Mondays with Matt – Sports and Recreation with Coach Matt

Over the past month, I have been partnering with the Hadley Park and Recreation Department to write a weekly column called Mondays with Matt. As many who know me know, sports and recreation have always played a large role in my life. My playing days ended long ago, yet the fire that within me burns has never faltered.

Why coaching and teaching? I have long felt that education and teaching are my callings – my purpose. Over the course of the past decade, I have discovered the many areas that I enjoy helping others in. While sports has thus far been a small part of that, it has been an honor to pass on sports lessons that were passed down to me and that I learned to others. This was why I took a part time job with the Park and Recreation Department from 2012-2015 as the Instructional Youth Sport Coordinator, where some parents bestowed the nickname of Coach Matt on me. At the same time, I started my coaching website and manual – – to share my knowledge and experiences so that others may too learn these lessons, coaches and student-athletes alike.

So, why coaching? What do I have to offer? Self-admittedly, I was not a remarkable player. However, when you lack talent, you have to work harder to make a difference as a member of your team. You pay attention to the small things and do the small things that tend to go unnoticed yet are important. You study strategies, tendencies and mechanics. You learn the history of the game and try to glean every last bit of information you can so that you can be useful, even if only for a moment in time. That’s what I had to do to make it. It took me a long time to understand the importance of it, but what a powerful tool. I was never the player with talent. I was the unseen and unheard behind the scenes member of the team. I was the expendable player. What was lacked in talent, I made up for by being the cog in the machine and studying the games. I learned to perform the risky, un-glamorous jobs. If that required risking my body for the sake of accomplishing a team goal, so be it. Two dislocated knees, a dislocated elbow, various bumps & bruises and a few likely concussions will attest to the physical style of play that I adopted in order to make it in the 3 sports that I eventually played – soccer, basketball and baseball. That is how I added value. But I learned things as well. I learned the strategy of the game, the mechanics of the individual athletic act. I learned how scouting and coaching can make or break a team. I learned that sports is a lot like life – it’s the small things that make the difference. I learned that it’s all about perspective. I realized that I could help others by teaching others – by being a coach to them. And I learned that you never stop learning. Even left to your own devices and creativity – you can develop and learn. No matter the recreational activity that you are partaking in – from music to art to sports – you can develop and learn. I touch on this in this week’s version of Mondays with Matt below. Please read and enjoy!

Opportunities lost. Time lost. In the year 2020, much has been lost. Many have suffered more than time and opportunity lost. Covid-19 does not discriminate. For many kids in town, the opportunities and time lost may be among the more noticeable losses. This may actually be one of the first “losses” that a young kid experiences. It is said that experience is our best teacher and that has consistently proved to be true over the years. There is a lot to be said of experience and being exposed to different parts of life – both good and bad.

In these times of social distancing and isolation, it may feel like much of the structure that a kid knows has evaporated like the dew on the morning grass. For many, recreational activities serve as the ship that passes the time during our childhood. We are always doing something. Always trying to have fun.

How does one combat the feeling of loss that a kid may have? How does one take part in recreational activities? The answer is to rely on creativity and to create experiences. This is something that you can do as a parent or a kid may simply take initiative and do so on their own. Something that we possess as kids is a great sense of imagination. We are creative. We are resourceful. We try to create our own fun and experiences. We do this as adults too, but to a lesser extent – or so it sometimes feels with all of the responsibilities that we carry. Therefore, this lesson can be valuable to all of the parents reading this week’s column as well. This process can be summed up in a short statement – have fun!

In the absence of formally organized recreational activities, you can take advantage of the activities that the Park and Recreation Department puts out on their social media pages. You can also create experiences and games that help develop the same skills as if you were at the local park or field.

I want to provide a quick example of this. I am an adult in his 30’s who has always had a healthy love of sport and recreation. When I was a kid, I didn’t always have the opportunity to be part of a program or a league. However, I wanted to play baseball any chance that I had. What did I do? My dad will vouch for the fact that we played plenty of baseball simulation games with a wiffle ball and bat. He also taught me to be resourceful. How did I work on hitting and throwing? Much the same way that I will absent-mindedly do so today. We have open space behind our house. We also have plenty of rocks. I will take a bat – a wooden one – that I don’t mind beating up and I will work on my hand-eye coordination by playing a game of how many rocks I can hit line drives with. Simple yet effective. The same goes with throwing. We have an abundance of butternut and walnut trees around our property. When the nuts fall, they can pose a hazard for your ankles. One way to dispose of them? Target practice on trees at the edge of the property. To this day, I can spend a good 15 minutes just working on my accuracy and throwing technique by playing a target practice game using nothing but walnuts and a tree.

You see, experience and exposure are our greatest teachers. To all of you parents and kids alike, there are hundreds of things that you can do from the comfort of your own home that can develop your skills and allow you to have fun. Play a game with your kid or parent, create a game in your yard – or wherever it is that you go to play – go fishing. All of these activities are fun and help develop skills. That is something that can be done, even in these trying times.

The fun thing about creating your own recreational experiences is that the activity can also be anything that you want it to be. Not all of us have a strong interest in athletic recreational activities. After all, recreation cover a vast universe of activities. You could enjoy woodworking or making music. Your creative activity could involve art and drawing or painting. There is a reason why all of the above activities are taught in our schools and are part of our educational journey. Bob Ross, the painter, once said when referring to a painting that he was about to create, “This is your world. You are the creator. Find freedom on this canvas.” The same is true for you – you the person. You are the creator of your world. Find freedom in your life and do what you love.

You can develop and learn the same lessons by being creative and creating experiences in your mind. Even when playing a game by yourself, you can learn about the triumph of victory, the lessons of failing and in developing a strategy to succeed again. In doing so, you will find that you are having fun too. So, in closing, to all of you parents and all of you kids reading this – go have some fun! You may not have your traditional coaches, but you will always have the greatest teachers of them all with you – experience and exposure. There is still much to do, much to learn and much fun to be had – just by being you!

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