I recently attended a high school baseball game to watch someone close to me play. What I witnessed both during and after this game reminded me how what we do as coaches, from one interaction to the next, matters. To avoid causing any type of embarrassment, I will simply refer to this particular “friend” as Kelly.
Kelly is a great player, but plays on a really good team. He works extremely hard, is respectful, and wants to improve. Kelly is fighting very hard to crack the starting lineup and in my opinion (from a coach’s standpoint) is going about it in all the right ways.
In the game I was watching, Kelly dove for a ball in the outfield that was missed by inches. The outcome was the ball rolling to the fence and a single then turned into a triple. Kelly made an aggressive play on a ball that was catchable had he gotten a little bit better jump.
It was questionable whether Kelly should have gone for the ball or taken it on a hop. Basically it depends on the coaches philosophy of how aggressive they want their outfielders to be in different circumstances.
I asked Kelly after the game about it, and here is how our conversation went:
Kelly: “I went into the dugout and told the Pitcher ‘my bad’ on that hit. When Coach heard me say that he said to me: ‘Hey this isn’t a s#!$% show!’.”
Me: “Well, what did he say you should have done?”
Kelly: “I don’t know, he didn’t say. He just got mad at me because he said that I was playing too deep.”
Me: “Did he tell you to come in a couple of steps?”
Kelly: “Not for that batter.”
Me: “So would he rather that you take that ball on one hop or be aggressive?”
Kelly: “I really don’t know. He didn’t say. I think he was just mad at me for missing it.”
This was a moment to help a player understand what you want them to do, and the only thing Kelly got was inappropriate language and zero instruction.
To be fair, I have made MORE than my share of mistakes and I am FAR from perfect as a coach.
Perhaps this was simply a poor moment for this particular coach. But we can certainly learn a few important lessons for us as coaches that we can learn (or re-learn) from this example:
1: Players Need Encouragement
Seems obvious but it’s sometimes forgotten. A good rule of them is to tell your players you won’t get upset with them for mistakes that are not a result of lack of effort or lack of concentration. You don’t want your kids to play scared of making a mistake. When players play scared the results are typically not good.
2: Mistakes Are a Prime Opportunity to Teach
Unless it’s for lack of effort or lack of concentration, mistakes are a great time to instruct your players on what to correct for the next time. Simply getting mad at players without instruction doesn’t help them. I realize that sometimes players need a little “kick in the pants” to wake them up, but remember that we are all teachers of the game!
3: Recognize Your Influence as a Coach
We are role models for our players. This is unavoidable. We will either be a positive one or a negative one. We also have to keep in mind that these are other people’s kids. So if Mom and Dad don’t want their children using inappropriate language we should respect that by not using it ourselves in front of the team.
4: Know Your Players Temperament
Kelly is very hard on himself. The way the situation was handled showed an indication that the coach was not thinking about Kelly’s psyche. Kelly needs encouragement, just like we all do (even as adults).
But some players tend to beat themselves up more than others. We need to be aware of this so that we can work with players as individuals.
A good way to do this is to have your players fill out a survey (make it fun) at the start of the year and read each player’s “survey” to the team. This helps the players learn about their teammates temperaments and tendencies as well.
I recognize it can be easy to play “Monday Morning Quarterback” and analyze things from the sidelines. We have our own biases that can skew our perspective.
But as coaches we can also use the things we observe from others (good and bad) to learn and help shape the way we teach, role-model, and lead our players.
Remember that what we do as a coach, even in the “small” moments, matters!