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This Week in Athletics

Resiliency Rule 03 - Embrace the Pressure

17 Inches by Chris Speery

In 1996, more than 4,000 coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for a convention. 1996 was special because this was where John Scolinos shared the story about “17 Inches." 

Who is John Scolinos?  In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.
Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos finally said… “You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Scolinos then asked how many Little League baseball coaches were in the room. 

“Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches."

“That’s right,” he said. 

“How about in Babe Ruth League? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?” Another long pause.

“Seventeen inches?”came a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos. 

“Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”

“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked.

“And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”

“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”

“Seventeen inches!”

“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”

“Seventeen inches!”

“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed.

“And what do they do with a a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” 

“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'”

“Coaches …”

” … what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid profanity? What if he gets caught drinking?  or lying? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him, do we widen home plate?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, the planet was revealed. “This is the problem in our world today. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!”

Coach Scolinos concluded, “Coaches, keep your players — no matter how good they are — your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.”

Jon Goodman