By Bri Sayasithsena (JMU Class of 16)
What does it mean to be a coach for 13 years? Coach Mike Engle knows. Coach Engle and I met to talk about some of his most memorable moments as a coach. An endearing and committed part of the team, Coach Engle reminded me that being a coach is more than wins and losses—what matters most are the children.
After moving to Harrisonburg for his junior year of college at Eastern Mennonite University, Coach Engle has remained for the past 32 years. During that time, he did some coaching for his church team and softball leagues for adults. He engaged in some construction work for about ten years, then moved into computer work. For the past 13 years, he has been an active volunteer for the Harrisonburg Little League Association. He has three children, all of whom have played for the Little League.
He started when his older son played t-ball and moved through the leagues with him. Currently, he is coaching the team his younger son Josh plays for. And now, it has been 13 years since he started coaching children at HLLA.
s“I think a lot of it comes down to whether it’s a good experience for the children when they play,” said Engle. “If they enjoy themselves, they’ll come back. My main focus with the league is that the kids have a good experience. In the past, I know that some coaches have made it about their winning record and that I feel did not help the kids. The kids that don’t do as well get left out—and that has never been my philosophy.”
One of the things he looks at with baseball players is that all the top athletes are going to be playing somewhere else in addition to HLLA. Most of them are playing on a travel team somewhere. So from that perspective, he looks at the HLLA as “fun time,” not the time for stressing drills and yes sir, no sir attitudes.
It is all dependent on the age, though. Engle said 11- and 12-year-old players want to win and they are the people who keep up with the score. Coach Engle often loses track of the score. At t-ball for the 4 and 5 year olds, fun for them is just being able to play with their friends. But, regardless of the level of play, children grow with games and team spirit.
“Team sports is a good benefit, playing as part of a team,” explained Engle. “Because baseball isn’t one of those sports you can play by yourself. You can do selective aspects but you can’t play a baseball game by yourself.”
As long as children learn teamwork, a winning record is less important to Coach Engle. One of the subjects he likes to teach is how to shake hands. “You think that’s an obvious thing but so many people don’t do it well,” said Engle. “I teach them how to shake hands and when these players come back and see me years later they shake hands—and they do it well and as a head coach, I like that.”
However, he noticed that the HLLA loses a lot more children at the older levels. He thinks a lot of it comes down to whether it is a good experience for the children when they play. If they enjoy themselves, they’ll come back. That is why Engle always makes sure no one gets left out. This has been his philosophy as he coaches.
How did he learn to coach? He has just learned things as he has coached over the years. He believes that his main job is to find out the strengths and weaknesses of players and develop them. He added, “It’s my job to find them and use them to the best advantage of both the player and the team.” Of course, it is not easy.
“It’s really helpful to get someone with experience you can read about and see it—until you’re the person who has to make the call it’s different,” said Engle. “Remember that it is about the kids—not about how you’re perceived. Umpires are there to do the job so don’t yell at them.” Engle also said meeting parents and trying to know who they are at least a little bit helps.
Coach Engle is a long-time coach for the HLLA. He has cared less about winning records and more about the quality of playing time children get on their little league teams. After all, baseball is a team sport, and the players are children. “So you depend on other people and they depend on you.” To Coach Engle, the intangible growth of children is the first priority. “I love to see when children have good experiences and someday they come back and shake my hand.” And now it has been 13 years. Thank you for your endless effort and service, Coach Engle.
HLLA Story is an official blog site of the Harrisonburg Little League Association. All contents are managed by the Bluestone Communications, a student-run public relations agency at James Madison University. Please contact Kevin Leaven (email@example.com), an account executive of the Bluestone Communications., if you have any questions about the blog or the stories.