How To Be A Good Youth Baseball Coach
When we talk about how to be a good youth baseball coach what do we mean? Well I would like to take a little time to go over some of the things that I have come across. I will go over what it means to give and what you get when you do.
If you talk to most people who have been involved with the game of baseball for a while they will relay the messages that the good coaches they played for passed on to them. When you play for a good coach you remember. When you pass on their message you can almost hear their voice saying it to you.
There are some things that all good coaches have in common.
They are good:
- Authority figures/ Disciplinarians
A good coach is all of these things at the same time.
How to teach baseball
Listing the things that go into making a good coach is easy. Doing it and knowing how, is the reason you would read a post like this. So here it is. We talk all the time about things like sportsmanship and respect for the game. People tell you all the time that you have to teach kids these things but does anyone ever tell you how or why? No, they don’t, it is a given that everyone understands these things and can pass that information on with no education on the subject.
With that in mind, let’s get to the education. What do you teach young baseball players and how do you teach it? Some lessons are very simple, watch me do and imitate. You show the players physically. You grab a bat or put on a glove and show them the how the drill is done.
Tools to use
Sometimes we teach verbally. We explain, what we thought they should have seen or should have known, with words. Most times a good coach will be able to explain the same thing in multiple ways. I may be able to tell you something but the person next to you doesn’t understand it. If I say it another way though, it makes sense to that person too.
We teach through our actions on and off the field. Kids are very perceptive. They see you everywhere. Even when you don’t think they are watching. You must control your reactions on the field. Being a calm steady anchor is going to benefit a player more than screaming and yelling all the time.
That being said, I always defer to the fact that there is a time and a place for everything. I have been thrown out of youth baseball games for arguing with an umpire. A lot of coaches have. The one rule I have for arguing with an umpire during a game is this, no exceptions, I only argue player safety. If the umpire is allowing something to happen on the field that could cause a player to get injured I will let them know. The coach is the best advocate for the player on the field. Example, I got thrown out of a game once because a player on my team was standing in the base path and the umpire called the runner out because he could not get through my player and reach the base he had rounded. That is how adamant I am about the safety rules.
Be mindful of what you do when you get to the parking lot after a game as well. Complaining and throwing equipment into the trunk or arguing with the other teams coaches or parents will be noticed. That is not a good lesson to teach.
You can also teach through written word. Don’t be afraid to refer your players to read a book they should read or webpage about what you are trying to get them to do. Print things out or write them down for your players to take home and continue learning. I like to print out a sheet of paper for hitters that I work with explaining my philosophy on hitting. I have seen pitching coaches that do the same thing.
Finally and maybe the most important way to teach is to observe. See, hear, and feel what a player needs. If you are teaching what you think a player needs, you may be missing an opportunity to teach that player what they actually need to learn. For example, you go into practice with a plan to teach the fundamentals of hitting. Johnny can not learn the how to hit because he is afraid of the baseball and will not stay in the batters box. The mechanics of Johnny’s swing may be great but he still will not be a “hitter” until you get him over his fear of the ball. That is what you need to observe. Every player has specific needs. It is your responsibility as a coach to identify them and help the player work through them.
Do you know your players?
You have to know your players. Ask them questions. Not just questions about baseball. Find out who they are and what makes them tick. The information you gain will help you to teach each player what they need to know in a way that they will accept.
What are we teaching?
So now that we have gone over how you can teach players let’s get into what we as coaches are trying to teach them. We need to teach players skills. Without the skills to play the game of baseball it is not going to be fun. No fun means that you are not going to have a team that will listen to anything else you are trying to teach. Along with teaching teamwork, sportsmanship and work ethic,we, as coaches need to teach things like life skills, perseverance and hustle.
Again it is easy to list these things but what do they mean. Teaching the skills to play the game means that you have to teach your players how to throw, hit and run. All of these can be accomplished through the use of drills and practice.
Teamwork is another thing we have to teach. We have all heard that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. The great thing about a human chain or team is that it can evolve. It has the ability to make itself stronger. Having your stronger players work with and “teach” your weaker players is one way that you can get players of both sets to develop a better understanding of teamwork. As a coach you should look to develop this sense of team and unity. Run drills that require your players to work together to reach a common goal. Teamwork can be taught through things as simple as having the team run a warm up lap before practice. Have them start in a group and finish in a group. You might have to put the faster players in the back to make sure they stay with the group. You can also do things like running a relay drill that makes each player perform a task so that the drill can be completed. There are other things that help teamwork develop as well. Example: Take the team for ice cream or pizza after a game. On a weekend get the team together where there is no baseball involved.
Sportsmanship is one of the hardest things to teach. You are probably asking yourself why. I will explain myself. Some things are hard to teach when you don’t understand them or you don’t practice them. I have heard a lot of coaches talk about sportsmanship with their teams, meaning they told their players they need to show good sportsmanship. I have seen teams that practice good sportsmanship. I have seen teams that have good sportsmanship. What is the difference. The coach. I would like to point out the the coach who tells their team about sportsmanship and doesn’t practice it himself is not a good coach. If you are talking to your team about sportsmanship and then arguing balls and strikes with the umpire, or yelling at the other team’s coaches or parents you are not teaching good sportsmanship.
You have to be a good sport if you require others to do the same. Encourage your team to do well. Don’t discourage the other team. Express concern for any player that is injured during the course of the game even if he is on the other team. When you shake hands after the game make sure your team understands what it represents. It represents that, though both teams were competitors during the game, now that the game is over they are all just ballplayers and people who respect the game that they play and the others that play. They understand, that win or lose playing the game is what they all love. Most importantly they have a common understanding of the effort that the a person who’s hand they are shaking put in to get to this point.
A coach needs to teach life skills. There are a lot of things that happen on a baseball field that will prepare a young player for things that will happen off the field. When a player strikes out and comes back to the bench with tears in their eyes, how are you going to handle that. You can put your arm around them and tell them something that won’t matter like, “don’t cry,” or you can tell them something useful. You can explain to them that in life there will be times when your actions will not be good enough and you may even let some people down. You can tell them to look around at the their teammates the people that they think they let down.If you have done your job right they will see teammates who are not angry but are trying to pick the player up. You will want to make sure that your whole team is ready to tell this young player that they will work with him/ her to accomplish their goal. This is just one of many examples. A good coach will recognize these teaching moments and capitalize on them.
Good coaches will teach a player how to persevere. There is no lesson better taught in baseball. In
baseball there are a lot of singular failures. Players strike out, ground out, and fly out. They make errors or mental mistakes. These things happen, no player is immune. A good coach teaches players that these are not “failures,” but opportunities to learn. How a player learns from these chances and how they respond will determine what kind of coach you are becoming.
As coaches, we have to teach players everything they need to grow. We want our players to grow both as players and people. We want them to be good athletes, but, we want them to be better student athletes. How are we going to get what we want for our players? We are going to teach them work ethic. We need to teach them how to work hard and sweat for what they want. We need to teach to hustle all the time, getting on and off the field, running the bases, even when they are home and Mom or Dad call them.We need to teach them to respect themselves, their parents, teachers and other authority figures they will meet in their lives. We need to make them earn the right to be called baseball players and good people.
When it comes time to see how you are doing as a coach don’t look in the dugout or on the field. Look at your player progress reports and report cards. Ask your kids how they did and if they need help. Everyone knows that you are giving up a lot of your personal time to coach youth baseball. No one is asking you to do more. You don’t have to help your players get better grades but maybe you can direct them to someone who will. Maybe you will notice something that is bothering a player outside of the lines that you can help them with or find someone who can. Coaches who care about the well being of their players are great coaches.
One of the best coaches I know tells his player’s all the time, “If you’re not doing one thing good make sure you are doing the other things better. If you are not hitting, play good defense. If you are struggling defensively, then have quality at bats. If you are not hitting or playing good defense be the best darn teammate you can be on the bench.” Coach Mac is a great communicator and an inspiration to not only the players he coaches but the assistant coaches that coach with him. That is one thing that my dad told me the first time I became a coach. He said, “Don’t just coach your players. Coach your coaches.”
One more point that I would like to make about being a good youth baseball coach. Don’t be “that guy.” You know the one or you will. The guy that plays favorites with their own kid. In my research on this subject I was struck by some of the responses that I received. One of them said this, “I admired and respected most of my coaches with the exception of the coaches who favoritized their own kids on the team.” You will lose the respect of your players and their parents if you do this. Please, don’t use your child as a negative example either. It puts a lot of pressure on a kid if they think that they can never be good enough in the eyes of their parent.
This same gentleman went on to make another good point. His favorite coach was a man named Coach Fox. He described what he liked about Coach Fox in this manner, “Mr. Fox coached with a smile, a passion and a commitment to ensure every kid on the team was encouraged to learn the fundamentals of playing the game of baseball, have fun and respect the other team.”
This summed the spirit of this article up for me. If you are going to do it, do it with a smile, be passionate and committed. If you do this you will be a good coach. You might make mistakes along the way. That’s okay everybody makes mistakes. In the end when you are watching your t-ball kids go off to college to play ball or see them walking through the grocery store with their kids 20 or 30 years down the road and they introduce you to their child as “COACH” you will get that chill down your spine. The one that let’s you know you were a good coach.