Paul Talbot is the founder of the East River Sharks, a new Manhattan-based travel baseball program for 10-11 year olds.
Tell us a little about your background
Starting the East River Sharks is a dream come true for me and one that I feel has been in the making since I was a little kid.
I grew up in Massapequa Park Long Island. So I am a life long New Yorker. I grew up with five brothers and two sisters. My parents always encouraged us to play sports. My dad coached basketball and track. I played everything – basketball, football, soccer and ran track. But, my favorite and first love was baseball. The minute I got on the field, it was like I was in another world. The smell of the grass, the fit of the uniform, the strategy and thinking that went into every pitch and every swing of the bat – I was in a happy place! I used to go out on my front lawn when I was about 10 years old and throw the ball up and practice my hitting. I was in a one-man game against myself.
I went to Chaminade High School on Long Island, an all boys private school. I played sports there and excelled at baseball. I was recruited to play baseball by St. Johns University in 1992 but opted to go to St. Bonaventure and try something new. I studied psychology and played lacrosse there as well. I later went to Hofstra – returning to Long Island – to get a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology. I got a job in HR but was never really as fulfilled in the corporate world, as I was when I was young and on the baseball field. So, I decided to go back to Hofstra to pursue second Master’s Degree in Teacher/Physical Education and Coaching.
I landed a job with Automotive High School within the New York City Department of Education. I was there for a nearly two decades teaching Physical Education and coaching the JV football team. My team’s record was 37 and 11 with two undefeated seasons and one championship! I also coached baseball while at the school. Unfortunately Automotive High School was a victim to budget cuts and the school was reorganized.
While I was teaching and coaching for Automotive High School, I also coached for Yorkville Youth Athletic Association for eight seasons, including the travel 9U Spring/Fall and 10U Spring/Fall teams.
What kind of coach are you?
Teaching Physical Education and coaching has taught me to be able to work with athletes of all skill levels. The two Master’s degrees combined have really had a great deal of overlap when it comes to dealing with youth sports. It has enabled me to know how to motivate and work with children.
I have dual coaching certifications from the Positive Coaching Alliance, and my philosophy about coaching is that a positive approach gets the most from youth and athletes; and that staying mindful helps on and off the field.
I have always believed that the difference a coach can make in a young athlete’s life is enormous. When I was coaching at the high school level, I also became a graduation guardian — helping student athletes apply for and achieve athletic and academic scholarships. Many of my students continue to come back to visit and they are adults now with families of their own. It is important to make a difference.
Whose idea was it to start the Sharks?
The idea to start the Sharks came from a few places. I have always loved coaching, so after leaving teaching, I knew that I had to get back to the field and back to coaching of some kind. Many of the parents I have worked with encouraged me to start my own baseball team, and many of the kids I have coached did too! You can’t get a better endorsement than that. Baseball has had a profound impact on my life and as a result, I am compelled to share all that it has taught me, in hopes that it can bring joy to someone else.
What type of a baseball coach are you?
I am a teacher and motivator at heart. Repetition is critical. Structure is critical. Walking away with a lesson and knowing how to improve is also critical. Our team mantra is “Lose the game, not the lesson.”
How will the Sharks be different from other youth travel baseball programs in NYC? What is the mission?
The mission is to prepare some of these players to go on to play in middle school and high school. As previously stated, the motto is: “Lose the game, not the lesson. There are lots of lessons to be had about life in baseball and I want to be able to instill some of that into these kids.
I also want to give many of the kids of New York City an opportunity to play travel baseball. So many times, kids of certain neighborhoods and families are priced out of travel baseball or they can’t join because they have no way to get to practice. I want to change that. I want to be able to eventually raise enough funds to cover every kid who wants to play for the East River Sharks.
Are there other coaches with the East River Sharks and what do they bring to the program?
Yes. I am the head coach, but we have hired several other coaches who will focus on specific areas of the game. We have a batting coach, who played in the minor leagues; we have two fathers of ballplayers who have coached for nearly 20 years and we have hired two former coaches from Automotive High School – one was a baseball coach at the school and the other was one of my former students and players.
What do you look for when you hire a coach to work with kids?
I look for coaches who love the game like I do! I look for coaches who want to be there, want to teach and can find the good in every kid.
How have you seen the landscape of youth sports and specifically baseball change?
The game has changed a lot over the years. Many kids, as I mentioned, have been priced out of playing travel sports, especially baseball. You never know who is the next Aaron Judge or Dellin Betances.
What has been your proudest moment as a baseball coach?
One of my proudest moments was as a father and a coach. I have coached one of my sons since he was 7 years old. But, I have never been his dad on the field. I always see him as another one of my players. But this one time I watched him hit his first triple. I started to jump up and down as his dad. It was a big hit for him personally and for the team because it drove in runs that forced another inning of play, and we eventually won the game. It was great as a dad and as a coach to experience.
You must have lots of great stories from your years working (teaching or coaching) with kids. Tell us about one that inspired you.
When I was a dean at Automotive High School, one of the incoming freshmen was involved with the “wrong crowd,” and was heavily involved with gangs in the New York City area. He was both big in stature and personality. His power outside of school had a negative impact inside of the school and across the student body. He made a series of bad choices during school that eventually were going to result in a 60-day suspension. As dean, I was instructed to deliver this student the news and process the paperwork. Instead, I decided to disobey the suspension request and had an honest, hard-nosed conversation with the student.
We discussed that he possessed so many leadership qualities, but they were being used in the wrong ways. He was using them to instill fear, make horrible choices and was not leading people in positive ways. I encouraged this student to join the Automotive football team and to lead others in a more positive direction on the field (and off). Soon after he joined my football team, he dropped out of the gang. He was one of the most positive players I have ever coached, a natural born leader with true charisma.
About a year ago, I heard from my former student and he thanked me for believing in him and having the confidence in him that he could make a difference in the world and for others. Today, he is the father of two children and is leading a quiet life in the suburbs of New York. This is one of the reasons why I coach, and why I teach. This is just one story, but there are so many like this.
What was the best advice you got from a coach?
I didn’t have great coaches when I was growing up. One coach stands out because he told me to “line up my knuckles on the bat to help get to the inside pitch.” I went from hitting .250 to .450 that season. He helped me with the smallest little detail and it made a difference. Attention to detail matters.
What is your most treasured sports possession?
One of my younger brothers, Peter, died in 2011. He was only 35 years old. We were 11 months apart and we were joined at the hip our entire lives. He was an incredible catcher and athlete. In 1991, his team won the Regional Little League Championship game and went to play in Florida. He got a ring for playing in that championship game. When he died, my dad gave me his ring. I have many things signed by baseball greats, but this is my most treasured possession by far.
What is your favorite sports venue in New York City and why?
The old Yankee Stadium- there is no explanation needed. There is no other venue better in all of sports.
Favorite sports book?
The Girl who loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King
Favorite sports movie?
Field of Dreams. I always feel like that field would be heaven.
Best sports memory?
My favorite memory as a player would be the final out of my JV baseball season, which meant we were the CHSAA champs. I felt like we had just won the World Series.
I grew up in a house were my grandfather, father and brothers were all Mets fans. But, for some reason, I fell in love with the Yankees and I have been a Yankee fan my entire life. My favorite sports memory from a fans’ perspective would be the final out of 1996 World Series when the Yankees won– and the subsequent celebration at Yankee Stadium.See more New York Sports Connection articles
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