Even though Dan "Grandpa" Potopsky was probably well into his sixties during the years that he was my summer baseball coach, he was tall and still physically strong and imposing. And despite his age, we could always count on him to be at every practice -- donning a white polo, shorts, white tube socks (pulled all the way up to the knees, of course), a baseball hat, and a pipe -- throwing batting practice to our team for 90 minutes or more. This was every practice, every season, for years, even as our team moved through junior high and even into high school. What was even more amazing is that over all those years he could still throw a ball as fast as (if not faster than) his age!
The fact that you could count on him to always be there working hard for us was one of so many reasons that Grandpa Potopsky was one of the most influential coaches and people in my life. However, of all the lessons he taught us, for me the most meaningful was his constant message that "the little things" made the biggest difference.
What are the Little Things?
When he'd huddle us together after each game we'd spend a majority of the time going over what he referred to as "the little things" that directly or indirectly led to a win or a loss: missing a cutoff man, getting down a bunt in a key situation, taking an extra base, or capitalizing on the other team's mistakes. And as we would review all those situations, it would always become apparent and obvious that the outcomes of all those critical plays was usually determined by our ability to simply pay attention. The message is profound in its simplicity, right? And it applies to so much more than just baseball.
I believe his emphasis helped motivate our team to stay focused in the moment during each play, which ultimately led to a lot of success on the field over the years. More importantly, I attribute a lot of my own success later in life to carrying over that lesson in my personal and professional life as well.
Like Grandpa Potopsky, we all have people and coaches in our lives who have made a lasting impact by seizing those teachable moments and instilling values that continue to influence us to this day. With the Summer Olympics upon us, there will be so many teachable moments to help kids understand all "the little things" that will make such a big impact during the games. And as school quickly approaches, summer sports wind down, and fall sports kick in, it's a good time of year to remind kids of the importance of getting organized, paying attention to detail, and taking care of all those "little things" that will help them succeed throughout their school year, throughout their seasons, and ultimately throughout their lives.
So over the next few weeks, keep an eye out for those little things, pay attention, and if the opportunity presents itself, seize it!
Knee high tube socks and pipe not required...