Are You a “Before” or “After” Coach?

By Brian Gotta

It was one of the first examples of “after” coaching I’d seen. And since then I’ve witnessed many more instances in baseball, softball, soccer and other sports. A “before” coach is what I’ve always hoped I was and tried to be. Experience certainly helps, but even a novice can work on coaching before, instead of after.

The situation I’m referring to was in a Little League machine-pitch game. Keep in mind these kids are about eight years-old and may be in only their second or third season of baseball. There was a runner on third, nobody else on base. The ball was hit to the player on the pitcher’s mound and the runner took off for home. The pitcher saw him and threw the ball to the plate. It was an easy out. Then it happened: The third base coach said, with a distressed expression and tone, for everyone to hear, “You didn’t have to run!”

I’m thinking, “Nice of you to tell him now.” How about when he started to run home, yell, “Come back!”? Or let’s rewind a little more. Why not before the pitch, when the runner was on the base, say to him, “If it is hit to the pitcher, don’t run.”? Or even better, what if you worked on just this scenario in practice? Make sure that it is ingrained in every player’s mind what to do in every situation.

In my experience, coaches who give instruction after a play has occurred tend to be more admonishing. It’s as if they are embarrassed that their player was unprepared so they, in turn, out of anger, embarrass the player. “Before” coaches on the other hand,  might occasionally be caught unprepared but will more often admit and accept fault instead of passing it down.

How do you become a “before” coach? Again, experience comes in handy. In the case above I’m guessing the fellow coaching third was very novice. He maybe hadn’t ever been in this exact situation with a runner on third, less than two outs, and a ball hit back directly to the pitcher. So perhaps he and his player were experiencing it for the first time. Even if that’s true, I wish he’d chosen to take the player aside, privately, and say, “Hey, that’s my fault. I should have told you not to run because you didn’t have to. We’ll work on this at the next practice.”

Then do work on it at practice. Replay that exact situation with every player. Show them what to do next time it happens. Even broader, work on all situations at practice. Whether it is soccer or baseball/softball, there is a time for individual drills to improve skills but there is also a time for team/live game training. One of the most valuable activities is putting players in different scenarios, then going live, and then stopping to instruct. Kind of like using the DVR remote. Play. Pause and teach. Play again. Stop. Rewind. Teach again. Play. And so on. This is how not only the players, but coaches, gain valuable experience.

Inexperience can be mitigated with preparation. Sure, on a baseball diamond or soccer field there are dozens if not hundreds of scenarios that can occur at any moment and to anticipate each one is challenging. But that is your job as a coach, to be thinking, constantly asking yourself during the game, “If this happens, what should we do?” And then instruct your players accordingly. Before, not after the play is over.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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