My Bad

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

We have all heard the famous phrase, “To err is human. To forgive, divine.” However, when it comes to parents, teachers, employers and, especially coaches, what I’d rather say is, “To err is human. To admit it is fine.”

I was watching a baseball game on television. A runner was on first and there was a base hit to right field. As he headed to second I noticed the runner hesitate, clearly looking for direction from the third base coach who was off camera. The runner then accelerated towards third and was thrown out, fairly easily. The announcers made comments that he “got a little greedy,” implying he was to blame and had made a mistake.

I don’t know whether the coach signaled for him to come or did nothing. I am pretty sure he didn’t tell him to hold up, or else the runner wouldn’t have tried for third. Either way, the coach goofed. No big deal. Sometimes you take a chance and hope the other team can’t make the play, and this time the gamble didn’t pay off.

After the play ended and the umpire had signaled out, the coach walked away stoically. In the pros, you don’t worry about what the fans or announcers think. If they thought (as I’m sure most did) that the base runner erred, that’s not the coach’s concern.

But what if, instead, he’d given the kid a couple claps for his hustle and a pat on the back on the way back to the dugout? Then, at least, the fans would know that the coach, (who had told him to run) was not upset with the player. What if he’d even taken it one step further and patted himself on the chest a couple times as if to say, “My bad.”? Then everyone in the stands and watching on TV would know what had happened and that the player had not screwed up. By not making a public display of acknowledgment it almost looked as if he was hoping that no one would know he’d told the runner to go and that people would blame the runner. Of course, I may be reading too much into this.

Why is this a big deal? Again, in the pros, it probably isn’t. But if you’re coaching a youth league team, a travel or even high school team. I think it is. Here are some reasons why:

Having their backs
Players who know the coach is going to accept the blame for his own mistakes will be more relaxed and play better. I’ve seen too many youth coaches make blunders and then try to deflect the spotlight by blaming the kid. Or, almost as bad, saying nothing, even though fans in the stands clearly believe the youngster just messed up. If a coach owns up to his error, “My fault, Johnny,” then players play more free and loose, not as afraid of taking chances. In my opinion, a great coach will tell players, “If I tell you to do something – do it – and if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to take the blame.”

Loyalty
All it takes is that one time for you to bail out a player who has just had something unfortunate happen and they’ll be a fan of yours for life. Imagine this scenario: There is a crucial moment in the game and the ball is hit to the left of your second baseman. He does his best to get to it but it goes off his glove and the other team scores. The kid feels terrible. And then you say, “That’s my fault, Johnny. I should have had you playing more over to the left. Great effort.” After hearing something like that every player on the team knows that you’re putting their interests ahead of yours. And isn’t that the job description of a good coach?

Team
Publicly accepting responsibility also sends a powerful message not just to a single player, but to the team, which is: Team first. We are not individuals here only caring about ourselves. We are a team from top to bottom and we look out for each other.

Life Lessons
When you own up to your shortcoming you teach your players a valuable skill in life, which is to accept responsibility and not blame others when things don’t go well. You also help them understand that mistakes are not the end of the world. We get back up and move on.

And finally, when you get right down to it, the ironic thing is that rather than make you look weak in the eyes of parents and fans, admitting your errors publicly actually makes you look stronger. Because only someone with supreme self-confidence is willing to do so. No one is right 100% of the time. But no one really respects someone who pretends he is.

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 and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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It is easy to forget…

That we’re coaching youth sports for the benefit of the kids, not for ourselves. That winning is nice, but making sure every kid wants to come back and play again next season is more important. Let’s all try to keep an eye on the big picture as we run our practices and coach our games this week.

Giving Signs From Third Base

By Dave Holt

While umpiring I like to mess with youth coaches some times. I will see a third base coach touching all these areas on their bodies for baseball signs like in a situation when there are runners on second and third base and two outs.

Obviously this is not a time to put on any signs or plays. The batter will be starring down at him as he goes through his repertoire of plays indicating a baseball sign is on. There is no chance of a bunt, steal or hit and run play.

Between innings I will ask him in a friendly tone, I’m trying to learn the game and can you help me? Can you tell me what plays you are giving the batter in that situation?

Boy, do they dance around that one. They start scrambling for a logical answer which they cannot come up with and usually admit they basically just want everyone to look at them before every pitch no matter what.

The simplest sign system is usually used when you have a one game league all-star game or exhibition where players from several teams assemble for a game or two. That is because it is very simple and a fast, easy system to implement.

Coaches get frustrated when players miss signs and it usually hurts the team. How do I make a system that is so simple no one misses signs? Ah Ha. Just use my easy system all the time.

Just pick a HOT indicator. I use the right hand to the bill of the hat. Nothing is on until I touch my right hand to the hat when going through the signs. Touch the indicator and the count is on. All the batters and the baserunners have to do is count how many times I do this particular thing.

Now that the indicator has been touched everyone must pay attention to count the thing I do at the end of the signs. When I do it once, the sacrifice bunt is on, twice and the steal is on. Three times is the hit and run. Four times is the delay steal.

If you think your opponent has picked off your system just change the indicator.

I have a few more individual signs for the things like a squeeze bunt, steal on your own, drag bunt for a hit, rare take sign and stuff like that. These are pretty discreet and I do not use an indicator. But you could if you wanted.

Whatever signs you use keep them simple and do not put on signs when all the batter can do is hit away. Review the signs regularly.

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.

Keys to coaching youth baseball

Are you coaching a Little League, PONY, Cal Ripken or other youth baseball (or softball) team? Over the next several days we’ll bring you some pointers on running good practices and successfully managing games.

Today’s tip: Ensure 100% attendance at practices. Easier said than done, you say? Well, there are two ways to accomplish this. First, at higher levels where we are keeping score and playing to win, playing time can be limited for poor attendance. Even if it is a couple of your better players who are absent, if they start the next game on the bench and only get the minimum-mandated play time, they’ll get the message and show up next time. But the best way to encourage attendance is not through punishment, but reward. Make your practices FUN! You can still have exceptionally effective training while making the practice enjoyable. Turn drills and even conditioning into games. Joke with your players, let them know you’re the boss but you’re also human and you like to have fun. Smile and encourage your kids to let their personalities out. Give everyone a nickname at the beginning of the season and see how many stick. When practice is over, if your players get in their parents car and say, “That was fun!” they’ll not only be back for your next practice, they’ll be back to play again next year.

Why coaches won’t go online

Imagine this scenario: You’re a busy, volunteer coach of your son or daughter’s soccer, baseball, basketball or softball team. You probably said you’d coach the team because the league was begging for volunteers. You aren’t really sure how to run an effective practice so the league has pointed you to an online training site where there are animated drills, streaming videos and downloadable practice plans. So you work all day at your job, then come home, have dinner, put the kids to bed and at 9;00 at night have to decide whether to spend a little, precious time with your spouse or log onto a website and start watching videos teaching you to do something you don’t get paid to do. You’d have to print out sheets of paper with drills so that you can remember what to do at practice tomorrow.

Fortunately, there is a better alternative and these leagues have found it. CoachDeck is a standard deck of cards containing 52 good, fundamental drills that can all be made into fun games kids love. Now a coach who doesn’t have time to prepare can simply pull a few cards out of the deck and instantly have a great practice plan ready to go. Nothing is more convenient and easy to use than CoachDeck!

Don’t miss tomorrow’s OnDeck Newsletter

The February issue is full of terrific articles, ideas, tips and offers. If you’re not on the list to receive OnDeck, its easy and free!

Easy, fun baseball drills

You’re a volunteer coach and you stepped up to manage a youth baseball team this spring. Where to you begin? You’ll want to run practices that are fun and technically-sound, but don’t have time to read books or manuals or go online and study.  You need a CoachDeck! Inside this little powerhouse deck of cards are 52 good drills that can all be made into fun games that your team will love. Your players will get better, but they’ll just think they’re playing!