The varsity baseball season is steamrolling into the IHSA State Tournament; but don’t forget about the freshman, sophomore, and JV coaches who have dedicated so many hours during this year’s school calendar. These teachers are the last adult mentors many players will experience on a baseball diamond – or in any sport. It is easy to forget that lots of sports careers end before a varsity experience begins. The next two days WillCountyBaseball.org will feature two exceptional sophomore head baseball coaches – Tom Trayser at Neuqua Valley and Antonio Juarez at Joliet Central.
Tom Trayser – Neuqua Valley Sophomore Head Coach
Tom Trayser has multiple professions. He is a teacher, a special education teacher, and head coach for Neuqua Valley’s sophomore baseball team. Neuqua’s sophomores posted a remarkable 33-1 record this spring, but Trayser has a lot more work to do. Trayser is a serious, intelligent guy who knows whenever he is around young people that he is a teacher; and it’s more than books or baseball. He sat down with WillCountyBaseball.org and talked about the fundamentals of leadership in competition and how athletes can learn from playing other sports.
As a coach of sophomores Trayser thinks there are some myths about high school sports:
“Today we are seeing trends that minimize the number of multi-sport athletes in high school. Athletes think that focusing on one sport gives them the best opportunity to play at the next level, but it is the multi-sport athlete that is best equipped often times. Not only does playing different sports help develop a different skillset, it also maintains a fresh and healthy mindset. It is our job as coaches to work together to encourage this.”
Trayser had some fascinating insights about leaders in sports. Every coach, player, and sports fan has to concede that some athletes are wildly more talented than the pack. But a true leader on the field, court, or ice sees things before they happen. Not only is his or her body conditioned to act efficiently at the right time, but he or she has already envisioned the action. This combination of talent and instinct can only be cultivated by a coach. The raw talent can’t be taught; but a coach has an enormous effect on how that athlete understands his or her role in a team concept.
It’s more than talent when a running back picks up a blitz to protect the quarterback. He’s the same kid who plays guard, and passes up a makeable three-pointer to thread a pass inside. And this is the same athlete willing to lay down a bunt and use his speed to create havoc for his baseball coach. It is critical that a coach recognizes these qualities early in an athlete’s development.
Lots of people want to get the attention of varsity coaches. They forget about the freshman, sophomore, and JV coaches that help kids stay involved in athletic activities. When your son or daughter decides to play high school sports chances are that he or she will start on a freshman or sophomore team. The best programs build from within, and as the players advance by grade they are mentored by men and women no less important to athletes’ careers than the varsity head coach.
Trayser is quick to mention how lucky he has it as an educator. He has the enormous support and resources available to Neuqua Valley through the Indian Prairie School District. It’s not like that everywhere, but anywhere one person can make a significant difference in young people’s lives. Sometimes reality sets in early for high school athletes. Burnout, injury, or other interests may eclipse a sport that used to seem so essential to a teenager. It’s comforting to know that any athlete can come across a teacher like Tom Trayser before they move on from sports.
Tomorrow: Antonio Juarez – Joliet Central Sophomore Head Baseball Coach and JC football coach.