OHIO VALLEY — Changing the way we look at youth sports, one episode at a time.
In late July 2019, on all the usual podcast platforms, coaches Chris Stewart and Pat Martin — both natives of Middleport — launched The Coaching Life Podcast, discussing coaching, parenting, and player development in all of amateur sports.
Now, nearly 70 episodes in, the hosts are still out to make a positive impact, and advocate for youth sports in rural America.
Martin has coached youth sports — baseball and basketball — for around 24 years, making his coaching debut at 16-years-old, coaching a 12U baseball team out of Rutland.
“When I began coaching, the X’s and O’s meant a whole lot more to me than they do now,” Martin admitted. “Now you kind of focus on the person as opposed to the player.
“I’ve been a different kind of coach for the last 14 years, I’ve been a dad-coach. I would say I probably learned more about coaching over that period of time, than all the other time put together.”
Martin is a father of two boys, ages 14 and 10.
Stewart’s coaching career began with a 15U baseball team from Waverly, after turning down a contract to play in the Frontier League in 1994.
“I found the love that I had playing the game, it literally transferred into coaching,” Stewart said. “The more I got into coaching, the more I realized, I actually love this game. I learned aspects of the game that I took for granted when I was playing.”
Stewart moved to St. Louis in 1996, coaching a team of players from 11-years-old to 16. When Stewart returned from St. Louis, he was a volunteer assistant at Meigs High School for Danny Thomas, and took then over the local American Legion team. After that, Stewart assisted head coach Fred Gibson at Athens High School for nearly eight years, and when Coach Gibson felt it was time to retire, he asked that Stewart be the one to replace him, a story Coach Gibson shared during a two-episode interview on The Coaching Life Podcast.
Stewart ultimately left the Athens program to follow his kids’ careers, with his son Brock heading to Alderson-Broaddus University for baseball, and his daughter Kaylee as a three-sport high school athlete at AHS. Brock is now a senior member of the Battlers baseball team, and Kaylee went on to to play a shortened softball season at Waynesburg University, before deciding to hang up her cleats and transfer to Ohio University.
Brock and Kaylee were both guests in the first season of the podcast. Coach Stewart’s final season with the Bulldogs was a memorable one, setting a school record for wins, and reaching the Elite Eight.
Before the next baseball season rolled around, Stewart’s book Building Champions: Coaching, Parenting, and Playing to Win in What Really Matters was published. By the end of 2018, Stewart had authored another book, Coaching Life.
From two books, years of blogging, and two friends sharing experiences in youth sports, a podcast was born.
“It definitely started through text messaging,” Martin recalled. “We would message each other back-and-forth about things we were seeing and things we were experiencing.”
Stewart, who works for the College of Communication at Ohio University, soon received permission to do a show from the campus studio.
Just as their conversations evolved from shared experiences into a podcast, The Coaching Life Podcast has also evolved from pre-taping episodes 2-or-3 at a time and stock piling them for weeks, to a once-a-week conversation that can touch on more current topics. Also, with the studio shut down, they’ve had to adapt to recording and editing on anchor.fm to be able to do the show remotely.
Along with Brock Stewart, Kaylee Stewart and Coach Gibson, The Coaching Life Podcast guest list includes coaches from all levels of amateur sports, as well as a referee, a broadcast journalist, a Division I starting quarterback, a personal strength trainer, a professional hitting coach, and the father of a current Major League Baseball pitcher.
“One of the things we’ve noticed, every time we have a guest, those become our most popular episodes,” Stewart said.
Martin also noted the popularity of the episodes dealing with strength and conditioning.
“Everyone talks about wanting to play at the next level, wanting to play at college,” Martin said. “The easiest answer you can give to someone who asks ‘what can I do to play at the next level?’ is you need to find your way into the gym, you need to work on your strength and conditioning.”
Both hosts admitted it’s a special feeling when a listener stops them in public to talk about an episode, and that it’s also nice to hear feedback from rural towns across the country.
“We’ve been able to advocate for rural America,” Stewart said. “Let’s make no mistake, southeastern Ohio, even in the realm of high school sports, for years has been overlooked. There’s all these stereotypes people have of rural America and these smaller towns, and ironically enough, rural America produced one of the greatest college quarterbacks to ever play the game.
“One of the things that keeps us chugging along is we just want to be an advocate for these small rural towns that tend to get overlooked.”
When it comes down to discussion points on the podcast, Martin admits that his part comes from what others have taught him, and what he’s learned through past mistakes.
“Most of the things I bring to the podcast, one, I’ve either stolen from someone else — I feel like that’s one of the things overlooked in the coaching world, very rarely are we creating anything — or two, most of it’s failures I’ve experienced,” Martin said. “It’s all based on failure, it’s based on wanting to be better, and not always hitting that mark.”
While the conversations are often geared toward a single sport, Stewart noted that a majority of the topics can be applied to any sport, and even to everyday life.
“The conversations we have about coaching, they might be 30 percent on the specifics of say the game of baseball, but when it comes to coaching, I’d say 70 percent of what you say about coaching is relevant across the board,” Stewart said. “We try to select topics of conversation based on the things that are more universal in terms coaching. Quite honestly, you could say the same thing about being a parent as well. The things that we talk about with coaching, yeah we talk about some specifics, but a lot of times, I think the thing we have the desire to talk about the most are those things that are really more relevant to life in general.”
After a small break this past summer, Stewart and Martin are back producing weekly audio, which they plan to keep doing for sometime.
“As long as we continue to enjoy it, which I think we will, and people continue to listen, I don’t think there’s anything keeping us from continuing for a long period of time,” Martin said.
The Coaching Life Podcast typically has a new episode every Monday.
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Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.