When a coach is over-competitive

A coach who is over-competitive makes the season fun for his son or daughter, and perhaps one or two other kids who possess better-than-average ability. But he reduces the fun for the kids who haven’t played much in their lives, or kids who don’t quite have the skills mastered yet. This coach puts the best players in the positions that get the most action and sticks other players where it is unlikely they’ll have any opportunities. This coach believes that if his team wins, even if even if all the scoring is done by just one or two players, he looks good. Just ask yourself this question: If your child was the least skilled player on the team and you weren’t able to be there to help coach, how would you want the coach to treat him? That’s how you ought to treat all the kids with lesser ability, as frustrating as it sometimes may be. I know this from experience because I am a competitive guy and was one of those dads who probably was too concerned about “winning” (even though we didn’t keep score!) when my first son began playing T-ball. Though I rotated my players into different positions, I didn’t focus as much as I could have on every player’s improvement. Looking back on that season, I wish I’d spent more time helping some of the boys who hadn’t played much before joining Little League.

But as my younger sons came into baseball I began to realize just how special those first years really are, and what is truly important. Too many parents want their six, seven and eight year-old kids to “skip a league” and play with older players, forgetting that part of the fun at that age is just being on a team with your friends and goofing around a little. Sports, and life for that matter, will be very competitive all too soon. Slow down and enjoy the few seasons you have when it’s not life or death whether the first baseman catches the throw from third or your goalie blocked the shot, when after the game both teams think they won, and the snack is the highlight of the afternoon. Believe me, there will come a time when you’ll miss those days.

Having Fun

Your job as coach is to make this season a fun one and this should go without saying. However, too many coaches forget why they are coaching youth sports, and fall into negative patterns of behavior. Try to keep the following points in mind:
• Your number one priority, above all else, should be that each player you coach wants to come back and play again next year. If this happens, regardless of any other measuring stick, you were successful
• Your kid, my kid, none of the kids are probably going to turn out to be pro athletes, and even if one does attain that level of success, you won’t be able to tell in T-ball.
• Keeping track of the score is OK. But the younger the kids you’re coaching are, the better it is to emphasize individual improvement rather than individual achievement.
• How well, (or poorly), your team performs on game day is probably not a reflection of your coaching abilities, so take it with a grain of salt. Don’t get angry with the kids.
• Making it fun makes your season go by much faster, and your life a lot easier.

Being a great coach means so much more than winning and losing. And it is important that we all keep that in mind.

Choice of Words

The way you say something makes all the difference in the world. A coach might be frustrated with a player who he didn’t think was hustling and say, “You’re always looking for the easy way out!” Something like that can stick with a kid and do long term damage. If the coach would say instead, “You’re taking it too easy today,” the intended message would have been delivered without the risk of the player thinking the coach believed he was just lazy at heart.

After two players watched a pop fly land between them, I heard their coach say, “Did you want to catch the ball…did you not want to catch it?” How is the player supposed to respond to that question? Of course he wanted to catch it! Whenever I hear a coach ask a kid, “Did you want to hit the ball?” or “Did you want to score a goal?” I shake my head in amazement. Letting your frustration come out in the form of sarcasm like this only adds to a player’s fears and feelings of inadequacy. Keep in mind the origins of the word Coach; your job is to transport your players from where they are now, to where they want to be. I believe most players want to be somewhere and will perform better when they feel safe, comfortable and confident.

My Greatest Coaching Moment

I’ve coached thousands of kids for dozens of years in numerous sports. My teams have won league championships and all-star tournaments. But one of my greatest moments in coaching had nothing to do with winning or losing, but with a youngster who may have been playing his last game. Here’s a link to an article about Alan, and his day in the sun.

Why Your League Should Not Re-draft

The Little League in which my sons have played does not re-draft players each new season in Majors. Players, once “titled” to a team, stay on that team the remainder of their Majors careers. At their recent international congress, Little League International nearly voted to eliminate titled players as an option for leagues to utilize. Fortunately, while the measure received a majority of votes, it did not receive the two-thirds required to carry. This means that, for at least another two years until the next congress (and, hopefully, forever), your league can choose to title players. I heartily recommend you do so, and here’s why.

Every Little Thing is Important

I feel that too many coaches see little mistakes in practice and, rather than address them, just let them slide because they don’t feel they are important enough to stop practice. However, by not addressing these we often miss great opportunities to teach. I believe in pointing out the minute details and letting everyone learn from the instruction. When you stop a practice to make a teaching point and have all of your players give you their attention you can often provide valuable instruction that can be used by everyone in a short period of time. Before I do this however, I ask myself if the point I am going to cover meets the following two criteria:
• Does it apply to nearly everyone on the team?
• Does it pertain to something that will likely happen on numerous occasions?
When I feel I have a chance to teach something that gets a “yes” answer to both those questions, I’ll use that opportunity to my advantage. Here is an example of a recent coaching experience I had:

I’d been teaching a group of newly-drafted players how to field a ground ball in the outfield by taking a knee. Some of them had clearly never learned this before and were having trouble grasping it. There were two boys in particular, Steve and Max, who I had to correct several times. At one point in the practice a sharp, bouncing ball was hit to Steve in centerfield. He got down on a knee with nice technique, but the ball bounced over his shoulder to the fence. I’m sure some coaches would have let that go and continued practice; figuring it was just a bad hop. Other coaches might have simply yelled, “Don’t go down on a bouncer like that,” or “You’ve got to knock that ball down,” which would have only confused Steve more.

I stopped the practice for a moment and said to everyone on the team, “When I say I want you to take a knee on a ball hit to the outfield, I mean a grounder, like this.” I then threw a ground ball to Max, who was in left field. He fielded it with a knee, but facing the wrong way. “Steve,” I asked the center fielder, “Why don’t you want to take a knee on a ball that is bouncing up high?” Steve answered correctly that it was because it may go over his shoulder. “What should you do on one like that?” I asked. “Show me.” Steve demonstrated how next time he would get in front of the ball, but not go to a knee. “Good!” I said. “And Max, your knee needs to be facing this way, not straight, so that you cover more area…throw it here.” I threw him another grounder and he fielded it correctly. “Perfect!” I said.

That entire sequence took no more than one minute, but quite a bit was accomplished. Everyone on the team learned which balls we want them to kneel for, and which we want them to stay up on. I found out that Steve understands what he did wrong and what to do next time. Max got two additional practice opportunities, and in the process showed the team the improper way to field a grounder and then the proper way, providing a great learning point. And I’ll bet from now on, Max does it right. Finally, notice how I asked Steve a question and let him answer it, instead of just telling him my point of view and hoping he’s listening. If you ask players questions, just like asking them to show you how to do something, it forces them to think, and reveals whether they understand. Again, it would have been easier to let the play go without comment and maybe tell Steve “don’t worry about it,” but a coach’s job is to correct the small mistakes before they become habits.

Add a Positive to Every Negative

As a coach, when making corrections to young players, it is a good idea try to temper any criticism with something else positive. Think of it as dessert after making a child eat their vegetables. For example, if I see a player field a ground ball off to the side when he could have gotten in front of it, I may say, “Good job getting your mitt down but remember to get in front of it next time.” I’ll typically reinforce the comment by demonstrating what I mean and, in this example, saying, “Not here,” while showing him what he did, (field the ball off to the side), “Here.” (Showing the proper technique).
Though it’s not always easy, do your best to communicate with your team on their level, with an upbeat, positive attitude and remember that for every bite of “broccoli” they have to eat, you should try to also slip in a piece of “apple pie.”