By TED SILLANPAA
When someone really wants to dig at me, they come with something like, “You’ve never played competitive (name a sport).” While I tend to think it’s easier to understand and explain games and players if you played, it’s possible to explain a sport without having played.
I can’t actually think of many media members who strike me as former athletes who really understand their games. I don’t know anybody in the business who coached much. (Little League or something doesn’t necessarily count unless … well, read on and you’ll learn with coaching at low leels can really pay off for a media member).
It’s my belief that we can’t really understand what an athlete is thinking, the pressure he or she feels, if we’ve never done anything except watch games from the safety of the bleachers or the press box. If I’m going to go badger somebody with questions after they lost a tough game, maybe failed in the clutch, I’m going knowing that my reaction in that situation would’ve been to shout an obscenity and tell all reporters to get lost.
As it turns out, I played and coached.
I can use Twitter to explain slowly to few of you how I know what I think I know, but it would be easier to explain here. You can filter what you read here through what experiences I’ve had that didn’t involve keeping score or approaching a coach to say, “Can you talk about the game?” after a difficult loss.
I’ve coached as far up the chain as high school sports. I played in college. Absolutely nothing to brag about, but I’ve succeeded and failed in sports. Honest.
Most of what I like to think I know is what I learned raising three athletic sons. If you really want to learn pitching, study pitching to help your own kin learn the position. My older kids were college-level players. My youngest son is a pretty elite high school pitcher right now. I learned for them and I’ve learned from them. And, when I wanted to help them, I went to people who really knew pitching to teach me.
Want to get a handle on what it takes to play defense in a football game, sit down with a college offensive coordinator and tell him your youth football team has a big game. Tell him you have no idea how to stop the opposition’s star running back or a clue how to keep his blockers from demolishing your defense. Then, listen closely and take notes.
That reminds me, entering a youth football championship game I was aware that I couldn’t help our players stop the star back on the other team. The coach I spoke most with had video of our previous meeting with this team because his son was on my club. The guy watched a little video to help me help the players. Before he started to instruct me on what he learned about defending against the great big back, he said, “You have to listen and take notes and ask questions because YOU have to teach the defensive techniques I’m going to give you to those kids.”
Two of my three sons were quarterbacks, so I know more about quarterbacking than lots of media folks who cover the NFL or big-time college football. I don’t know anything about the veer option or the 5- and 7-step drop that you couldn’t figure out by yourself, too, but I know more about it than most because my kids played quarterback.
It’s funny that readers think a media guy, like me, can’t know football without having been part of the NFL. You don’t need to interview Jim Harbaugh or have studied the work of Nick Saban. It’s not necessary to have pitched in a big league game to realize that, at no point, did Tim Lincecum simply forget how to pitch in 2012. Something was wrong mechanically, then he lost some confidence and … that happens in college, high school, everywhere.