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Cornered Coach - Painful Lessons

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I finally hit the wall.

Last weekend, I was busy coaching my eight-year-old lad in the playoffs of the Withrow Park Ball Hockey League in Toronto. We also drove back and forth from Wayne Gretzky country in Brantford, Ontario, where Theo was also involved in a baseball tournament. (Gretzky, by the way, was a heckuva ball player growing up in Brantford, shining at shortstop and displaying a hard-to-hit slow curve as a pitcher.)

It's great to try your hand at different sports — one of the secrets of being a well-rounded athlete. But too many round-trips in the car, not taking the time to pound down enough calories and a recent baseball injury all added up to a weekend that definitely wasn't a ton of fun.

A few weeks ago, Theo's baseball team took part in a tournament in Cambridge, Ontario. Playing first base, Theo lost a ball in the sun and… “Pow! Right in the ol' Kisser!" There was blood everywhere, as Theo immediately headed for the hills screaming, "I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die!"

Fortunately, despite a dramatic death scene right out of Romeo and Juliet, there were no casualties on the killing fields of Cambridge that afternoon. However, we did end up in the emergency room of the local hospital and after some dental surgery the next day, I'm pleased to report that both Theo, and his wobbly front teeth, will survive. A few of our fellow baseball parents congratulated me and my wife for being so calm and cool about the whole situation and, truth be told, we did handle the ordeal pretty well.

But as the old proverb says, "Pride goeth before the fall" and just when I was feeling rather cocky about my level-headed parental display, along came the weekend of ball hockey and Brantford.  

Saturday afternoon, it was boiling hot at the ball hockey rink. Because it was a playoff tilt, the little guys were really working hard and, coupled with the heat, three of our players ended up getting sick on the bench. Theo was one of them, but they all sucked it up and helped the squad register a hard-fought victory.

The next day, it was back to Brantford for an early morning baseball game followed by a quick trip back to Toronto and another playoff ball hockey test. This time, the weather was perfect.

But Theo?

Not so much.

At the end of a shift late in the first period, he came to the bench and immediately doubled over in tears.

"I can't breathe! I can't breathe! I think I'm having a heart attack!"

No, son.

Dad was the one who felt like he was suffering a cardiac arrest and I immediately pulled Theo off the bench, running across the rink screaming for my wife to fire up the family SUV so we could rush to the hospital. My wife, maintaining her "Cambridge cool,” tried to talk me down from the ledge as I babbled incoherently about heart problems, asthma attacks and the dreaded Tsetse Fly Virus. A mere ten years shy of my medical degree, I eventually deferred to an actual M.D. whose son was on the other team. She checked Theo out and delivered her grim diagnosis.

"I think he's just a little tired and hungry."

In our haste to bolt back from the baseball tournament in Brantford, we hadn't even stopped for a bite to eat. With three weekend baseball games and two ball hockey contests under his belt, one in extremely hot conditions, Theo's little body didn't have enough fuel to keep up with the hectic pace.

Dad, meanwhile, was also a tad burned out.

It's not easy seeing your little guy get injured during a sporting event and, after three separate incidents in a short period of time, I finally had enough.

So, what's the takeaway from a weekend I'd really rather just forget? After all, it's important to learn a few life lessons along the way, even if those lessons leave you feeling (and looking) rather silly.

1. As a coach and a parent, it's important (for the child's feelings and your own sanity) to remain calm when a young athlete suffers an injury. More Cambridge, in essence, and less ball hockey.

2. Make sure your child has enough to eat and drink during a competition. It's easy for parents. We can just head to the snack bar if we get the growlies. But don't forget about the little tykes actually competing. Sometimes, they might be too nervous or too anxious to eat before, during or after a game. But it's important to put some gas in their tank, especially during busy tournament weekends.

3. Be careful about over-scheduling young athletes. Yes, it's exciting to watch them play — especially at weekend tournaments. But NHL and Major League Baseball players don't play five games in two days (their high-powered unions wouldn't allow it) and even though young athletes have boundless energy, everyone eventually hits the wall.

I know.

I smacked into a big one last weekend but, hopefully, the lessons I learned will help me (and perhaps you too) avoid a future crash.

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