Our coach columnist Rob Monaco is fired up this week with a message for coaches who need an ego check.
Coaching is the toughest job in the world. You need to win; you need to train. You need to build up a team and individual players to do their best for not only themselves, but for the team collectively. Somewhere along the way though, there’s been a change in the way a coach SHOULD operate. I’m not sure where we went wrong, but I do know this… we need to get back to basics.
This isn’t suggesting we go soft. This isn’t about me telling coaches everywhere that they’re “doing it wrong.” This is me telling certain coaches, that when you stand on the field, the ocean does not part, no one needs to bow to you and you sure as hell aren’t superior to anyone; not the officials, not the parents and definitely not the kids on your team.
I’ll give you an example. You expect your team to be on time for practice and for games. A half hour early most likely, sometimes more because there are things you need to discuss before an important game. I applaud that. But let me ask you a question. Why do you show up late then? What happened to leadership? What happened to setting an example? Furthermore, why the hell are you chewing out your young players if they’re late? They didn’t drive, sir. Their parents did. Open your head! You have a problem with tardiness, but you don’t follow your own rule, and now you’re threatening to bench a kid because his mother got home late from work to drive him to practice? You’re despicable.
And how about this; how come when a 10 year old player drops a baseball in the outfield, he’s looking at you in the dugout in horror? Is it because you humiliate kids when they make mistakes? If you do that, hand in your coaching badge. Being an 8, 9, 10 year old in baseball, be it recreation OR club is about development, not perfection! Have you forgotten these are children? Trust me when I tell you…they KNOW they made an error. Don’t remind them. Definitely don’t humiliate them. Believe me, they feel terrible. How about you explain that error, what not to do and how to improve. NOT NOW! After the game. Maybe even tomorrow. Maybe call that child that evening on the phone. Encourage him and let him understand that you are still a huge supporter of him. Doing it at the game after it happens will destroy the kid’s confidence. GET OUT OF THEIR HEAD!
And there’s more. In this competitive world of youth baseball, families pay large amounts of money to get proper training and character building in the hopes to have their child become better at the game, perhaps more disciplined and even more confident. In many respects, let’s cut through it… You work for us, coach. That means after agame, if a mother’s son didn’t play, don’t dismiss that woman when she asks why. You need to talk to her. And don’t give her the old “I do what’s best for my team” line. You need to really address the WHY with a genuine answer. No one cares that you have a strategy. They care that they pay $3,000, and now their 11 year old has a front row seat on the bench more than half the season. Not only are these parents being swindled, their child is being neglected as a player. If you are a coach, and I don’t care if it’s recreation, travel, or club where 12 “elite” players are chosen to play on a team… EVERY SINGLE KID on that team has a role. And I don’t mean the role of warming up the left fielder in between innings. I mean a role on the field.
It’s simple. If a kid makes an “elite” team as age 10 or 11, he’s good enough to play on that team, bottom line. And if you, the coach, don’t take the time to mold and grow all 12 as best you can, that’s on you, sir! You’re not doing your part. Trust me, it’s easy to put together a group of 9 All-Stars. Now actually coach and teach 12. Let them all learn as many positions as they can. Get their confidence up. Get the less talented up to speed. TRUST ALL TWELVE PLAYERS! If you don’t and only play your chosen 9… you better have very good reason when that parent asks.
So here is what I suggest… Train your “elite” crew to be great together. Let them understand the roles they need to play. Make them love the game and embrace each challenge. Give them confidence… and never…. NEVER assume you’re the best one on the field, coach. That’s because you’re not. You’re a coach, the gig you took because no one else wanted the job. It’s hard, and it’s hard because it requires a lot of balance. Yup, you need to train players, deal with many personalities and child attitudes. There will be frustration and disappointment and some days, even victory. You need to handle schedules and sick kids and tournaments and pitching rotations… and it’s a tough, tough job. But it’s YOUR job, and these are kids you’re working with… these kids need to be molded.
It is not about the championship, sir. It’s about the program itself and the kids that make it up. Keep an open mind as a coach, ALWAYS. Keep focused on what you need to accomplish. Coaching isn’t about you walking on water and everyone admiring you standing there with a 12” trophy at the end of the season. It’s not about you! Coaching is about you making kids love playing baseball, through discipline, character, professionalism, training and education. Win or lose… if it’s done correctly, you have already won.
Now, many coaches will comment about this piece and rip my head off suggesting I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Well, I do. That’s because I’m a parent and I’m also a coach. I’ve coached for almost 9 years now and my approach has never changed.
Coaching takes a hell of a lot of patience. You need to lead by example. You need to talk to your team and teach them about working hard. You need to root for them when they’re out there, also giving direction so they know you are not only their coach, but their biggest fan. You need to sit your own kid too. That’s right! This is a team, not Daddy Baseball! You need to mold the players from doubters to believers and when each game is done, you’re your own PR guy as well! You’re not BS-ing the parents, but rather talking to them about what worked and what didn’t work. You’re giving advice to the families about how together, you and they can help their child improve on his skill. You’re listening to complaints and offering solutions.
But in the end, it’s never about you. It’s always about the kids… especially in youth baseball. Remember that.