When legendary football coach Bill Parcells was once asked if he was ready when he was appointed head coach of the New York Giants, he responded, “No one is ever really ready for the task of coaching an NFL franchise.” This is a professional league that has only 32 jobs. I would never compare becoming the manager of a youth baseball team to an NFL coach. We probably have both seen coaches that were not prepared for running a youth baseball team, whether it be travel ball or recreational Little League. Here are ten things all new youth baseball coaches should do from an organizational standpoint. Of course this is subjective and if you ask twenty experienced coaches for their lists of ten, all would be different. It is an imperfect science. Here’s mine:
1. Parents Meeting
Nothing will cut 100% of parental complaints but this will help. If you write down your own thoughts as what you would want to hear as a parent of a player, and have a 15-20 minute meeting at the beginning of the season, you’ll be in a good spot to have a smooth season even if it is not reflected in wins and losses. A number of years ago when I was doing my coach’s clinic around the country, I asked for feedback and the negative comments were that I spent too much time covering the parents meeting. About a year later I got a note from a coach that he wished he had listened more about the parents meeting because the parents of his players were impossible that year. If you are coaching Little League and you are appointed the All Star coach, you MUST have a meeting with your parents. One of the biggest issues is most All Stars were pitchers and infielders batting 3rd or 4th during the season. You have to explain it won’t be like that in All Stars. Please have a parents meeting. Also within the parents meeting fan behavior must be covered and I would tell parents I have a right to ask you to leave the stands if I feel you are out of hand after a warning. And I have done it! And by the way, I have always insisted that each player has their own water bottle with their name on it. This is in addition to the water I bring for the team.
2. Coaching Philosophy
Develop your own coaching philosophy. We all have had coaches we looked up to growing up and want to copy their way. Be smart and take bits and pieces from these past coaches but develop your own way of coaching and being a leader. It may take more than a year but if you work at it, you’ll be okay.
3) Get Contact Information
Before the Internet and smart phones we used to have something called phone chains. Today it is much easier to maintain contact with the Internet, group messaging etc. But you have to have both parents work and home numbers and e-mail. You will have players from broken homes and different situations and you must keep both parents apprised of everything going on equally. And just as important make sure they have your contact information. A good idea for first time coaches is to have an answering machine if you have a land line in your house. You’ll want to hear the message and the person just so you have an idea what to expect when calling back.
4) Get All Medical Information
This is a must. Players will have different medical issues and as manager you have to know what they are. Keep it private but be aware of each player. And I always mention at the parents meeting I want each player to have an updated eye test and hearing test. This has paid dividends for me over the years.
5) Team Parent
This was more important years ago before the Internet and today’s communication accessibility. But I still think a team parent is essential. Having someone to help coordinate uniform handout, know the weather situation for practices and games and other administrative chores is well worth it with the right person.
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6) Assistant Coaches
Make sure when you pick your assistant coaches you spell out to them what you expect. I always wanted my assistant coaches to compliment me. I have a hard time hitting fly ball fungos so I always made sure one of my assistants was proficient in this talent.
7) Establish Goals
I always loved to establish goals for the my team. Not just team goals but individual goals. You don’t have to go crazy with this but just a few minutes before the season giving your team goals can get extra motivation from them.
8) Team Newsletter
Don’t laugh! I started this five years into my coaching and it was a big hit and continued it every year forward. This is especially popular with the younger teams. Some caveats: No more than three newsletter a season is sufficient. Don’t make each newsletter more than one page. You, the coach writes a rough copy and mention every player for something positive in each newsletter. Don’t make it an e-mail, always do a hard copy. Parents will send them to grandparents in Florida and Arizona and they will be bringing the newsletter to their clubhouse and dinner to show off to their friends. At the parents meeting ask for a volunteer to be in charge and I guarantee you’ll have more than one person.
9) Be Pro-Active With Complaints
When I first started coaching it wasn’t that I wanted to avoid complaints or confrontation with parents, I always hoped potential issues would go away by themselves. Boy was I wrong! I learnt to be aggressive if you sense something is wrong. I began to call specific parents and would ask,
“Mr. Lewis, the season is moving along well but I get the feeling you have something on your mind you may want to talk about.” And then just be quiet and let him speak. I found that this worked much better than doing nothing. Remember communication is the key to almost everything.
10) Be Flexible
Flexibility is the key to becoming a good coach in any sport. You want to have your own coaching philosophy but being flexible will translate into more success. Whether it is trying someone you’d never expect to pitch or putting someone first in the batting order, you have to be able to be open minded and prepared to adjust.
These are my ten. I didn’t touch upon a lot of things such as equipment or playing on multiple teams and how to handle that. If you are starting out as a new coach, you’ll change a little with each season especially the first couple of years. Just make sure you develop your own philosophy and make sure you incorporate fun into the season no matter what age group you are coaching. Play Ball!
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 25 years. He has written 11 books and produced 26 sports instructional videos. His is the founder of T-Ball America.
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