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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2 Responses

  1. Normally, these articles are very informative. But, what is missing in the “Before or After Coach” article is what to do to get the player to do the desired action, especially when it IS worked on before!

    Maybe this is an idea for a future article. But, this has been a continuing frustration for me and my coaches all season long. A perfect example, that comes close to the article’s example, is something similar happened in a recent game. With two outs, we had one of our speediest runners at third and pitcher on the mound with a very good pick off move to third for a right hander (very good, we had already been caught by it!). When he got to third, I let him know, in no uncertain terms, that this pitcher had a very good pick off move and to take a short primary lead and a bigger secondary.

    He nods his head in acknowledgement and I go to communicate with the runner at second who had moved him over. As I was doing that, our third base runner takes his lead and looks down (as was his habit, and because I think he feels that he doesn’t have to focus as much because of his speed and agility). Before I could say get back, the pitcher made his move and caught him standing there!

    As we were walking off the field I spoke to him (only for him to hear) and told him that this was the second time he was picked off and he needs to focus and implement what we have worked on over the season and previous years. I didn’t yell, but I did admonish! We have worked on pick-offs from the time they are 9 because that when we start stealing. And, now they are 13 and 14 and should know that they have to be watching at all times. Especially, when I tell him immediately before it happens.

    It may not have been an inexperienced third base coach that was yelling at the runner in the article. It may have been an experienced coach that was frustrated with players that don’t listen or follow the instructions given days, hours, minutes and/or even seconds before.

    • Good comments. Thanks for this. Here is what I would say, however in response. It is true that we, as coaches, can work on things before and then still have kids mess them up. They are just kids and it has happened to me as a coach. However, I would also tell you that the lesson in the story above is that we cannot depend on kids to automatically follow our instructions and can’t get frustrated with them when they don’t. One of the things I always coached my players on, and you probably do as well, is to never, ever take your eye off the ball. For instance, my runners on third were always a threat to steal home because they didn’t just assume that the catcher was going to make a good throw back to the pitcher. They kept their lead and watched the ball all the way back. Sure, 99% of the time the pitcher caught the ball but A) at least once a season it was a bad throw and, because we were ready, we took advantage and scored and B) even when we didn’t score we were in the catcher and pitcher’s heads because they knew one misstep would be costly. But in the same vein, I, as a coach, would never take my eyes off the ball either. If I had a third baseman holding on a runner at third and pitcher who liked to throw over I’d have done what you did in terms of advice to my runner, but I never would have then trusted him to be on his own while I focused my attention elsewhere. If I needed to communicate with the runner at second I’d have told my player at third, “Get on the base.” With his foot on the bag, I could safely say whatever I wanted to the other kids. After I was done, THEN I’d have him get his lead while I was locked in on him and the pitcher. So yes, in this case you illustrated, there is a “before” and “after” component. It would have been better to talk to your runner on second before, and then instruct the runner on third after. Again, this is not to say that a kid who is just spacey, doesn’t really care, etc. won’t still completely mess up no matter who is coaching, but there really is no solution for that other than just going back to the drawing board and working repetitively. I’ll bet the first thing you do next practice is work on getting leads from third with a 3B holding! Thanks again for the note.

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