It's Not All About Winning

Nick Knoeppel – Crystal Lake, IL

I started playing sports at a very young age. At 5-years-old I was playing tee-ball in my local park district, and three years later my time was consumed with playing baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer. By the time I turned 10 I realized it was too difficult to play soccer and baseball at the same time since both have very active spring seasons. I was much more interested in playing baseball, so I decided to give up soccer. A year or so later I wanted to give football a try, and because hockey and football have overlapping seasons, I decided to give up hockey as well. I played football for two years before realizing it wasn’t the right sport for me, and eventually by the time high school rolled around, I chose to focus my love of sports on playing baseball.

I was fortunate enough to have my dad coach me in baseball from 5-years-old all the way through Little League. I can still remember getting in his red Chrysler LeBaron convertible with a broken driver’s side door, going to out-of-town games with the top down and cranking up the volume to Earth, Wind & Fire Greatest Hits album on cassette.

After Little League, I played travel baseball on a few different teams. I have many memories of waking up at 5 am in the off-season for indoor practices, taking hitting and pitching lessons, traveling out of state to play in tournaments, and hanging out with teammates at the hotels. Once I reached high school, I stopped playing on travel teams and focused all my energy on my high school team.

As a freshman, I had a great arm and was a decent pitcher. Unfortunately, my arm could not survive for the long haul, and I ended up needing shoulder surgery during my junior year. Surgery was tough to recover from and kept me from being able to throw like I once used to, inevitably turning me into a first baseman. The timing of my position change couldn’t have been worse because that year my team was ranked fourth in the state for our class. I was, however, given the opportunity to have an at-bat in our first state tournament game against Jake Odorizzi, a pitcher for the Houston Astros who played in the 2021 World Series. Needless to say, he struck me out. Almost 15 years later and I remember the pitch I swung and missed on like it was yesterday. My dad still gives me a hard time about it, and in fact, he bought me a Jake Odorizzi bobblehead not too long ago.

Looking back now, my dad was a huge influence in my youth sports career, and in my brothers’ careers as well. Not only did he coach us in Little League, but he was the equipment manager and a board member. They even named a local field after him a few years ago. Aside from his own sacrifices and accomplishments, the biggest takeaway I got from my dad is that he never made me do anything I didn’t want to do. Play five sports or play none, he didn’t care. He never got mad at a poor performance in a game or practice, but if I did something disrespectful or unsportsmanlike, you better believe I heard about it. This is exactly the approach I will take as a parent because that’s what youth sports is all about – do what’s fun, grow as a person, and make memories and friends that will last a lifetime.