good coach only seeks to do the former.

Being part of a team has huge lessons for everyone, and yet we really only see ourselves doing so as kids. In the workplace, we are part of a team often, but do we see our superiors as potential coaches, our teammates as mirrors to teach us how to be better, kinder, more of a partner?

Many of us, as adults, engage in activities that are solitary, or take classes. We don’t actively pursue team settings.

Perhaps we should.

The character that comes from learning to work with others, the humility that comes from knowing you’re the worst player but that nobody minds you being there and everyone is rooting for you to improve, and the exhilaration that comes from riding high when the entire team does well – or hugging in when the entire team loses the last game.

Last night was my son’s last fall ball game and they lost. Oh well. They won, really, because all the kids left with smiles on their faces, feeling good about who they are. The coach offered a positive comment for each kid as he bid farewell.

One boy’s mother passed out purple paper bags of homemade cookies to every player. The team gathered on the diamond for cell phone pictures, to record this moment, this experience, knowing they are better for having been there.

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