Nicknames – Standing Out In a Good Way

May 19th, 2014

The very first coach my son experienced, as a five-year-old baseball player, was fantastic. He gave encouraging and specific feedback at the right times, and was patient with clumsy catching and throwing skills. But what made really stand out – to me – was his skillful nick-naming. On the first day, he called out to a blonde kid with sunglasses, (who had decent hitting and throwing prowess) “Hey, Hollywood!” The name stuck. The kid wore sunglasses every practice and game. Even when it was cloudy. And he had this Fonzie-cool vibe, too. Now, did the being create the nickname, or the nickname create the being?

Not every coach can pull this off; in fact nicknaming children without their permission can easily hurt feelings. In just about every stage of childhood, there is some trait about which we feel self-conscious or insecure… even if it’s something others envy, like height.

But when it is an established tradition, as with Skyhawks coaches, it’s an easy, fun way to create community.

There are basic guidelines for choosing the right nickname in sports (or other cases of team-building).

  • It must be an accurate, positive characterization; conveying fun and appreciation. Bonus if it points out a yet-to-be realized trait which the child (or older person) can look up to. Consider these classics: Roger “The Rocket” Clemens, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Tom “Flash” Gordon, Shaun “The Flying Tomato” White, Ozzie “The Wizard” Smith,
  • Nickname NO-NO’s – Pointing out physical characteristics: Fats, Pigpen, Four Eyes and Sleepy, as well as Slim Jim and Princess or any other sarcastic names.

Tom Vogt is known as the quietly firm and kind “Mr. Vogt” by his own first grade class at Jefferson Elementary School in Spokane, Washington. But refer to him as “Mr. Vogt” up at Camp Reed, and you’ll get hundreds of weird stares. He is “Tom Buck Tu,” or “Bucky,” up there, where he and his wife, “Loco Lisa” have been Camp Directors for 13 summers.

Nicknames are as big a part of Camp Reed’s culture as insect repellant and sleeping bags. According to “Bucky” Vogt, staff nicknames have been a camp staple since 1968, when “Tricky” Tracy Walters (who, incidentally, coached “Joggin” Gerry Lindgren, the legendary Track and Field runner who graduated from Rogers High School in 1964).

“During Staff Week, we have a “Name Night,” Bucky explains. “Each person will leave the room, and we brainstorm. It has to be a phonetic match, fit inside the name, and be camp appropriate.” It usually takes about a half hour to hit the right one, and there are never any repeats. Also, siblings with established names influence the names of younger brothers and sisters. For example, Anna “Conda”’s little brother was obviously going to be “Python” Pete.

“It builds Unity,” among the staff members, he says, and gives hundreds of campers a collective goal. “They all spend the whole week trying to figure out the counselor’s real names.”

While your children won’t be given nicknames at Skyhawks, their coaches come with them. And it will be up to them whether to pursue their given names. They’ll likely be having too much fun to think about it.

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