“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” -Steven Spielberg
Considering the ADHD, the temper, and the rebellious attitude inherently ingrained within me, I was a good kid, but I needed direction. There was only so much my parents could do, and them giving me a long leash, believe it or not, probably prevented me from going over the edge. I was a punk ass 9-year-old kid who tried out for Alpine Little League “Majors” that generally was reserved for mainly 11-12 year olds. I remember talking to all the coaches at the tryout except one, Coach Tom Sutter from Peninsula Building Materials, aka “Morey’s.” I had heard the horror stories about him, and quite frankly, he scared the sh*t out of me and just about everyone else involved with the league. The mere sight of the robust man with the tan skin, white hair, and mirrored aviators absolutely freaked me out. He dressed in all black, his language was choice, and his voice would boom to such a high level that oftentimes it could be heard through the hills that set the backdrop of Ford Field in Portola Valley. “You Bet” was his famous catchphrase. For years, parents tried to get him removed from the league because he was “too hard” on the kids or he made them practice “too much.” To top off the mystique of the man and the team, Morey’s wore pinstripes and never lost. If there is such a thing as a dynasty in Little League Baseball, “Morey’s” was it and Tom Sutter was the reason why.
A week later, when my mom told me that my new Little League coach was at the door, forgive me if I ran and hid in my room when I saw who it was.
The reality of the situation is that Tom Sutter was the greatest coach I ever had. Was he a disciplinarian? Of course. Was his choice of words and tone a bit overwhelming for 9 to 12-year-old boys? Sure. Did we stretch the rules of how often we were supposed to practice? Probably. Did he once make me throw the ball to Nathan Anderson after the game 100 times in a row because I botched a double play? “You Bet.” But he was exactly what a 9 year old with extreme ADHD and an overwhelming desire to be the best needed. People talk all the time about the 4-year period of their life in which they became a man. Often times it’s usually high school or college. For me, it was 9 to 12 years old on the Little League diamond. Coach Sutter was a drill sergeant, a father figure, and a friend all at the same time. We lost one game in 4 years. Shockingly, in a town that was more known for geeky kids with high test scores, three of us that played on that one Alpine Little League team went on to play professional baseball. Two in the Major Leagues.
Coach Sutter helped me develop as a baseball player and as a person. He gave me a vision of the future, which for the first time in my life, emphasized the importance of education. Both of Coach Sutter’s kids had attended St. Francis High School, the perennial powerhouse in high school athletics in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. By the time I was 12 that was the only school I wanted to go to. The issue? I was not a good student. It was tough enough for me to stay in the classroom without being sent to the principal’s office, let alone excel academically.
I have always been a person with an incredible ability to apply myself and focus if there is something I am interested in or if I had a vision of something I wanted. It became very simple — I wanted to go to St. Francis, so I became interested in school. By no means was I a great student, but all of a sudden, I found myself making it through entire days without having to visit the principal. (Hey, I had to start somewhere!) Then in the 6th grade, we began to switch classrooms and teachers for whatever subject was being taught. At that point, I completely changed as a student. There was no doubt the constant change of scenery catered to my ADHD and had an incredible impact on my ability to focus. Whatever it was, all of a sudden I made school a competition. In math class, I wanted to solve the equation correctly before anybody else. In English class, I always wanted to get the highest grade on my essay. In history, I wanted to learn more than you, then tell you intricate details about the life and legacy of our 25th President, William McKinley. I also had an incredible desire to learn Spanish. There was nothing better than coming home and answering my mom’s pertinent questions in a language she could not understand. I thought science sucked, but what young, curious kid did not like cutting open dead animals and dissecting their insides?
The desire to win, the desire to be the best, and my thirst for competition is what drove me as a kid. So just like karate, tennis, baseball, football, basketball, soccer, etc., school became a game, and miraculously, I became an “A” student. I am sure a lot of people, including every teacher I had leading up to my Junior High School years, truly felt as if hell had frozen over.
Without Tom Sutter in my life, I am not sure where I would be today. He taught me life principles and discipline on a baseball field, which eventually carried over to every other aspect of my life.
Human Crash Test Dummy Life Lesson #8
Be a coach, be a mentor, and change a kid’s life. There is no need to act like their parent or be their best friend, but you can greatly influence a kid’s life by teaching them the essence of hard work and holding them accountable for their actions. At some point, all kids need to hear an influential voice other than their parents… Be that voice.[Listen to the audio version of Change a Kid’s Life above, or on The Hustle Podcast.]