Friday, August 7, 2009

Boys and Girls of Summer

"Human beings want to hear three things: their first name, something encouraging, and a quiet gentle constructive criticism. How can I improve? I whisper that, but I shout encouragement." -- John McCarthy, director of the Home Run Baseball Camp, in Washington, D.C.

If you know someone who can teach sports to children more enthusiastically than John McCarthy, also known as "Coach Mac", I'd like to meet that person.

I used to teach soccer – that’s football to most people in the world -- to kids in the Washington, D.C., area. But I never approached McCarthy's talent for getting kids "pumped" and "stoked" for hitting the field, while at the same time teaching them good manners.

"How is your motivation level?" he asks District of Columbia mayor Adrian Fenty, who makes a cameo appearance -- and also a pretty good catch -- at this sports camp in the northwest corner of America’s capital city. "It's at an all-time high, coach!" the mayor responds.

McCarthy takes every opportunity to tell campers it's important to read lots of books and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Summer in the U.S. is a season for all sorts of youth camps, and what better activity to showcase than baseball? Often called the national pastime, baseball is a game with boundless lore and a colorful tradition.

Baseball might seem an easy sport to those who have never tried it, since it doesn't require too much endurance. But as McCarthy shows his young campers, baseball is actually a very technical game and demands bursts of speed, concentration and precision from its players.

Three of the baseball campers star in this video as well; Che, who owes his name to the famous Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara; Joshua, who shows off his signature diving catch; and Max, whose traditional summer 'do (or haircut) is a mohawk. Baseball, with all its down-time in between pitches and innings, is famously known for its colorful characters and great stories.

McCarthy was once, briefly, a professional pitcher. I asked him if it wasn't better in the end that he didn't make it as a superstar athlete, since that freed him to become a teacher. He said most players prefer to play, and he does miss playing at the professional level. But he said he's proven to himself he's a better coach, so he has no regrets.

Kids at the Home Run camp certainly seem to benefit from his change of career, as McCarthy passes on his passion for the complex sport, and shares tips on how to “step up to the plate” in the game of life.

For more on how the language of baseball permeates American English, check out this link by VOA Special English.