This is my second year as the assistant coach for our town’s high school baseball team, which my son plays on. I love being the assistant coach because I can be an active part of the team while not having all the responsibility the head coach has. The head coach is my cousin, who was also my best friend growing up and a strong Christ-follower.
Before the season started the two of us sat down and thought about our goals for the team. We realized, yes, we want to win games and have these young men become the best baseball players they can be, but beyond that we want to do a lot of leadership training with them. We want to witness to these guys and teach them good morals, values and character in creative ways, both in baseball and outside of it.
The first week of baseball season is really difficult; athletes refer to it as “Hell Week.” It’s designed to keep them running and working hard so we can weed out the ones who aren’t cut out for the season and toughen up those who are. In the weeks leading up to these five days, I met with a few of my military friends who helped me design a land navigation course for our team. So while the 24 players who had survived were looking forward to a night at our ranch on Friday after “Hell Week,” we had something different planned — more than just hanging out and eating good food.
When the athletes arrived, we stripped them of all their personal items, including their cell phones, chargers and the chargers for their chargers, and gave each of them only what they needed for the night: a knife, extra batteries for their headlamps, cords, a Bible and a variety of miscellaneous items their teams would need. Then we pulled two guys aside and made them the leaders of their teams of 12.
We told the first half to go to the north side of the ranch, two miles away, and the second half was sent to the south end. Each team was given two radios and a map with five dots on it. Each team was sent to two identical courses at their end of the ranch, with absolutely no idea what was about to happen. I gave them a sheet of paper with instructions, which they had two minutes to look over before it was taken away from them. They were then given a compass and a quick tutorial from a special forces member on how to use it. After another quick lesson on how to effectively communicate via radio (military style), having given them only what was absolutely critical for them to complete their mission, we walked away.
The course was run at night and the teams split up to tackle a total of five elements each (the dots on the map), which they were to complete as fast as possible. For one of the tasks, we had used a backhoe to dig a huge hole in the ground, and we moved the dirt 15 yards away. We left them with two shovels and a wheelbarrow, but the wheelbarrow was chained and locked. In order for them to unlock the wheelbarrow they had to look up a specific parable in the Bible, figure out as a team what it meant back in Biblical times and how we can apply it to our lives today, and then radio in their answer to us. Back at basecamp, if we were satisfied with their answer, we would then give them the four-digit code to unlock the chain.
We had locks throughout the course at each element. If they were not able to unlock the code, they wouldn’t gain the helpful tools to assist them in the challenge. Completion of the fifth challenge unlocked another five challenges for each team. Just when they were tired and hungry, thinking it was over, they found out they weren’t even halfway through.
One team took more than six hours, and the other took more than seven hours — they were exhausted by the end. We wanted this to be a struggle for the guys. We wanted them to battle through as a team, to learn how to lead others and follow their teammates, and to bond as a team by working through the challenges. After each challenge they completed, they had to carry anything they used or did with them for the rest of the night. They probably navigated more than five miles that night, through the dark woods, over creeks to split firewood, build bridges, haul trailers, and other various tasks.
The best part of the all of this was the debrief that happened around the campfire (when we finally ate dinner eight hours later) and in the days to follow, when we discovered what they learned. They really opened up about the experience, many admitting it was the coolest thing they’d ever done. When they were challenged to work together, they thrived. They bonded in a way they knew they would never forget. It really was unreal to hear all the things that came out of this challenge — the character lessons they learned about leadership, teamwork, and how to follow others who might be more knowledgeable or experienced in certain aspects of life.
Their missions were accomplished. Our mission as coaches was accomplished, and this set the stage for what I am anticipating to be a very fruitful season for these young men, both on and off the field.
— Adam LaRoche, former MLB player
Adam LaRoche is a regular contributor to The Increase, providing monthly articles and opinions.
Check out Adam’s profile on The Increase: http://theincrease.com/author/adam-laroche/
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