June 20, 2003
from Baseball Excellence
We are always writing articles about the great profession (avocation) of coaching. It has become a passion to contribute our views on coaching baseball.
Let’s look at, and review, some of the things that will make you more productive and valuable coaches who have development of the kids foremost in mind.
Understand and believe that what you are doing gives you the power to support the continuation of this great game. You can make a difference.
Have a plan for each and every practice.
Baseball is life- practice every day. If a day goes by and you didn’t have a practice, you should feel guilty.
NGI-Never give in. A coach must continue to teach, even when some of the players look like they aren’t ‘getting it.’ Teach right up to the last out of the last game of the season.
A few years ago, very late in the season, I watched a Vero Beach Dodger game. The Dodgers had a losing record and many of the players were just ‘playing out the string.’ They knew their career in professional baseball was coming to an end. The best prospects had already gone up to AA ball.
That is a very tough time for a player and a coach. But it shows who the good coaches are. John Shoemaker was teaching in that game as if it were the first game of the World Series. “Shoe” still had his enthusiasm and was giving it his best effort. It would have been so easy to slack off in those dog days of August.(An update: John Shoemaker is now the skipper of the Dodgers AAA team in Las Vegas.)
Stop watching baseball games on TV as a fan. Watch them as a coach and a student. Use these professional and college games as learning experiences. Try to imagine what you would do in game situations. Look at fielders’ techniques and pitchers and hitters mechanics. Tape the games and watch them in slow motion and frame advance. Turn the sound off on the TV and try to identify the pitches. That is a good method and you will be surprised at how easy it is.
Spend extra time, after practice, with those players who need it the most.
Don’t be influenced by what parents and other coaches say to you or about you. Believe in what you are doing and stay on the path. Believe me, if you are doing a good job you will not be popular. You will be respected, but not popular. If you try to please everybody you will wind up pleasing nobody.
You must have control and you must use discipline.
Be yourself. Coach within your own personality. Don’t try to copy someone else. Use other methods from coaches that you admire but ultimately you have to be yourself.
Have integrity. Keep teaching the important values even when they are
not fashionable. Stand by what you say. If you penalize players for missing practice, penalize all of them, not just the weaker players.
Don’t set arbitrary rules to enforce them at your whim.
Understand that you can make a difference in a young life. That is your reward. That is why you coach-not just to win.
Have a goal of making your players just a little better than they were the day before. Develop the attitude that if they are not getting better, they are getting worse.
Teach your players to respect the game. How they act on that field is a direct reflection of you, the coach. Have them hustle at all times, keep their shirttails in, wear baseball caps, maintain good behavior and listen to you. They way they practice is the way they will play in games.
If you coach your son try to honestly evaluate his talent and put him in the position where he will do the most good for your team. I have seen many a coach’s son who never was and never would be a shortstop. Guess where he played.
Take coaching seriously and give it your best effort. If you want your players to take you seriously, take the game seriously.
Become a student of the game. Players can use the off-season to get better. Coaches can too.
Teach your players appropriate behavior during games. Don’t let them question umpires’ calls or cheer against the other team. Teach them how to stay focused in the dugout. Give each player some responsibility. I feel that early in the season you will have to stay on top of this. Establish the way you want them to act and keep on them until you get the desired results.
Demand respect from your players. You will find you’ll have to earn it.
Become a positive role model around your players. Don’t smoke in front of them. They are going to emulate you. You have an obligation to set aside your personal peccadilloes for the time that you area coach.
‘Knowledge is power.’
Put your ego in your back pocket. Be confident that you are operating with the proper motives.
Don’t belittle other teams and other umpires.
It is important that you make your players understand the fact that the techniques you are teaching them may involve failure. If a player is having a measure of success and performing a certain skill incorrectly, he must understand that when you change him he will fail until the new skill becomes part of his ‘muscle memory.’
For instance a pitcher may throw very hard and be successful. No one can hit him in Little League. However he may have poor mechanics that could hinder his development as a pitcher. It is your job to help him change those mechanics. The player will fail at first so you should be there to help him grasp that fact. How a player deals with that adversity determines his future.
Learn ways to keep your team focused in games. You want them to stay involved. That is part of the learning process. This is a very tough
element of coaching. I saw an ad in a baseball magazine that drove that point home for me. Pictured were 3 high school players in the dugout. The balloon caption over the first player read “What color is athlete’s foot? The 2nd caption read “Gee, it hurts when I do this (He was bending his hand backward.).” The final balloon read “Look, girls. ”The title of the ad read, “Coaching is Hard.” You get the point. Do you remember those dugout responsibilities we posted in a past Tip of the Week? Make sure you give each and every player something to do. Ask them questions to keep them involved in the game.
Constantly move your infielders and outfielders around during the game. This keeps the defense alert as well as preparing them for different situations.
Set a high standard. Don’t go down to another teams’ level if that team has poor coaching. Stay away from that ya ya stuff.
We believe a youth coach should take the approach that he is teaching all his players how to move up to the next level. That is what he should want for his players, to keep going up the ladder. If he coaches a junior league team the next step is high school. If he coaches high school the next step is college.
This is where integrity comes in- that player who is having success now but might have a bad mechanical hitting flaw. If you don’t help him change, he will not go on. You, the coach, are aware of the problem. It is your duty to help him. It is very easy to ignore it. He is doing so well now. We are winning with his little drawback. Ah, let the next coach worry about it. This takes some determination and strength of purpose on the part of the coach. He not only has to get the player to buy into what he is doing but he must convince the parents that he is right. It is definitely much easier and much more popular to just let it alone.
Coaching is not for everyone but it is a very rewarding and noble pursuit. If you decide to do it, it is more gratifying to do it right.
Its Not Just About Winning
January 2, 2005
At a fund-raising dinner for a school that serves learning-disabled children, the father of one of the school's students delivered a speech that will never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question: "Everything God does is done with perfection. Yet, my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is God's plan reflected in my son?" The audience was stilled by the query.
The father continued. "I believe," the father answered, "that when God brings a child like Shay into the world, an opportunity to realize His divine plan presents itself. And it comes in the way people treat that child."
Then, he told the following story:
Shay and his father had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, "Do you think they'll let me play?" Shay's father knew that most boys would not want him on their team. But the father understood that if his son were allowed to play it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging. Shay's father approached one of the boys on the field and asked if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, "We are losing by six runs, and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning."
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. At the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the outfield. Although no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be on the field, grinning from ear to ear as his father waved to him from the stands.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base. Shay was scheduled to be the next at-bat. Would the team actually let Shay bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat.
Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, "Shay, run to first! Run to first!"
Never in his life had Shay ever made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled. Everyone yelled, " Run to second, run to second!" By the time Shay was rounding first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman for a tag. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions had been, so he threw the ball high and far over the second baseman's head.
Shay ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shay reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base, and shouted, "Run to third!" As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams were screaming, "Shay! Run home!" Shay ran home, stepped on home plate and was cheered as the hero, for hitting a "grand slam" and winning the game for his team.
"That day," said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of the Divine Plan into this world.
We have literally dozens of opportunities each and every day to help make the world a better, kinder place. Don't let a day go by without acting on at least one of these chances.
Through An Umpire's Eyes
January 2, 2005
Through an Umpire's Eyes
Donald Jensen was struck in the head by a thrown bat while umpiring a little league game in Terre Haute, Indiana. He continued to work the game, but later that evening was placed in the hospital by a doctor. While being kept overnight for observation, Jensen wrote the following letter:
Dear Parent of a Little Leaguer:
I'm an umpire. I don't do it for a living, but only on Saturdays and Sundays for fun. I've played the game, coached it and watched it. But somehow, nothing takes the place of umpiring. Maybe it's because I feel that deep down I'm providing a fair chance for all the kids to play the game without disagreements and arguments.
With all the fun I've had, there is still something that bothers me about my job. Some of you folks don't understand why I'm here. Some of you feel I'm there to exert authority over your son. For that reason, you often yell at me when I make a mistake, or encourage your son to say things that hurt my feelings. How many of you really understand that I try to be perfect? I try not to make a mistake. I don't want your son to feel he got a bad deal from an umpire. Yet not matter how hard I try, I can't be perfect. I counted the number of calls I made in a six-inning game today. The total number of decisions, whether on balls and strikes or safe and outs, was 146. I tried my best to get them all right, but I'm sure I missed some. When I figured out my percentage on paper, I could have missed eight calls today and still gotten about 95 percent of the calls right. In most occupations that percentage would be considered excellent. If I were in school, that grade would receive an A for sure.
But your demands are higher than that. Let me tell you more about my game today. There was one real close call that ended the game. A runner for the home team was trying to steal the plate on a passed ball. The catcher chased the ball down and threw to the pitcher covering the plate. The pitcher made the tag and I called the runner out. As I was getting my equipment to leave, I overheard one of the parents comment, "It's too bad the kids have to lose games because of rotten umpires. That was one of the lousiest calls I've ever seen." Later, at the concession stand, a couple of kids were telling their friends, "Boy, the umpire was lousy today. He lost the game for us." I felt just terrible when I got home. Here was a group of kids who had made a lot of mistakes which had cost them a number of runs.
The purpose of Little League is to teach baseball skills to young men. Obviously, a team which does not play well in a given game, yet is given the opportunity to blame that loss on an umpire for one call or two, is being given the chance to remove all responsibility for the loss from their shoulders. A parent or adult leader who permits the younger player to blame his failures on an umpire, regardless of the quality of that umpire, is doing the worst kind of injustice to that youngster. Rather than learning responsibility, such an attitude is fostering an improper outlook toward the ideals of the game itself. This irresponsibility is bound to carry over to future years.
As I sit here writing this letter, I am no longer as upset as I was this afternoon, I wanted to quit umpiring, but fortunately, my wife reminded me of another situation that occurred last week. I was umpiring behind the plate for a pitcher who pantomimed his displeasure at any call on a borderline pitch that was not in his team's favor. One could sense that he wanted the crowd to realize that he was a fine, talented player who was doing his best to get along, but that I was a black-hearted villain who was working against him. The kid continued acting like this for two innings, while at the same time yelling at his own players, who dared to make a mistake. For two innings the manager watched this. When the kid returned to the dugout to bat in the top of the third, the manager called him aside. In a voice loud enough that I was able to overhear, the lecture went like this: "Listen son, it is time you make a decision. You can be an umpire, an actor, or a pitcher. But you can only be one at a time when you are playing for me. Right now it is your job to pitch. And, you are basically doing a lousy job. Leave the acting to actors and the umpiring to the umpires, or you won't do any pitching here. Now what is it going to be?"
Needless to say, the kid chose the pitching route and went on to win the game. When the game was over the kid followed me to my car. Fighting his hardest to keep back his tears, he apologized for his actions and thanked me for umpiring his game. He said he had learned a lesson that he would never forget.
I can't help but wonder how many more fine young men are missing their chance to develop into outstanding ball players because their parents allow them to spend more time making excuses than encouraging them to recognize and correct their mistakes.
The following morning Donald Jensen died of a brain concussion.
The next time you want to give an umpire a piece of your mind, maybe instead offer him a sincere "Good game, Ump" and recognize that it's only a youth baseball game.
Team Work - Team Effort
July 11, 2002
Golf, wrestling, Tennis, snow boarding are all individual sports. It only takes one person to do well or to do poorly. The best thing about baseball is that it is very much a team sport which allows each individual to contribute. Because it is a team sport, no one person loses a game for us or wins a game for us. Each person has their job to do and if a mistake is made, then the team needs to work harder to make up for it. If a game winning hit is made, hats off to the batter, but hats off to the guys who got on base before him, hats off to the pitching and defense that put us in a position to get the game winning hit. The beauty of baseball is that while individual plays are highlighted and talked about, it takes a total group effort to make a great team. How good would the Red Sox be if they just had Nomar, or just had Manny playing for them without the rest of the team? Probably not very good. The key to the Red Sox ... and other good teams is that they play well together as a team and pick up each other after errors or mistakes and celebrate with each other after something goes right regardless of the name of the player who made the play or the mistake.
The other key part of this team is that it has interchangeable parts. Look at the incredible flexibility we have defensively, we can platoon our entire infield and outfield including catchers and pitchers. That is incredible teamwork. Don't worry if you are not playing your favorite position or batting in your favorite batting order spot tonight or this inning,from game to game you will play any number of positions as will your team mates. You know that you are contributing to a much larger effort which is bigger than any one individual and creats a team which we are all proud and privileged to be on.
Baseball for the Mind
September 24, 2002
by Coach John Peter
It's been said that baseball is life... It contains struggles, hard work, competition, rewards, bad calls, great teammates & hopefully great coaches, plus last inning wins and last inning dissappointments.
I will tell you that the greatest game a boy can play is baseball. Not the only game, and some might argue not the most exciting game, but it is, nonetheless, the world's greatest game.
Because, it is a game where it takes more individual small pieces and parts to achieve success than most other games. It is a game that contains what has been called, "the most difficult single task in all of sport," that of striking a round ball with a round bat.
Though I have learned not to focus on the negative, baseball has been called a game of failure. A game where failing 7 out of 10 times places you among the hitting elite... the .300 hitter. Where in the Big Leagues a great team might win 100 games in a season, but where they also lose 62 in that same season. The best baseball teams seldom go undefeated.
It's a game where kids from all sides of the tracks become teammates. And teammates become friends over a long season complete with a roller coaster of emotions.
And maybe, and most to the point, is that 80% of the success that players & coaches achieve is squarely the result of what he does above the shoulders... with his mind!
||Hingham Travel Baseball