Red Lion varsity baseball coach Kevin Lawrence uses a summer camp where kids are required to make choices themselves to teach them responsibility. ROB ROSE, @robrosesports
As a teacher and coach, Kevin Lawrence has firsthand knowledge about the issues that young people face in today’s ever-evolving society.
For Lawrence, the top problem facing kids today is the inability to make decisions for themselves, because adults either prevent challenges from occurring or solve them for the kids.
To combat this, the Red Lion High baseball coach created Windsor’s Summer Sandlot Camp (formerly known as Game Camp) to give kids a chance to get some more time on the field and, maybe more importantly, develop the ability to solve issues for themselves.
“Every problem comes with an adult who can provide a solution,” Lawrence said. “What our young people are capable of is far more than we are giving them credit for. We are so eager as adults to be the fixers and to plow their way to make sure that everything is easy for them. They’ll do just fine, and often better than we could, on their own.”
How it began: The camp has two sessions. Kids age 10 and under practice first, then the 11-and-12-year-old group plays afterwards.
Lawrence initially just wanted to create a camp for kids to play baseball, but what he saw changed the format and goals of the program. Early in the summer of 2016 — the camp’s first year — Lawrence saw an interest from the older players to help out with coaching the younger group.
“Within the first year, the kids seemed to be having so much fun that the older kids started coming early during the younger kids’ session and said, ‘Hey, can we umpire? Can we coach the bases and manage the teams?’” Kevin Lawrence said. “It got to the point where sometimes they would bring clipboards with them and fill out their lineups.”
In the camp, the players set the lineup order, determine players' positions and keep score of the game. The coaches' responsibility is to pitch and help determine close plays at home plate.
Lawrence’s son, Connor Lawrence, plays with the older group, but also coaches during the earlier session.
He said that changing the way he communicated with the younger kids compared to kids his age was difficult at first. Although it took some time to get used to, controlling his emotions is something Connor Lawrence said he was proud that he learned how to improve.
“The first couple times I coached were rough, but I learned and now I am doing better,” Connor Lawrence said.
The philosophy of controlling one’s attitude is something that Kevin Lawrence preaches to the players.
The High Ace: In a handout he gives to all that attend the camp titled, "The High Ace," Kevin Lawrence describes how every person has the ability to decide their value, like the ace card. Sometimes the ace is the lowest card and sometimes it is the highest, depending on the game.
The metaphor is used to explain to the players that it’s up to them how they react to an umpire, teacher or parent and determine if they will be the best or worst version of themselves.
“The No. 1 skill we’re trying to work on is emotional control,” Kevin Lawrence said. “Once we can control our emotions, then we can make good decisions.”
Kevin Lawrence’s favorite example of his high-ace philosophy was when he received a call from a member of his Tripletown Aces travel team after a game he wasn’t present at.
The player called him to confess that, in a moment of frustration, he slammed his helmet on the ground during a game, a violation of the way his coach taught him to play. The confession and phone call told Kevin Lawrence that the program was working.
“Lots of young people can’t even talk on the phone. For him to proactively pick up the phone, call and apologize, and acknowledge that it’s not one of the principles we try to adhere to, how could it possibly get any better than that?” Kevin Lawrence said.
Always adding more: In addition to future years of the camp, which now include a basketball edition of the program, Kevin Lawrence planned to have his Tripletown Aces create their own business. The landscaping company would be operated by the players with mentors teaching them how to manage the finances.
The players have taken notice to the improvements the camp has had on them. A member of Kevin Lawrence’s Tripletown Aces and camper/coach Logan Knaub said the camp has changed how he acts on the field, in the classroom and at home.
“The way coach Kevin teaches us to behave (in) different places makes you a better person (in) life,” Knaub said.
As the camp continues to evolve each year, Kevin Lawrence enjoys the opportunity to use baseball to teach kids responsibility and decision-making skills. His hope is that the camp allows the players to take the skills they learned while having fun on the field and implement them into their lives as they grow up.
“We have to continue to make a very conscious effort to tell our young people, ‘Here are the great things of which you’re capable, now go figure out how to do it,’” Kevin Lawrence said. “We’re hoping we develop elite young people that turn into elite adults.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.