“I Started Coaching Because…”

I’ve heard the beginning of this statement finished the same way hundreds of times. “I started coaching because the first coach my son (or daughter) had was so bad I thought I could do a better job.” This statement tells me two things:
1. There are a lot of well-meaning parents out there who could use some help
2. The reason many parents don’t get into coaching initially is that they lack confidence.
CoachDeck is designed to address both of those scenarios. Some parent-volunteers are unqualified because they don’t know much about the sport they are coaching. Others may know the sport well, and have even played it at a high level themselves, but just don’t have a lot of experience working with kids. If you don’t have experience playing the sport your coaching or experience running practices for youngsters, or both; using CoachDeck will ease your concern. And if you are prepared and excited to be your child’s coach in many sports at every level, our product will help you even more.

The Fine Line in Communicating with Players

Depending on the age of child you are coaching, and the situation, there are times that even youth volunteer coaches need to get tough. Your job is to teach, and this can’t be accomplished if you never utter a stern word. A coach can be too easy on his players, even the little guys, and soon practices and games are not so much instructional, but babysitting. As a Board Member in my local Little League I get to read the coaches evaluations sent in by parents after the season, and every year we get some parents who complain that the coach wasn’t tough enough on his players, and didn’t get enough out of them. We all know that there are some players who don’t have the physical skills to enable them to perform at a superior level, but every player can pay attention, learn, improve, work hard and hustle. And at the very least, it is important they not be a distraction to those who do want to get better. Coaches who do nothing but praise and say, “Good try!” will get very little out of their players, just as parents who never discipline will get nothing but disobedience. Some coaches are uneasy about talking sternly to someone else’s child. But as long as you are not mean, and try to point out more things a player has done right than wrong, you’ll get your message across yet still keep your players excited about being on your team.

Zoe

I have three boys and a girl, in that order. After coaching boys baseball for ten years, adjusting to little girls softball was, well, an adjustment. My daughter played pretty hard, and was not too afraid of getting hurt, but one little girl, Zoe, taught me some of the most wonderful lessons of my coaching career.

I walked into the first year of girls softball, (ages 11-12) thinking that it would be pretty much like coaching boys of the same age, only with pony-tails. That thinking went out the window when, at the first practice, half the girls came dressed like they were going to a friend’s house to play. Instead of sliding shorts and knee pads, several wore thin, short-shorts and one even donned a skirt! I had planned on covering base running and, by extension, sliding, but that game-plan changed when I saw the attire.

After getting the girls to dress properly, it was still a challenge to make them slide. One girl in particular, Zoe, the most adorable little blonde-haired, blue-eyed sweetheart, just couldn’t force herself to go into the base on the ground.

One game early in the season, Zoe made it to third and represented a critical run in the game. She was my least confident base runner so getting her this far was a minor miracle. I had little hope of getting her to be able to steal home on a passed ball, even though their catcher was having problems. As the pitcher delivered to our batter, I coached Zoe and got her to take a big lead-off after every pitch. I knew I wouldn’t send her home unless the perfect situation arose when she’d be certain to make it safely – standing up.

Then, it happened. The ball got past the catcher and was rolling slowly to the corner of the backstop. I instantly recognized that by the time the catcher would be able to retrieve the ball, Zoe would be easily safe. I yelled to her to “Go! Go!” She took off for home and it was obvious she was going to make it.

But she stopped. She stopped running momentarily and pulled up her sliding knee pad. Then she continued to the plate, arriving daintily at the same time as the pitcher and the ball. It was close, but she was out.

I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen. Did she really stop halfway to home? As she came into the dugout I called her over. “Zoe,” I asked. “Did, you stop and pull up your knee pad?” She looked at me sweetly, without the slightest hesitation and said, “Yeah. Sorry.”

So we continued to work on it at practice. One of our CoachDeck drills, “Two Team Slide,” was extremely helpful getting girls to get used to sliding. The whole team, including Zoe, was actually sliding into bases now. Fast-forward to the playoffs and we’re in the semi-finals against a team we’d only beaten once in three tries. They had the lead by one in the last inning and Zoe was on second with two outs. If i could get her to third, I knew there was a chance she could score, even on an infield hit. A pitch went in the dirt and I exhorted her to run, the catcher pounced on it faster than I’d anticipated and made a perfect throw. It was going to be close if we slid. But Zoe was my runner.

Zoe not only slid, she slid so hard she completely dislodged the base from its peg. She was safe. Two pitches later a ground ball which could have been the final out was bobbled in the infield and Zoe scored the tying run. A steal and a base hit later, we won the game in a walk-off fashion. Zoe got the game ball for her slide. I got the reward of a lifetime as a coach. I learned (again) that the true measure of a great coach is not necessarily in wins and losses, but in maximizing the potential of each player on the team. I believe I got the most out of Zoe. I know she got the most out of me.

Never make inappropriate comments or jokes

Comments about drugs, alcohol, religion, race or those of a crude or sexual nature can never be made. Don’t ever swear. This should go without saying.

I was coaching a 12U girls softball game recently and the opposing team’s catcher was wearing a sweatshirt under her chest protector. She called time and wanted to take it off. Her male coach was helping her and it was cumbersome to pull it out from beneath the gear, it was taking some time, and he made a joke about her doing a “strip-tease.” I know the coach didn’t mean it in a vulgar context and I doubt the little girl felt uncomfortable (though I could sense a moment of indecision among the parents), but it didn’t need to be said. It is good to have fun when coaching and I make jokes to my players all the time. But think before you blurt out the first thing that comes to mind and if you’re not sure, it is probably better left unspoken.

Don’t cover for your mistakes at the players’ expense

I’ve seen numerous coaches do this, apparently so afraid were they of looking bad in front of parents and fans. I’ve watched coaches at third base say nothing to a player as he decides to run home from third on an easy ground ball to the pitcher. But after the pitcher threw it to the plate and got him out, the coach, loudly enough for all to hear, said, “You didn’t have to run!” I wonder to myself, “Then why didn’t you tell him to stay at third?” Better yet, before the pitch, why didn’t you tell him, “If the ball is hit to the pitcher, stay here”? It wasn’t the young player’s fault he was thrown out, but he was made to take the blame and feel ashamed. When I make a mistake on the field I have no problem telling the player, in front of everyone, including the parents, “My fault!” When you do this, the player, who was afraid he was going to get yelled at, now has instant loyalty to you, and the parents realize that you put the interests of the players over your own image. Maybe more importantly, this teaches your players from an early age to accept responsibility for their mistakes rather than blame others. I never let my older players get on a teammate for making a mistake. It would be hard to demand this if every time I messed up I was blaming someone else. I can’t imagine too many players want to play for a coach who won’t admit mistakes, just like not many employees like working for a boss who is never wrong. Admitting you are wrong now and then actually makes you appear stronger, not weaker, because you’re not blatantly masking insecurities.

Focus on the Positives

When a player makes a mistake, try to find something positive to say. Obviously it doesn’t take much effort to say, “Good try!” or “Hey! Almost had it!” or “You’ll get ‘em next time.” But comments like these take so much pressure off of your players. It is simple really. If every mistake leads to a negative reaction from the coach, your players are going to live in fear of the next opportunity. And if players are only focused on the fear of failure, do you think it is more likely or less likely they’ll make the play when they have to? I’d say it is much less likely. On the other hand, if each mistake a player makes is met with encouragement, they are much more apt to perform well the next time they get the chance. A relaxed and confident player will always outperform a scared, insecure player.

One weekend many years ago, I had both a nine year-old and eight year-old son playing in all-star tournaments simultaneously, and I couldn’t coach both teams. Since I’d already agreed to coach the nine year-old team by the time the other was picked, it meant that for the first time in his baseball career, the eight year-old was going to have someone other than me for his coach. Though my wife would be at all of his games, I was still nervous and concerned about my not being there. It turns out, in a critical juncture of the first game, he was on the mound and the batter hit a high pop fly right above him. My boy circled under it, but the ball bounced off his mitt for an error. I’m sure he was devastated. But I learned from my wife that his coach yelled from the dugout, “I liked how you called for that ball!” Do you think I had any more concerns about my son playing on a team for that man?

Show and tell

If you’ve ever watched good coaches in action you’ve noticed that they know how to talk to their players, and what to say. But you also may have noticed that they show more than they tell. And even better than that, the best coaches get their players to show instead of tell as well.
I’ve seen all too many coaches who believe that once they’ve said something, the team understands and can go do it. It’s that simple. They’ll talk about something for several minutes and finish their speech by saying, “Got it?” to which, of course, the team nods “Yes.” Then, five minutes later the coach is hollering, “No! That’s not what I told you to do!”
Anytime I teach or reinforce a point during a practice or game, I’ll demonstrate what I want them to do. Then, before I move on, I’ll simply say to the player or entire team, “Show me,” and have the player do what I just taught. I like this technique for many reasons. One, kids love to show off, and if they get it right it gives me an opportunity to praise them in front of their peers. But more importantly, this way I know who understands and who doesn’t. If a player shows me that he isn’t grasping the concept, I’ll move over to him and help him do what I want. It takes a little more effort to jog across the field and spend some time with a player who is struggling, but in the long run the effort you spend doing this will save you much more time and effort down the road.