Positive Coaching vs. Negative: What Is Your Coaching Style?

By Dave Holt

Baseball coaches will have to choose between positive coaching and negative coaching.

It really boils down to which of the two communication styles you want to use coaching youth baseball.

I just do not believe everyone on the team has to be miserable in order for one to be a good coach.

Start building your own ‘Culture of Player Development’

If you use the negative coaching communication style then you will take the skills of baseball and likely become a nagger. You will find yourself as a nag, nag, nag on every mistake, error, swing and miss or any misplay or boo-boo.

Rarely if ever will baseball players measure up to your standards. You have all seen a father criticize his child constantly and rarely if ever give them praise for anything because nothing is ever good enough.

That is how some youth sports coaches choose to communicate with their entire baseball team. The players will never ‘measure up in their minds.

Importance of Good Communication Skills

Very few great baseball coaches have taken the art of communication and utilized the negative coaching approach.

Become a positive baseball teacher developing confident self-assured baseball players.

Realize the Game is Not That Easy

I think in order to use the positive coaching communication style you have to clearly understand one thing.

You have to have a deep appreciation of how difficult baseball is to play well. Baseball is a very difficult game to play.

Unless you realize the difficulty level then one is more likely to conform to negative communication styles.

The youth baseball coaches that truly ‘get-it’ and appreciate the difficult nature of performing baseball skills often gravitate to the positive coaching method.

That is why the great baseball coaches and professional baseball coaches avoid the negative coaching styles method.

Five Very Effective Communication Skills

1. Watch your tone: I watch the negative coaches yelling, screaming and shouting at their players across the field. Constantly embarrassing and belittling kids after a misplay or a swing and miss while hitting.

Even losing their ‘cool’ and having deep anger and a show of temper in their voices.

I choose the positive coaching method. I will do my coaching mainly between innings in the dugout away from the crowd.

I would rather ask questions and have the players do some critical thinking on the situation and have them explain their mindset.

Then I can reply with affirmation or minor corrections in a calm non-embarrassing light, away from the fray.

Teaching baseball is essential coaching method for positive coaching. Yelling and embarrassing ballplayers is not conducive to good learning communication.

Often volunteer youth baseball coaches have little or no background or training to teach kids. This lack of training often shows when they choose the negative coaching methods.

2. Be Aware of Your Body Language

Negative body language and facial expressions can be just as hurtful or demeaning as verbal words.

Positive coaches are careful to refrain from sending a negative headshake or waving our arms in disgust to our players.

Make a good use of communication skills by only using positive body language. After a swing and miss or a foul ball let the batter know you are pulling for them.

Give them some good body language vibes and some positive claps (along with ‘Hey, that’s the way to swing it!”)

3. Use Humor in your Communication Style

There is nothing wrong with keeping things light from time to time. Playing baseball tense and anxious inhibits baseball skills from rising.

Coaches and parents often take the game of baseball so serious they forget to enjoy the games.

Speak with a smile and it will be harder to come across as a mean coach with bad communication.

Avoid sarcasm though. One persons joke is not always funny to someone else. I had a player quit one time because I did not take enough time to listen to how bad a couple of their teammates were ‘picking on him.’ I kind of heard them but I just sort of let it go as sarcasm and having a joke.

But they were really picking on this kid day after day and I really dropped the ball by not putting a stop to the teasing. I felt sick when I finally realized how bad the situation had reached. I’m working on my lack of empathy character flaws so I do not miss this behavior in the future.

4. The Compliment Sandwich:

Tips for Effective Communication

After watching youth baseball games for a while I think that it is about 10:1 ratio. That is 10 negative statements to 1 positive encouraging line.

I have no scientific proof or data on these bad communication assumptions but I know it is pretty close.

I like to use the complement sandwich. For every negative or corrective statement ‘sandwich’ it with a couple good positive encouraging lines.“Hey Larry, that was a really good cut! You were just a little late on it. Now, get ready this time to swing it.”

Use two or three times as many positive complements and encouragement to any pessimistic, downbeat, nonconstructive, unhelpful, disproving and harmful coaching statements.

Study the pros. They aren’t always right, but baseball IS their business. Why ask a butcher how to roof your house?.

5. Avoid the Post Game Verbal Lashing

Professional teams and some college teams often avoid meeting after a loss.

Why? Simply because a coach might be too emotional after a tough loss and communicate negatively after the heat of the battle.

I am not telling you to avoid a post game meeting but you might want to be aware of your emotions.

Keep the meeting short and if you have more to say wait until the next time you get together. Parents want to get going after the game and don’t want to held up by a lecturing upset baseball coach. Remember…positive coaching! It works a whole lot better. Just try it.

Similarly, avoid the post-game analysis on the way home in the mini-van with your kids. Youth players do not want to listen to you re-hash the entire ball game and nit-pick every player and second guess undermining the baseball coaches strategies.

And do not blame the umpires either. Try it if you think it looks easy.

After finishing his professional playing career Dave spent eleven seasons managing in the Red Sox minor league system helping to develop several major league ballplayers. After leaving the Red Sox Dave managed and recruited in the Independent Professional Baseball leagues. He has also coached collegiate wood bat and high school teams. His site, coachandplaybaseball.com is a wealth of information for baseball players and coaches of all levels.

Simple Hitting Slump Tips for Baseball Hitters

By Dave Holt

Every hitter needs hitting slump tips from time to time. Too much batting advice during in-game play can be more harm than good and likely will prolong a hitting slump.

Often, the adult baseball coaches try to help with constant advice at too fast a pace. Especially during the actual baseball game. And then, the bleacher creatures start adding in their two cents. Before you know it we have everybody in town trying to tell the hitters how to get out of a batting slump.

Remove In-Game Instruction

Hitting is a very fast reacting activity. It takes many, many at-bats to develop hitting skills and pitch judgments. Professional baseball coaches know this. They work on hitting skills and drills during practice and let the players do their thing when they get up to bat. Encouraging words only. Pumping players up…not ripping on them for every little twitch or glitch. Top baseball hitting slump tips begin with teaching baseball at practice and letting the players play during the games.

Everybody is Batting Coach

Name one other sport where you hear or see this kind of pitch-by-pitch, step-by-step adult advisers critiquing each portion of the baseball swing and hitting slump tips. In tennis everyone is quiet before the serve. In golf everyone is quiet prior to the swing or putt. You do not hear anyone coaching a basketball shooter before they shoot or a hockey player shooting a puck. Could you imagine a pro golfer on the tee or putting green and everyone was ‘helping’ them out. The caddy, their swing coach, the gallery, and the TV analysts all piping in with advice.

“Now keep your elbow up and bend your knees. Make sure your shoulders are level. Now keep your head down and don’t forget to watch the ball hit the club.” Then when the golfer hits the ‘slice,’ shanks the pitching wedge or misses the putt the scolding starts in. “I told you to keep your shoulders level now stop dipping. Watch the ball hit the club. Hips and hands and get that back elbow up. Hey, look at me. Make sure your knees are bent and quit wiggling your hands.”

Rule #1 NO Coaching From the Bleachers

Over-coaching hitters causes major batting slumps. We have mentioned several times in our guide on baseball coaching and baseball articles how detrimental and harmful over-coaching can be to young ballplayers. Giving hitters, pitchers, catchers, infielders, outfielders and baserunners too much advice at one time creates mind-clutter. Baseball players just cannot perform freely with too many things to think about at once and try to play baseball.

You see too much coaching especially when batters are at-bat, pitchers are pitching and catchers are behind the plate. We know that youth baseball coaches are notorious for over coaching and/or nagging on the negative stuff. Now, you add the parents and spectators from the bleachers adding their two cents and we really get information overload.

“You can’t think and hit at the same time.” Yogi Berra.

Recently, I witnesses this multiple on field onslaught of over advice combined with all the bleacher ‘helper coaches.’ I was umpiring a 7 year old pitching machine league game. Naturally the first base coach and the third base coach gave each hitter their hitting clinic advice tips before and after each pitch. Then the other two coaches in the dugout would add some more hitting tips between every pitch. Not encouraging words like, “give it a ride” or “take a swing at it. Now that’s the way to swing it.

”No, No. Expert hitting coaches would tell the hitters, “not to swing at the first one’, or “move up in the box,” “Now bend your knees and get that elbow up, squish the bug” and “Hey, you got watch the ball hit the bat.” Too much helping with hitting slump tips. Furthermore, to pile on the hitter even more, the adult baseball pitching coach feeding the different pitches into the pitching machine had to perform a hitting clinic himself giving batting tips between every pitch.

It is just relentless the onslaught of well meaning but extreme over-advising on our batters. Then immediately after the pitch the post swing Oohs and Aahhs start in. “What are you doing swinging at the high one. I just told you not to swing at the high one. Now watch the ball hit the bat. If you would listen to me and watch the ball you would be able to hit it.”

After taking the punishing tongue lashing from the on field staff and not to be outdone, here comes the verbal lashing from the bleacher creatures.

Now the mom and dad, grandpa, grandma, and Uncle Bill start in on the batter. “Get that back elbow up now and swing level. Keep your shoulders level…and stop wiggling that bat.” “Be patient now don’t help them out.”

Gag Order: Stop the In-Game Hitting Coaching

You want to put a duct tape gag on every adult in the ballpark. The damage the adults are causing is enormous on our kids. Well-meaning but ignorant of the fact that they are bombarding our young baseball players with coaching overload. You simply cannot hit freely and relaxed in game speed competition and be mentally thinking of this many things. Best hitting slump tips…Stop coaching during the games and let the players play.

After finishing his professional playing career Dave spent eleven seasons managing in the Red Sox minor league system helping to develop several major league ballplayers. After leaving the Red Sox Dave managed and recruited in the Independent Professional Baseball leagues. He has also coached collegiate wood bat and high school teams. His site, coachandplaybaseball.com is a wealth of information for baseball players and coaches of all levels.

Great feedback about coach appreciation

We received some great feedback from one of our clients regarding our article, Make Them Feel Appreciated. The President of a soccer club which has been a long-time client of ours had this to add:

With over 25 years of coaching many sports and administrating a soccer club, here is some current info we do plus some observations:

* All coaches get a coach shirt each season and every few years a coach wind-shirt or jacket with club logo patch and “Coach” above the patch.

* At the end of the fall season each team has a pizza party or other event where the coach usually gets a small token gift of appreciation.

* We offer preseason clinics and division directors are in constant communication with coaches throughout the season. I make the rounds throughout the spring and fall season watching practices and games and checking in with the coaches and always thank them for coaching.

* Once we have a person on board to coach, they usually stay until their kid is finished with rec soccer. Unfortunately this often results in the early loss of coaches when their child moves to travel soccer.

* The millennial generation is pretty much detached from involvement. I am doing winter indoor now for our rec kids and most parents are looking at their smart phones throughout the session. Most would rather write a check than do coaching. Some of these people have an attitude of entitlement, too. Fortunately I have a great group of high school players that train the kids so adults are not needed to actually coach the kids. While some of our divisions get enough coaches, we struggle in others; it varies from season to season.

Thanks for the great input. If you are a league administrator or parent or coach and have other suggestions, send them to us at info@coachdeck.com.

Divide team into smaller groups

One of the cardinal sins of a youth sports coach is to run boring drills and force kids to stand in line waiting a turn. They need to be active and engaged at all times, lest they become restless and inattentive. A great way to ensure lots of action and repetition is to break the team into smaller groups, each group working on a different skill. CoachDeck is the perfect tool to help coaches in this regard. A coach who has a CoachDeck can pull a card out of the deck, give it to an assistant coach and say, “Will you take those four kids over there and do this drill?” and give another helper another card and ask, “Will you take this group over there and do this?” After 15 minutes or so, rotate stations so that all players participate in all of the activities. This means there will be less standing in line and more actual playing and getting better which means increased team improvement and player involvement and enjoyment.

Play the Ball, Not the Other Team!

By Olan Suddeth

Raise your hand if you have ever uttered one of the following phrases in a close or important game:

“This is it… it’s do or die time!”

“The game is on the line!”

“We win now, or we go home.”

“We’ve got to have some runs now!”

“Jimmy, we’ve got to have an out right here.”

Now, the rest of you liars raise your hands.

Yes, we’re all guilty of it – adding artificial pressure to a game situation. We want our players to realize how important this game/inning/at bat is, but we end up instead reducing their chances to perform well, thanks to the added pressure we just placed on them. 

I once read a very enlightening article by Jack Stallings, who at the time of his retirement was the winningest active baseball coach in the NCAA. Coach Stallings spoke about performance in the clutch, and how baseball was a percentage game. If a player performs at regular levels in clutch situation, he is absolutely a clutch player. The key behind this is to remove the outside pressures associated with a clutch situation. After all, the rules don’t change – a batter still has to hit the ball, a pitcher still has to throw strikes, a fielder still has to scoop and throw.

How many times have you heard coaches moan that “if only their team could play as well as they practice”? Did you ever wonder exactly why the team did so poorly in those situations? Sure, the other team has something to do with it, but a team that fields well in practice should still field well in games. A pitcher who throws strikes in warmups should do so in clutch situations. A batter who has a good eye and makes solid contact in laid back situations has the ability to do so when the game is on the line.

The secret is to get your team to not look at the scoreboard, to not think about what is at stake, and to not worry about the other team. Baseball comes down to a distinct set of skills, and in practices, those skills are all you care about. Now, translate this to game situations.

Keep your players loose. Focus your coaching on the technical aspects of the game, just as you do in practice. Don’t get upset or tense – these emotions are conveyed to your team. Reiterate that they are playing the ball, not the other team, not the scoreboard. 

If you can reduce the pressure that kids (and coaches) place on them in “clutch” situations, you will see drastic improvements in their results.

Go forth and follow this advice! I promise that I will try to do the same.

Olan Suddeth is a Little League coach in the Birmingham, Alabama area. His website, Youth Baseball Info, offers free articles, drills, and tips for youth baseball coaches, parents and fans.