I‘ve been around baseball all my life. I started playing the game when I was 8 years-old and continued on into college. I have two sons, both of whom have played baseball all their lives, as well. It’s a great game – a cerebral game – and is best enjoyed with friends. It was Leo Durocher who once said, “Baseball is like church. Many attend, but few understand.” I agree.
I Want to Be a Coach
Not long after I’d finished playing baseball, I decided to become a coach. A college buddy and I had a void in our lives that playing the game had left us, so as spring rolled around, our minds turned to the one thing that had occupied our lives for so many years. So, we made the decision to coach a team of 13-14 year-old ball players in our small town in Mississippi. I’d been a pretty decent player, so it just made sense to parlay that expertise into some kids who wanted to play the game.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that this coaching thing was more difficult than it appeared to me as a player. In one particular game, early in our season, I was in the first base coach’s box. Our team was batting, and we had a runner on second base. Our batter hit a deep fly ball to the recesses of right field, and though it would result in an out, our runner at second base would have the opportunity to tag up and advance to third.
The fly ball was indeed caught, and as I looked to our runner at second base, fully anticipating his advance to third, he was standing on the bag, hands on hips. There was no intention, on his part, of advancing to the next base. He just stood there. Needless to say, I was furious. I began yelling at him to tag up, flailing my arms around and jumping like a mad man. There, in front of God, parents, and players, I “blew a gasket.” Sarcastically, I yelled across the diamond that he could have tagged up, hopefully diverting all the blame on him and away from my ability as a coach. When the furor died down, the runner looked at me, with his palms facing upward and asked, “What’s tag up mean?”
Like a ton of bricks, it hit me that I – the coach – had never taught this kid how or why to tag up on a fly ball. I assumed these players knew the rules of the game, but it was now apparent that I had some coaching to do. And, I needed to start over. After apologizing to that player, and the team, we began methodically practicing every part of the game. I focused more on teaching the game I loved and less on winning in the moment.
What’s a Coach?
The word coach is defined as “a person who trains an athlete or a team of athletes.” Coaching is not limited to athletes, though. Anyone who performs a specialized, learned task can benefit from a coach. Musicians have coaches, as do dancers and actors. In our culture now, you can even have a life coach.
In a much broader sense, a mentor is a coach. Advising and guiding someone who has less experience and less knowledge in any discipline could fall under the umbrella of coaching. In either case, a person with credentials is imparting knowledge and giving direction to a person or a team.
In my playing days, I was lucky to have some really good coaches. As my sons have played the game in their time, they have had the benefit of many coaches. I was their coach early on, but as they grew older and more advanced in the game, they played for other coaches, and this gave me the opportunity to step aside and watch men with much more experience, knowledge and ability work with my boys.
Throughout their baseball experiences, I was able to observe those whose calling it was to coach the game of baseball with its varied individuals and teams. And, I’ve also witnessed opposing coaches work with their players and teams. At every level, I witnessed different approaches, abilities, levels of knowledge, and success. One thing is certain…coaching will reveal character, and I’ve witnessed much there, as well.
10 P’s to Remember as You Coach
As one who has experienced baseball at almost every level, either myself or through my sons, I offer these 10 “P’s” to remember as you (and I) coach.
1. Coach with passion. Have a passion for the game and for the players. Go at it with everything you’ve got, always learning, always trying something different or new, and always getting better. If you don’t have a passion for the game or for the player, then you’ll have a team that plays without a love for the game and each other.
2. Coach the person. As a coach, I learned to leave my ego in the car. What I desired – a win, or titles, or accolades – had to be secondary to the individual player. Since each player was chosen to be on the team by me, each one had value and the ability to contribute to the team. Since individual players had different levels of ability, I had to recognize that, plan for that, and work on that. My goal as a coach was to make the individual player better, and thus, the team. Never give up on the person.
3. Coach the psyche. Some players excel in pressure situations, some don’t. I remember, years ago, playing in a USSSA State Tournament and our pitcher was facing a really good team. He was getting knocked around a bit, so I made a mound visit to help boost his confidence and adjust our approach. As I approached the mound, he held out the baseball, and told me I needed to put someone else in…not what you want to hear from your guy on the bump. I told him to keep the baseball, that he wasn’t coming out, and that he had the stuff to get these guys out.
Even though we lost the game, I reminded him afterwards that we had faith in him and that he had the stuff to get it done. His psyche needed to change if he was going to continue to be a pitcher. He needed to develop that “I want the ball” attitude…not give up at the first hint of struggle.
4. Coach with patience. Baseball is a game of failure. Hitters are applauded, even when they get out more than they get a hit. Pitchers, too, will allow hits or walks but keep the scoring to a minimum. A coach needs to understand that players will fail. They’ll make mistakes. They’ll make errors. They’ll strike out. But, coaching involves knowing this and encouraging players to put the failure in the past and focus on the future.
A coach who is critical of a player for failing, and pulls them out of the game, or yells at them in the game, is not coaching. They’re tearing down the psyche and the person.
5. Coach the potential. Coaches have the innate ability, it seems, to look at a kid, or watch a player, and project a player’s potential. Size, speed, soft hands, bat speed, power – these are all terms coaches will use as they look at a player and try their best to envision this kid 2 or 3 or 4 years down the road.
Potential has to be coached, though. Young players won’t develop on their own, and a good coach can magnify a player’s gifts.
6. Coach the possibilities. Players come to your team with a role and an objective. Sometimes, these roles may change, especially if a player develops differently over time. A good coach can adjust and create possibilities for that player.
7. Coach with positivity. There’s nothing worse than a coach that’s always negative, always complaining. While there is a time for intensity or correction or reality, a negative attitude will never reap the results a coach will desire in a player or team. Players get frustrated quickly with negative coaches, resulting in poor performance and bad attitudes. Too, they’ll get away from you as soon as they can.
How many times do former players come back to visit or take part in your team activities? That’s a good indicator of what kind of coach you’ve been.
8. Coach the personality. Players are different. Some are quiet, some like to cut up. Some are serious and work hard, and some players, well, not so serious. Levity in the dugout can be a good thing and help players deal with some of the pressure of performing.
And, while we’re discussing it, be a coach who lets out your own personality. It’s ok to show the team you’re frustrated with a loss, or happy with a win. Don’t feel like you’re personality has to be suppressed in front of your players. Sometimes, showing a bit of your personality can inspire.
9. Coach with peace. As a coach, know that you’ve done everything you can to get a player ready to play, or even put him in a position to succeed. Know, too, that your team is prepared. After all of this, realize that wins and losses will come, sometimes based on preparation, and sometimes because baseball is a funny game. Be at peace with that.
10. Coach with principle. Coaches can toss around principles like they don’t matter. Things like honesty, character, morality, and language are the most important ways to influence the lives of the players on your team. A player respects an honest evaluation, they recognize character quickly, they see the morals that you live by, and out of the mouth comes what’s in the heart. If you’re a coach that doesn’t have principles, players will not play for you.
Another word for principle is integrity. Losing a game on purpose is disrespectful of the game, those who’ve played it before, the fans, the officials, and families. If you lose a game purposefully, you’ve taught your players a lesson that will never be unlearned.
These are things I’ve observed from successful coaches. I’ve seen examples of these 10 ways to coach at all levels – from Dixie Youth to travel teams to high school to the collegiate level. And, I’ve admired the ones who coached with these guidelines and influenced their players to be better persons and athletes.
There is a reason that a coach will continuously win, and there is a reason that players want to play for a coach. Those are the guys whose influence lasts much longer than the game or the season. And, those are the ones who truly coach.