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Youth Baseball: How Coaches and Parents Can Make it Great or Horrible! Part I
Having coached youth baseball for eight years I've seen the positive impact coaches and parents can have on the overall experience for the child but unfortunately I've also seen the negative impact coaches and parents can have as well.
In this article I will share my thoughts from a coaching prospective and although my experience is exclusively in baseball it can transcend throughout all of youth sports. I will break down the article into two sections, one for coaches and the other for parents but I encourage you to read both.
While I understand that not all readers will agree with what I have to say there will be others that do and/or know someone that would benefit from reading this, so pass it along!
I am not perfect and have made several of the mistakes I outline below but as coaches and parents it's important we recognize, minimize and then eliminate our negative words and actions.
Section One - Coaches
IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU - All to often we see youth coaches acting as though they themselves are trying out to be a professional coach. They rant and rave on the sidelines and in the dugout, they question the umpire multiple times about calls they disagree with and they yell at the kids. These coaches put themselves center stage rather than the kids and as such are a doing their team, leagues and players parents a big disservice. These type of coaches have lost sight of their true mission which is to mentor and develop their players.
IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT WINNING - Did I want to win every game I coached? ABSOLUTELY! Was winning my top priority above all else? ABSOLUTELY NOT! As coaches we have a unique opportunity to teach our players multiple life lessons that they will carry with them long after the season has ended.
- TEAMWORK: In sports as in business you win and lose as a team. No one player is greater than the team and all play a role in the teams success and/or failures. Teammates pick each other up and always have each others backs. Teammates hold each other accountable. It is the coaches responsibility to instill this in his/her team.
- Hard Work Pays Off: You get out of it what you put into it. Those players that work hard on improving their skills in and outside of practice will improve. However, those players that never pick up glove until game day will have a tough go of it. Different players will have different levels of enthusiasm and commitment towards the sport and that's okay but it's the coaches responsibility to identify each players level and set the expectations accordingly.
- The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat: In sports as in life, sometimes despite our best efforts we will come up short of victory. There are lessons to be taught in both winning and losing and it is the coaches responsibility to make the most of each opportunity.
In victory we should be gracious and never kick the other team while their down because the team you beat today may beat you tomorrow. In victory, more than any other time, players will begin to see the fruits of their labor and realize that the coach was right about what he said regarding hard work. Hard work coupled with visible results becomes contagious and before long some of those players with less enthusiasm may be asking for extra reps in the cages.
Losing hurts and players need to remember how it feels and grow from it. It is the coaches responsibility to be sure that the players don't hang their head and want to give up but instead want to work harder to improve upon the mistakes they may have made to be sure they don't repeat them.
- RESPECT : As a coach it's important we teach our players to respect their coaches, teammates, opposing players, opposing coaches and the umpire. Questioning the umpire, questioning the line-up, throwing equipment, throwing a temper tantrum or mouthing off to coaches and players are all disrespectful, should never be allowed and should have consequences if and when it happens.I have experienced everything listed above and the consequences on my team have ranged from sitting a couple innings to having to go sit in the bleachers with their parents.
PLAYER DEVELOPMENT : This is a big reason why I chose to coach. The question I always asked myself at the end of every season was "Are the kids better ball players today then they were opening day?" If I could answer yes than I had succeeded but if I answered no then in my eyes I had failed that particular player. In my opinion, it's not about winning championships when kids are ages 5 - 12 but instead it's about developing them so that their love for the game continues to grow and they continue play into the next level.
I am not ashamed to say that my teams never won a championship, we came close and had winning records more times than not but we never won it all. Was I disappointed that we never won a championship? Sure I was but did my players improve? You bet they did. When I look back at all the teams I've coached the thing I'm most proud of is the players I saw potential in when other coaches did not and how the simple act of showing you believe in them drove them to want to do better.
I'll always remember this one particular player I had chosen who in past seasons, with other teams, was stuck in right field and only played two innings a game but I chose him anyways because I saw his potential. Long story short, by mid season he was our starting third baseman, our third pitcher and was the only player to hit a home run in our division. I tell you his not to blow my own horn but instead to demonstrate how when you don't only focus on winning championships but also focus on player development great things can happen.
In closing please remember that coaches are volunteers that have given up several hours per week to teach children a sport that they love. I believe that the overwhelming majority of coaches have the best interest of the kids at heart but we are human and we make mistakes.
I hope you've enjoyed this article. Please stay tuned for Part 2 in which I'll give you my prospective on the parents of youth athletes and the impact they have. I should be publishing it within a week.