Coaching: Make your team more effective

As a coach one of the toughest things I do, and one that I feel is vitally important for the success of a program, is talent assessment. Managing the personnel on any particular youth baseball program can sometimes be difficult. How confident are most coaches that they have the right players in the right positions.? Wouldn't it be nice to know for sure!

I have devised, and implement, a "player talent matrix" using a simple grading process then I simply plug in numbers and it virtually fills out my line up card for me based upon who is pitching and where I want the strength of my team. It may sound complicated at the moment, but bear with me as I will explain step-by-step on how to devise your own talent matrix worksheet.

Step one: Grade every single player at every single position. The grade should be based on potential and it should be an honest assessment of the child's weakness,strengths and coach-ability at that particular position. So say my team has 13 players on it, I would rate every player 1 - 13 based on a 3 to 4 coach average at every position on the baseball field. (Remember it is not uncommon for a child to rank "1" at several different positions). For an example of how this final grade sheet may look;under first base on my sheet I would have 1. Kaleb Reed 2. Josh Long 3.Ryan Lemaster...etc. I will do this type of grading at every starting spot on the field all the way down to the 13th roster spot.

Step two: At this point every player should have a rank at every position. Now simply start filling out lineup cards and to see where the strengths and weaknesses may be. This seems like the logical process all coaches do in their head while evaluating talent, but indeed we do not. As coaches we seem to try to keep our lineups as close to the same as possible, and in certain situations the matrix should reveal to you that there are better options then the "gut" feeling. For instance, after I helped a local High School coach conduct his pre-season matrix the coaching staff realized that we had not been getting the versatility out of 4-year-starting catcher because, "that's where he always played!" The coaching staff came to realize that in certain pitching scenarios he would be of better use to the team as a shortstop. How do you overcome losing a 4-year starter behind the plate? Well the matrix revealed a kid rated at "2" right behind our starting catcher, the enlightening thing is the kid had never caught before. The number two catcher was trained-up, we added a rangy shortstop, and won our first Ohio Sectional Title for our school in over a Decade.

If your coaching staff is honest in its assessment of players, this can be a great tool in the pre-season, and especially for teams that have a large influx of players year to year. Coaches will always follow their instincts, but numbers don't lie in some instances. The goal of the coach must be to maximize talent and hide weakness. I have found that by simply tracking where my pitchers have given up hits in previous meetings with teams that I can build my team anyway I want for any given scenario in order to ensure my lineup is going to give me the best possible chance of winning.

Defensive strengths can built to protect up the middle, which would appear on my line up card as "1" and "2" rated players would be at catcher, pitcher, shortstop, and center field. Or once the pitching rotation gets into the "3" or "4" rated pitchers, the strength of the defense can shift left or right.

It is simply a tool coaches can use as a guide and it sometimes reveals some really neat revelations about the team's dynamic. I use it quite a bit and have had success in finding some diamonds in the rough. And isn't that what all baseball coaches would love to do, turn a weakness into a strength.

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